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BWW Interview: Christine Andreas channels PIAF: NO REGRETS at Venetian Room for Bay Area Cabaret

BWW Interview: Christine Andreas channels PIAF: NO REGRETS at Venetian Room for Bay Area Cabaret
Christine Andreas in Piaf: No Regrets.

Edith Piaf performed in San Francisco at both the Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel and several blocks downhill at the Curran Theatre. Of the latter engagement in 1953, Variety, in its rather distinctive lingo, noted, "Frisco enthusiasts turned out in spite of a rainstorm, and that included the nabobs led by the local French bigwigs. Her bowoff set off a stageward wave of floral tributes which had the hayfever contingent gesuntheiting all over the place."

A new generation of "Frisco enthusiasts" may again brave the winter rains to savor the musical legacy of "The Little Sparrow," this time channeled through the artistry of Christine Andreas.

A rising Broadway star of the 1970s and '80s (My Fair Lady, Oklahoma!), Andreas back-burnered her career to care for her special-needs son. Mac is now in in his early 30s, and over the last decade-plus his talented mother, arm in arm with composer-husband Marty Silvestri, has returned her focus to performing - both on Broadway and on the cabaret, cruise, and concert circuits.

For well over a year the Tony-nominee has been very focused on the Piaf canon, performing an assortment of set pieces built around the renowned Frenchwoman's work. She's now promoting her just-released CD titled Piaf: No Regrets on the PS Classics label and bringing the material back to the Fairmont for one night courtesy of Bay Area Cabaret producer Marilyn Levinson. BWW Regional Editor Robert Sokol gets the backstory on her journey from the occasional Piaf chanson to her current calling.

RS: Some of this material has long been in your repertoire. What moved it to the front burner for you?

CA: Well, I don't speak French, but I love the language. From the time I can remember I sang in French - I was unafraid of it. I always loved "La Vie En Rose" but I didn't necessarily love Piaf. Not that I didn't like her, but the ide ofa whole show of Piaf felt like a lot of work, for everyone.

My friend Rafael Derkson, who is a conductor on Crystal Cruises and a doll, kept saying to me, "I just have this feeling you should do a show on Piaf and I wanna do a show on Piaf." He kept bugging me and bugging me and I just finally said, "FINE! Send me a treatment of a show on Piaf."

So, he did. He sent this beautiful arc that's perfect for a cruise ship setting. It's a little too general for a New York audience, but for a ship it was gorgeous. It went through the roof and he ended up doing it symphonically. They had this big blowout symphonic presentation using everybody on board - 35 musicians and all their production singers and dancers. That went through the roof and with this very high-end international audience. So that was a very good litmus test for Piaf and me.

Then, Pascal Rioult, the choreographer and artistic director of the dance company RIOULT Dance NY, was looking for somebody for his project on Piaf called Streetsinger. He called me, and being the forthright girl that I am, I said, "Well, Pascal, I don't speak the language. I don't speak French." There was this little pause, and I could hear the smile in his voice. "I know," he said. "I saw you on YouTube." (Laughs.) So, of course, I had to work with him. We did this incredible and completely different show. I was there singing to these beautiful dancers interpreting the songs, which is a whole other level of relating to music and lyric, right?

So that was two different avenues, and then I guess there was Edith herself. She was just there. The reaction to the material had been maybe the biggest reaction to anything I've ever sung so far, and then 54 Below wanted to book another show. Well, doh! I've now already learned a big piece of this canon, taking copious amounts of time to learn the French and the English and what I'm singing. So, the show started coming together and Hal Shane, an old friend Marty's who's one of the Manhattan Rhythm Kings, wanted to do something ,and when he heard about the Piaf project he got all excited. So, he rings a guy named Gary McAvay from Columbia Artists, and he wants to book it, not as a cabaret, because it really isn't, but as a one-woman show.

So, I can see Piaf saying, "You see? I told you. It was a good idea!" I mean, I could like hear her like giving me her stamp of approval, pushing me out into the world with her stuff. So, a year later - it's taking a while because it's European, tres complique - Marty, my brilliant husband, says, "Well if we're gonna go on tour with this thing, we'd best record it." So, we tell a few people who are strictly friends, and they all wanna be part of it, and within x amount of days multiple tens of thousands of dollars are gathered for this CD. It has never been that easy. Never! It's like the whole thing is haunted in a happy way. I am happily haunted by Edith Piaf.

So, we go over to London and Marty's producing the CD and asked who I wanted to orchestrate? Larry Blank. I just remember the two cuts he did on my Here's to the Ladies album had the life force that I wanted. So, we got ahold of Larry and where do we meet? Paris. He does a lot of work in Paris. So, he starts to write charts. They're pouring out of him, sometimes two a day, and within two weeks all my charts are orchestrated, and Marty handles the arrangements.

For the recording, Larry gets us all the best players because he's conducted them, and they play like a muscle because they love Larry and they love his conducting. The energy is stunning. When you hear the first couple of bars, listen to the strings on "Hymne a L'amour." It's just this other-worldly, gorgeous sound of perfection. Tommy Krasker, who released two CDs on mine on PS Classics said, "I hope you're gonna let us release this CD." So, all of the pieces just flew. It's all hitting a beautiful bar for me.

At this stage of the career game, what do you want to choose to do, right? I wanted to do something like this, I just didn't know this would be. So, it's kind of delightful on every level. It's a place I where want to put my energy. I want to do this. So, we'll see where it goes from here.

RS: Perhaps a Great Performances special on PBS next?

CA: There you go! There you go. That would be fabulous. Thank you very much. (Laughs.)

BWW Interview: Christine Andreas channels PIAF: NO REGRETS at Venetian Room for Bay Area Cabaret

Christine Andreas performs at Bay Area Cabaret on December 2. | TICKETS

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