In springtime, it’s natural to get nostalgic about Paris—especially the old chansons of Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavour, and Jacques Brel. Cue up Brel’s “Ne me quitte pas”, close your eyes, and you can pretty much transport yourself to a bistro chair off Place du Tertre, an absinthe in one hand, a Gitane in the other.
For Nice-based producer Gil Marsalla, the songs of old Paris are a constant state of mind. He’s the mastermind behind the hit Piaf! The Show that hit town last year, with French chanteuse Anne Carrere rekindling the magic of the Sparrow’s singing. But he’s also got five other musical revues touring the planet: Formidable! Aznavour, Brel! The Show, Douce France, Piaf! Symphonique (just announced for June 2021 as part of our own Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Pops series), and Paris! The Show, which comes here this week.
With these productions travelling everywhere from Poland to Lima to the United Arab Emirates, 250 shows per year, why such a worldwide appetite for the emotion-drenched love songs of long-gone French stars? Marsalla says the music is even being celebrated by a new generation at home in France.
“Perhaps people want to come back to this kind of ballad—I think this is why it’s coming back,” he offers over the phone from Nice. “The love and the lyrics are so powerful. Plus this allows you to travel to Paris but stay in your seats—there’s accordion, Montmartre.”
Marsalla, a former musician who met Aznavour many times, says he spent the last two decades on a search for the right singers to interpret such singular, personal works.
Paris! The Show brings a few of his most talented finds together in a tribute to the best-known French songs of the post–Second World War era. It features some of the most beloved songs of Piaf, Aznavour, Brel, Josephine Baker, Maurice Chevalier, Lucienne Boyer, Charles Trenet, Yves Montand, and others.
Carrere, who famously sold out Carnegie Hall in 2017 with Piaf!, returns. This time she’s joined by singers Stéphanie Impoco and Jules Grison. (Check out his take on troubadour Aznavour, the “Frank Sinatra of France”, who died in 2018 at 94.) The touring company also includes dancers and a quartet of live musicians. “You need good musicians as well, who are passionate about these songs like me,” Marsalla says. “French music is very specific and so difficult to interpret.”
Paris! weaves it all together with a loose story line, following a small-town girl who dreams of moving to Paris to become a famous artist. Along the way, she befriends Piaf and falls in love with a bohemian painter, Aznavour.
Projections of imagery from old Paris complete the effect—and with what’s going on in the world, it may be the safest way to visit the City of Light this spring.
Paris! The Show is at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on Wednesday (March 18).