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BWW Review: LOVE, DESIRE & MYSTERY - IL PARLE, ELLE CHANTE faces DESIRE at The French Institute


BWW Review: LOVE, DESIRE & MYSTERY - IL PARLE, ELLE CHANTE faces DESIRE at The French Institute

As an uncertain world trembles outside, an errant Philadelphia novelist, a refugee Broadway star, and an expatriate pianist (and secret composer) tumble into a rain soaked Parisian boîte for a late night tête-à-tête. He speaks, she sings, they play...

Such is the ambiance and loose Salingeresque set up for the enticing new French Institute / Alliance Française salon cabaret series, Love, Desire, and Mystery - Il Parle, Elle Chante now streaming on the FIAF website.

What, after all, could be more French than the obsession of love in all its passionate eccentricities?

In truth, as presented by the winning American trio of Adam Gopnik, Melissa Errico, and Tedd Firth, the promise of such a Gallic offering might perhaps be more accurately described in its ultimate realization as French observation. But when the wit is this effortless, the music as sparkling, and the company so engaging, who is going to question the authenticity of the translation?

Actually, in the case of Mr. Gopnik and Ms. Errico, the front and center 'Il and Elle" of the evening, both have strong ties to the City of Love. Gopnik, best known for his long literary career as a contributor to The New Yorker, is a celebrated author of French culture and history. Errico, the shimmering soprano who first came to recognition in Les Misérables has, in recent years, been most closely associated with the work of Michel Legrand. Both are earthy, relaxed, and intellectual. The kind of hosts whose "left bank" soirees you dream of attending, but fear will be above your cerebral pay grade.

But with their words, their melodies, and most of all their warmth, Il Parle, Elle Chante resists the academic, and instead becomes that most universal of salves: the heartfelt examination of our delicate humanity.

A musical trilogy, Part I (which originally aired October 19, 2021 and is available to stream) focused on 'Love'. Part II (the subject of this review) tackles the appetite of 'Desire.' As Gopnik is quick to note, 'If love is the most common of desired outcomes, the normalcy of desire, itself, is the spurn of the world's most extraordinary music.'

And so it is...

Launching with three Michel Legrand songs: "His Eyes, Her Eyes, "The Fishing Song, aka L'âme soeur à l'hameçon," and "I Will Wait for You," Errico (breathtaking in a sea of mahogany velvet and satins) charts with alternating shrewdness, sport, and pathos the broad - and often contradictory - range of male and female longing.

BWW Review: LOVE, DESIRE & MYSTERY - IL PARLE, ELLE CHANTE faces DESIRE at The French InstituteStepping through the French fixation on fashion and food: it is desire and disappointment that take the spotlight in Andre Previn and Alan Jay Lerner's "A Brand New Dress," while "Making Menus" from the musical, Our Table (co-written by Gopnik and David Shire) offers the clever observation of what makes cuisine click. It should be noted that Gopnik, a recent awardee of France's National Order of the Legion of Honor for his supreme craft with words, shows not only his lyric writing skills in this particular installment of Il Parle, Elle Chante, but also, for the first time on any stage, his musical skills in a playful (and deft) guitar accompaniment.

With his piquant consideration, that it's not only our wish for love, but the active physical playground of the pursuit of love (so largely off limits in our current world situation) that burnishes our present desires, Gopnik leaves Errico largely center stage to sear through the musical highlights of the evening.

Piercing, probing, and at the absolute height of her vocal and interpretive powers, Errico here reaffirms her status as one of the most intuitive musical theatre actresses of her generation. Whether scorching through the cognitive dissonance of compulsion in Marci Heisler and Georgia Stitt's fabulous "The Wanting of You," or haunting with the echo of Joni Mitchell's airy "A Rainy Night House," there is seemingly no limit to Errico's empathetic range.

BWW Review: LOVE, DESIRE & MYSTERY - IL PARLE, ELLE CHANTE faces DESIRE at The French Institute

Best of all: "A Thing or Two" lovingly culled (with lyrics crafted by Sarah Rebell, and set to nuanced music by Ted Firth) from Marguerite Duras's novel, "The Lover," gifts Errico (and us pursuant) with a riveting portrait of yearning paired with the lens of wizened wisdom.

That tie between desire and knowledge throughout Il Parle, Elle Chante is a palpable synergy. When Gopnik softly confesses to his cast mates, "We can't escape the time we're in. It's possible to go through crisis, depression, occupation, collaboration - all the tragedies of life - plagues and perils, and at the same time still affirm desire, affirm the natural human appetite for pleasure," it's a moving reminder that it is our very understanding of our emotional similarity that binds us in times both good and challenging.

Not in a real Parisian basement, but here in the womb of the French Institute, remembrance and reflection thus comforts. With song and gentle friendship abounding, it also makes the mystery that shadows both love and lust seems all the more humanly faceable.

Melissa Errico & Adam Gopnik

Love, Desire & Mystery - Il Parle, Elle Chante

With Tedd Firth on piano

World Premiere, French Institute / Alliance Française

Desire / Originally aired Thursday, January 28, 2021 is available to view on demand at this link.

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