Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Tina Turner, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, Barbara Cook, Harry Belafonte, and Anne Carrere all share one common denominator: They’ve all played Carnegie Hall. Carrere’s name may not be as familiar as the others on that list but after an astonishing debut on Friday, January 6 at the notorious venue; her name can easily rank among these esteemed performers.
The French native had audiences in the palm of her hand after a solid two-hour event entitled Piaf! The Show, a theatrical production based on the life of the internationally famous French singer, Edith Piaf. The show has been touring the world, thrilling audiences and garnering immense praise from critics but Carrere’s stop in New York City was particularly noteworthy as it marked the 60th anniversary of Piaf’s January 13,1957 performance at the hall. Piaf made her debut there in 1956 and returned for her last and final performance one year later.
Carrere, along with pianist Phillipe Villa, accordion player Guy Giuliano, percussionist Laurent Sarrien, and double bassist Daniel Fabricant began the show (sung completely in French) depicting Piaf’s humble beginnings in Paris. Carrere entered the house and solicited audience members for spare change while singing “Comme un Moineau” (“Like a Sparrow”). Piaf, who was born Edith Giovanna Gassion, adopted the nickname “Piaf” (“little sparrow”) for her vocal talents. The remainder of the first act included several lesser-known songs from Piaf’s earlier career, while picturesque images of Paris were projected onto the empty upstage wall.
Act II proved to be the most substantial part of the evening, particularly for die-hard Piaf fans as Carrere delivered the most well known songs of the singer’s career. The light-hearted “Mon Menage a Moi” (“You’re My Carousel”) was first, followed by “Jezebel,” a 1951 flamenco-flavored hit based on the biblical Israeli queen. Many pop tunes from that era were covered and/or translated by a variety of artists and although the names of the French versions may not be instantly recognizable to non-French speakers, the melodies are likely familiar to fans of older standards.
“L’Homme a la Moto” (“Man on the Motorcycle”) was an unlikely 1956 hit for Piaf, which tells the story of a motorcyclist who treats his girlfriends with disrespect and meets a fateful death on the highway. The American songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote the tune and originally titled it “Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots”—it’s perhaps one of the most ridiculous songs ever penned. Still, it was one of Piaf’s greatest selling singles. Carrere performed it with the intended cheekiness and it served as one of the many fun moments throughout the night.
Another familiar piece, “Hymne a l’Amour” (“Hymn to Love”) was the most hauntingly beautiful song in the set list. Piaf wrote the lyrics and Marguerite Monnot set them to music. It was written for Piaf’s lover, the boxer Marcel Cerdan who was tragically killed in a plane crash in 1949. Dame Shirley Bassey brought the ode to American listeners. Carrere poured her heart into it, bringing tears to eyes of the Carnegie crowd. Carrere herself was overcome with emotion as she acknowledged how overwhelmed she was to be appearing at the coveted concert venue. “A few years ago, I was just a little, unknown singer,” she said. “And tonight, I am standing here before you at Carnegie Hall.”
French director and producer discovered the 31-year-old marvel. Initially, she had auditioned for his show, Paris! Le Spectacle but he noticed her love for and vocal resemblance to Piaf and constructed the show with Carrere in mind. She is indeed an incredible discovery and carries herself with the poise of a seasoned star. One of her most impressive assets is her vocal stamina. Piaf’s songs are hugely emotive and have quite a range. While many singers would fade by the night’s end, Carrere’s voice only got stronger and was perfectly on pitch throughout.
Piaf! The Show ended with her biggest crowd-pleasers: “La Vie en Rose” (“Rose Tinted Life”) and “Non Je ne Regrette Rien” (“No, I Do Not Regret Anything”). The latter served as a mantra for Piaf’s often troubled life. Aside from the lack of supertitles, which may have enhanced this experience for non-French speakers, the creative team and star of this marvelous production should, like Piaf, have nothing to regret.
Eager audiences will have to hop a flight to northern France for her next appearance in Neuilly Saint Front on January 20.
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Ryan Leeds is a freelance theatre journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.