The Queer Arts Festival 2016
Dragging Piaf

Date and Venue June 29, 2016 | The Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre, Yaletown

Director Alan Corbishley Tenor Frédérik Robert Pianist Tina Chang

Reviewer Darren Cordeiro

The grand finale for the closing night of the 2016 Queer Arts Festival was Dragging Piaf, a cinematic concert performed by Frédérik Robert as the persona of Ed, a troubled man who embodied the spirit and legacy of the late French singer Édith Piaf.

Having a troubled upbringing, including a grandmother who raised her in a brothel in her early years and an alcoholic father who later brought her as part of his circus act, Édith Piaf rose to international stardom in the late 1930s as a symbol of French passion and strength. She was deeply remembered for her powerful voice and strong spirit as well as her life being cut tragically short due to liver failure given her debaucherous lifestyle.

The outlined premise of this performance was that of Ed, who is a Vancouver man trapped in a world of his own escapism. Desperate to be understood and loved, he inevitably is neither.

The backdrop that accompanied the powerful voice of Robert was a black and white silent movie, where he played a troubled soul dealing with his partner’s rejection while seeking comfort in a bottle of wine and pills as he stumbled along the streets of Gastown that represented the streets of Paris where Édith would have roamed.

From the opening note of this French-Canadian tenor’s voice, the crowd was clearly captivated. Dressed in drag, his resemblance of Édith was uncanny, from the black attire to the hand gestures she was very well-known for as she sang. During the one hour performance, all eyes in the audience were on Robert and transfixed.

Robert sang Édith’s popular hits which included Padam... Padam..., Non, je ne regrette rien, Soul le ciel de Paris, and of course, La Vie en Rose.

Living in Montréal in 2008, I remember how exhilarated my French-Canadian friends were that French newcomer Marian Cotillard won the Academy Award for Best Lead Actress for her portrayal of Édith Piaf in the iconic movie La Vie en Rose. With this vested personal admiration for Piaf, I knew that Frédérik Robert had big heels to fill. With the standing ovation, uncontrollable cheering from the audience and his moving encore of La Vie en Rose, it was clear he surely did not disappoint.

© 2016 Darren Cordeiro