Entries in Cabot Theater (1)

Monday
Jan282013

PIAF: Fitzwater's "Sparrow" a  Final Reprise on the Skylight Stage

For three weeks only at the Broadway Theatre Center, the Skylight Music Theatre reprises the beloved Leslie Fitzwater in Edith Piaf Onstage. This expanded 2013 edition features a mature and wiser chanteuse on an elegantly designed Cabot stage from Scenic Designer Rick Rasmussen. The stage surrounds Fitzwater’s scintillating presence so the performance affords an evening to remember and captivates the audience into the rapture of pin dropping silence.

The name Piaf loosely meant “a sparrow,” one plucked from the streets, because Edith was as she said, born under a street lamp.  However humble Piaf’s beginnings, she wrote over 80 melodies and included more than 200 in her repertoire during her 50 plus years in the spotlight. These songs grip and haunt the audience, retelling with raw emotion the life and loves of the common Parisian.

Piaf’s own life was ultimately overcome with numerous personal tragedies, although this petite “sparrow” discovered singing could save her sanity during most of her career. So when Fitzwater sings to close the second act leaving the audience breathless with “Lovers For One Day,” the performer literally does what she sings and, “brings tears to the eyes, and tears to the heart.”

Returning from the intermission, the lights rise so the audience catches Fitzwater lounging on an ivory chaise for an English version of the melancholy “Autumn Leaves.”  Afterwards, Fitzwater plumbs Piaf’s misfortunes, the death of her lover, boxing champion Marcel Cerdan, and serious car accidents that quickly followed. These events further spiraled Piaf into a life of more alcohol and morphine addiction, which Fitzwater poignantly portrays during the evening. When Fitzwater talks and then offers the audience, “Non Je Ne Regrette Rein” the voice of the Skylight singer merges effortlessly and completely with Piaf’s soul.

To complement the production, long time arts compatriot Paula Foley Tillen accompanies the evening revue while three other musicians offer their own gifted talents. Lighting Director Holly Blomquist miraculously filters color to chosen areas that illuminates the set, yet focuses the attention on Fitzwater’s Piaf. Dramatic staging provided by Director Jim Butchart allows Fitzwater’s persona to seduce the audience’s mood so they immerse themselves in the melodies, whether sung in English or French, and do what Piaf intended when she said: “I want to make people cry."

Piaf remains a 20th century icon, her unforgettable celebrity and music influencing contemporary young performers such as Madeleine Peyroux. The audience might have chosen to spare Fitzwater her own personal misfortunes that delayed this reprise where she plays this "later in life" musical genius. Yet, one can only surmise these experiences infuse Fitzwater’s portrayal with more powerful empathy.

To miss the Skylight’s Edith Piaf Onstage would be a misfortune in itself, an overlooked opportunity to celebrate a culminating moment in Fitzwater’s legendary career, perhaps her final reprise of this electrifying French personality. When Fitzwater closes the production with “La Vie en Rose, she marries Piaf’s and her own great capacity to give an audience a love for herself and this distinctive music. With affectionate gratitude, the audience accepts this love and then applauds as Fitzwater returns after a standing ovation to finish the evening with an enthusiastic encore.

The Skylight Music Theatre presents Leslie Fitzwater in Edith Piaf Onstage on the Cabot Stage at the Broadway Theatre Center through February 10. For information or tickets, please call: 414.443.8802 or click the Skylight Theatre link to the left    by Peggy Sue Dunigan