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Broadway Bullet Interview: Piaf-Love Conquers All

We interview Naomi Emmerson (Actor/Producer/Director), and Stephanie Layton (Actor/Accompanist). They perform two songs, in-studio.  For those who have loved, suffered and survived, come share a cocktail with a French legend, as she shares her passion for music, men and morphine! "Top Ten of the 2005 Toronto Fringe". Experience the power of chansons and l'amour!

Broadway Bullet Interview: Piaf: Love Conquers All


BROADWAY BULLET: Piaf: Love Conquers All is opening at the New York City Fringe Festival, and playing the titular role is Naomi Emmerson, and she is here, along with another actor, and the accompanist, Stephanie Layton. How are you guys doing?



BB: You're going to perform a couple of songs from the show for us in a minute, but first, let's chat a little bit about Piaf.

NE: Sure.

BB: I'm gonna say -- probably the first thing, and I should be embarrassed about this, but I'm going to swallow that embarrassment for the sake of listeners, who are probably in the same boat, and say -- who the hell is Piaf? (laughter) Who is she? Why do we care?

NE: That's a good question. She was a -- okay, she's like the -- French Elvis. So, what Elvis is to rock 'n' roll in North America, Piaf is to the French people, and to a lot people.

BB: She swung her hips?

NE: (laughs) And she had really long sideburns, on the side of her cheeks -- she was the ultimate French singer in Paris during the 30s, 40s, 50s, and just the beginning of the 60s. So, she had a really long career.

BB: But yeah, it's France, though.

NE: She -- internationally! -- she made a huge hit here in New York. And she's like -- she's the music of the poor, heartbroken, downtrodden, poor -- you know, she sings songs about wives killing their husbands, and killing themselves, that kind of stuff. Happy music! And she came right at the end of this whole chansons réalistes era which was --

BB: Wait, what era?

NE: Chansons realistes: the realist singers, I guess. And they sung about everyday, real things, as opposed to: "Oh, everything's so syrupy and lovely and beautiful." And so, when Piaf first came to New York, actually, New York kind of hated her, didn't know what to make of her, until there was one journalist, who said, "If New York lets Piaf go, then they will admit to their ignorance." So, it's the same kind of thing with this show. If you don't come to see our show at the Fringe, then you are admitting your ignorance! (laughter)

BB: Now what got you interested in Edith Piaf?

NE: 1993 --

BB: Because this is more than just a role for you, as I understand.

NE: Yeah.

BB: It's not like you just auditioned, and got into something, and you were like, "Oh, cool, whatever."

NE: (laughter) Right, right, right. It's true! Well, back in 1993, it was kind of -- I didn't really have to audition, but the guy who wrote it, Roger Peace, he -- I was doing another show of his, and he asked me to do this show to fill a spot that we were already doing at this other theater. Anyway, and I was pretty young, and I was like, "A whole show? Just me? Two hours? Me talking and singing? And in French?" But I said yes, so -- and then, ten or eleven years later, as I was twiddling my thumbs -- no, I never do that -- I decided I really wanted to get into directing, designing, producing, getting more into actually creating something than just being the talking head in a show, and everybody else making the decisions. So, because I'd already done the show, I thought: This is kind of probably a good feature, and a good way of having control over everything, so I mounted it at the Fringe in 2005 in Toronto, Canada. And then it got picked up by a couple theaters, and then I sort of pitched it to a bunch of other theaters, and then we did a tour, and it got good reviews and stuff in Canada. And I got to design it. I wouldn't mind having a director, though. That's true.

BB: Well, before we go on, why don't we play the first song for this. And Stephanie, I understand you just literally picked up an accordion, like a week-and-a-half ago, for this.

SL: Yes I did! I am a pianist, but when I heard about this audition, I thought: Oh, French music needs an accordion, so I'm gonna do that, too! And so I borrowed one from a friend, and I actually just got one on eBay, so this is my debut!

NE: And she's amazing!

SL: So listen up!

NE: It's so amazing.

BB: Okay, I want to get fifty bucks from eBay for that. (laughter) Okay, let's go, let's hear it. Set up the song here.

NE: We're listening to "Soud Le Ciel de Paris" first, and, it's just one of those beautiful love songs of Paris, explaining all the good and horrible things about it.

Listen to a performance of "Soud Le Ciel de Paris" on Broadway Bullet Volume 121.

BB: I definitely have heard this song. So is this Piaf that I've heard, or is this like -- a general kind of French canon that I've heard.

NE: That's a good question. I don't really know what other artists have recorded it, but I bet there are some. Yeah, so you've heard of that one.

BB: Yeah, definitely. 

NE: See, so, this is the thing. There's tons of Piaf songs that you don't necessarily know it's Piaf. Like, "La Vie en Rose," we're not going to do that today because everybody seems to know that one, so I want to kind of introduce -- "Oh yeah, remember that song she sang? Remember that song that she sang?" And so, there's some really obscure ones which aren't in my show -- except for "Les Blouches Blanches," which is a crazy song, which she only recorded once. And it's a kooky, kooky song, about going kooky, and being in an insane asylum -- so that's a good one. But that's not what we're gonna hear. You have to come to the show to hear that one! (laughter)

BB: Before we get to the next song, Stephanie, I'm curious: on the sheet here, it lists you as "actor," not just accompanist. So what do you do with the show?

SL: Well, I am a quick-change artist, because I play -- I think -- five different small roles in the show. But when I'm not in the scene, I'm usually playing the piano or the accordion, so it sounds like I'll be pretty busy.  

NE: Basically, the roles are all different people who are important in Piaf's life. So there's Marlene Dietrich, and Piaf's first love, Louis Dupont, and of course, Louis Lepleé, who discovered her on the street, and put her in her first real club -- well, cabaret -- gig. Yeah, so, she gets to play a lot of men! (laughter)

SL: Some men, some women, some instruments --

NE: She's so pretty!

 SL: Thank you!

NE: She'll play a pretty man! But she can do it! (laughter)

SL: I'm tall, so --

NE: I'm glad about that, because it'll make me look smaller – because Piaf was only 4'10". But I'm 5'2".

SL: I'm 5'8".

BB: Why don't you tell us about this next song you're going to perform?

NE: Oh, "Padam...Padam," it's just my all-time favorite. I don't know, it tells the story of a tune in your head that you can't get out of your head, and it reminds you of so many false, failed loves, and the things that you failed at in your life. And this tune, everytime you hear it, it just goes, "Padam...Padam," in your head, "Padam...Padam," over and over again, until finally, it just throws you on the street and shoots you down. It's -- yeah, that's what it's about.

SL: Tragic.

BB: Is this "MMMBop " for France? (laughter)

NE: Yes, yes, it is.

SL: Absolutely. 

Listen to a performance of "Padam… Padam" on Broadway Bullet Volume 122.

BB: Okay, so now we need all the details of how people can catch Piaf: Love Conquers All.

NE: So many!

BB: Such a dominant title -- Schwarzenegger -- guns --

NE: Love guns! (laughs)

SL: Transformers 2 (laughs)

BB: Love conquers guns and transformers -- robots! (laughter)

NE: Exactly, it's true! Well, because she did believe that love -- through having love and being loved, it would conquer any of her awful addictions to morphine, and her terrible childhood that she had. Anyway, so obviously the Fringe NYC has a great website, and that's how you can either book your tickets, with credit cards, I guess. You can't book them on my website, which is , but you can get linked there to the, and get tickets that way. It's in August; August 10th to the 26th. We have five shows over those three weeks only, and they run anywhere from August 11th, and then, I think the 19th is one of our last ones.  

BB: I understand you're thinking about taking the show other places, too. Are there other people who are going to get a chance to catch you doing this?

NE: Yeah, we have some interest in bookings in California, actually, and then we're continually looking for other people who would like to present this show in other places, for sure.

BB: Well, I thank the two of you for coming down, and sharing all your knowledge about Edith Piaf. I'm playing a little ignorance, but I didn't know much about her until I met you a few weeks ago.

NE: Yeah, and it seems like a lot more people are going to know a lot about her this summer because of the movie, and then because of our play, so I think she's kind of out there all of a sudden, again, which is great, because it's not an official anniversary of anything right now; she died in '63, and she was born in 1915. We're just between birthdays –-- between celebrations. (laughs)

BB: All right, well, thanks so much for coming down here to Broadway Bullet, and it was great. Looking forward to the show!

NE: Thank you!

SL: Thank you!


Photos: 1.) Naomi Emmerson, Piaf: Love Conquers All, 2.) Stephanie Layton, 3.) Edith Piaf


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