Continued from Part I
I met with Gil Marsalla in Paris, France for an interview to discuss his incredible production Piaf! The Show. The one-of-a-kind production is about the life and times of Edith Piaf, seen through songs and images. Piaf, if you are unfamiliar with the singer’s music or the award-winning film La Vie En Rose starring Marion Cotillard, is one of the most beloved and renowned French musical artists of all time.
The show’s global tour is currently breaking records and has sold out performances in Greece, the U.S., Brazil, Switzerland, Canada, and elsewhere. Touring until 2019, the production will be at Carnegie Hall on January 6, 2017 to celebrate the 60-year anniversary of Edith Piaf’s 1957 performance there.
In Part II of the interview, Gil discusses how Anne Carrere as Edith Piaf has captured the hearts of global audiences, and tells a fascinating story about Charles Dumont, Jacques Brel, and Piaf.
After the production at Symphony Space in New York in 2015, did you make changes to the show?
Of course, we are constantly working to upgrade the show.
We had some other songs that we included. The show needs to be upgraded all the time. For example we met Charles Dumont (the French composer and singer who collaborated extensively with Edith Piaf and composed songs for her like “Je Ne Regrette Rien” and “Mon Dieu”) in Paris and talked to him about Piaf, who was a close friend. We are preparing a DVD of Dumont who shares stories about Piaf, which will be ready in English for the tour.
When Charles Dumont came to our show and saw Anne [Carrere] and loved her, he was greatly inspired to reveal a treasure he had been holding back for decades. After a performance, we had a meeting in Paris. You must understand that Charles Dumont is 86. He is very vibrant and he plays the piano beautifully. You know, Charles Dumont composed most of the successful songs of Edith Piaf’s career. Well, during the meeting, he completely surprised me when he said, “You know, Gil, we have a song that was particularly written for Piaf.” And then he said, “I would love to give you this song that I composed for Piaf for your show.”
He said that he composed a song with Jacques Brel. Jacques Brel [died] 40 years [ago], but he was a very good friend of Edith Piaf, an amazing composer, and he was a major star of France. His records and songs are known globally and still influence many musical artists. One day…Charles Dumont met up with him in a restaurant in Marseilles. It was a café like this one. They talked and became inspired that they needed to compose a song together for Edith Piaf. In that restaurant then and there, they collaborated and composed. They figured they were both so busy, they didn’t know when they would be able to get together again and they should take advantage of the opportunity in the moment.
There was a piano in the restaurant, and they sat down and played, tried out lyrics, sang, composed. In one hour they had an incredible song which they knew was perfect for Edith Piaf. Because she lived close to Nice and they could get there from Marseilles, they thought they might phone her to see if she was available. They felt an urgency to go in person and present the song. It was a spontaneous impulse that carried them away in the moment and they hoped that Piaf would be carried away, too.
That’s the way it was for composers in those days. You had to bring the songs to the artists. If the artists said yes, it was great. If not – that was it. So Charles phoned and said, “Hey Edith. I am with Jacques Brel now, and we have a song for you.” She was happy for the song, but it was not convenient. She said, “No, no, no. Don’t come over, because I am very sick.” They persisted, “We would love to play it for you. It’s a great song.” She said, “No, I can’t.”
Not only was she very sick – actually she was at the end of her life. But in her enthusiasm, she told them to sing the song over the phone. So Charles Dumont sang it to her. After she heard it, Piaf promised Brel and Dumont, “When I come back to Paris, I will perform this song onstage.”
However, she never had the chance to get back to Paris and perform it. One week later, she was dead. This was in October of 1963. So the song that Charles Dumont and Jacques Brel composed for Piaf that she didn’t sing is the song that Charles Dumont is giving me for Piaf! The Show. Anne Carrere as Piaf will finally bring the song to life after all these years.
That’s your Billboard charting, Grammy-winning song. (Gil and I laugh.)
I don’t know. But Anne will perform it at Carnegie Hall because it is a great song.
Amazing how this all came about.
You know Jacques Brel? (Gil sings a few lines of a familiar Brel song) He is an amazing artist. Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavour and Jacques Brel were friends. Amazing singers, classics, French icons.
Charles Dumont was impressed by Anne and the production.
He loved Anne and Piaf! The Show. It is an honor for us to receive his song for the show. He said that I could take the song and put it in an album collection, whatever. This song that he and Jacques Brel composed will appear at the end of the production. It is a good way to finish the show. This surprise is Charles Dumont’s gift to all of us. (If not for Piaf! The Show, this song might never have been heard)
The Brel/Dumont song also fits with the original vision for Piaf! The Show. We thought we would not only perform Piaf’s greatest hits like “La Vie En Rose” and “Padam Padam,” but we would also perform wonderful, beautiful songs [sung] by Piaf that are not famous. We wanted to include the lesser known songs because we thought Piaf fans would love to know of the other many great songs she sang.
It is so poignant that she promised to sing the song for them onstage when she got to Paris, but probably knew that she was dying and would never get there. It is marvelous that Anne is able to bring out Piaf’s essence, almost as if Piaf is finally able to sing the song as promised. It is a great capstone by which to remember Piaf, Brel and Dumont and to introduce a whole new generation to these French icons.
We do not want to imitate Edith Piaf. There is only one Piaf. But Anne is the spirit of Piaf and in Carnegie Hall we will have an amazing production.
I am looking forward to it.
Anne’s voice is so powerful. For example she can sing off microphone easily. She projects her voice beautifully. Of course Carnegie Hall has the best acoustics in the world.
Let’s talk about Carnegie Hall. How did this performance come into being?
This is the anniversary of Edith Piaf at Carnegie Hall. As I said, Piaf gave a special performance in 1957. There were so many people and not enough seats.
So Anne’s performance in 2017 is almost like the resurrection of Edith Piaf.
Sixty years after, the spirit of Piaf is coming back to Carnegie Hall. For musicians, artists and for a little producer and artistic director like me from the south of France, can you imagine the thrill to produce my show in Carnegie Hall? At Carnegie Hall Edith Piaf performed twice, Jacques Brel, Charles Dumont performed twice, and Gad Elmaleh will perform there after us in February. That’s four French people.
When you state that you are a “little” producer, where were you born?
The South of France, in Nice. My home and my office are there. For business when I need to come to Paris, I come quickly because it’s very easy to travel. There is a shuttle between Nice and Paris, like there is a shuttle between Washington DC and New York. You can take the shuttle like you can take the car.
So this is really a dream come true.
Of course. It’s interesting. I thought years ago that one day I would produce a show in Carnegie Hall. As a pianist and musician I performed in schools in Nice, for example in the high school musical and afterward in the university. Then I became a producer and artistic director. Carnegie Hall means a lot to me. Carnegie Hall is a major venue in the world. Important artists perform there. When I was a pianist 30 years ago, I thought, one day I will go to Carnegie Hall. Now the dream comes true for me and for Anne. But Anne is an amazing young girl and performer. She doesn’t recognize –
She’s very innocent, a natural. She has no guile.
(Gil imitates Anne’s demure innocence.) “We are going to Carnegie Hall? Oh, OK.” (Gil laughs)
She has a presence about her. She doesn’t show nerves or fear.
When she auditioned for me, she was very natural and spontaneous. Watch the video of her singing “La Vie en Rose” on our Facebook page. We were in Brazil, Porto Allegre on tour. One day we walked to a big market and there was an old piano in the marketplace which they let you use if you want. She pointed to the piano and said, “Ah, Gil.” As part of the French culture, we love to perform in the street, a cappella. We have a history of street performers, mimes, jugglers, singers. So because this is what we do culturally, she said, “Eh, Arnaud,” because Arnaud is a pianist, “Let’s perform now.” She sang. We filmed it, put it on YouTube and it went viral. One million people have seen it so far. This is who Anne is. “OK, let’s perform now, live.” She has no problem, no fears. She is spontaneous. It is the French attitude, the French way.
Social Media emphasizes the live and spontaneous, which is fun. Singers and musicians, orchestras, all of a sudden appear and perform. It’s a great and enjoyable surprise for the shoppers who are in marketplaces and squares where these performances take place.
There are wonderful shows in America which are successful, but they are pre-rehearsed and pre-taped. In our shows, live emotion is very real, very present. There is no fear of making a mistake. New Yorkers and the rest of the country like the spontaneity, the emotion, the French attitude.
It’s extemporaneous, like a random happening. One has to be very comfortable to be able to perform under circumstances which are not staged. Anne has that ease and comfort about her, like you said, the French attitude/ambience. Where are you going from here with the show?
We have concerts until 2019. We have a lot of projects in Asia, China, Japan, of course, USA, of course, Canada. We are going to Australia. We are going everywhere in the world. We have a tour in Asia, so we are going to Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Japan. (Gil laughs) There is no country that we will not go to who will have us.
However, one goal is to succeed on Broadway. I think Broadway is a great place for the show. We are at the stage that we are ready for Broadway. We have promotional videos and I am thinking that we might be on stage on Broadway for five or six months. Then we would be able to set up the show and catch the audience’s attention.
What about Madison Square Garden?
Too big. We need to set up the show for six months. To bring it to MSG would be costly.
Pat Addiss puts on A Christmas Story, The Musical in the theater there by Penn Station. You would have to talk to her about it.
Carnegie Hall is a one-shot deal and begins our tour. Broadway is a big challenge. All the world comes here to America. If all the world comes here, then they would be able to see Piaf! The Show on Broadway.
What about TV?
I would love to see Piaf! The Show on TV.
What are the performances before Carnegie Hall on January 6, 2017?
We have a tour. We will be in Princeton University, the 16th of October. It is a middle range tour. I don’t mean to minimize it. I refer to a 900-seat theater as middle range because we’ve performed globally in much larger venues. Initially, Piaf! The Show was sold out in Princeton. We will return by audience request. People who saw it the first time are coming back to see it a second time, they loved it so much. We will be in Princeton, Los Angeles, Scottsdale, Arizona, and Miami. After performing in those cities, we will be doing the major U.S. tour with the Carnegie Hall kickoff in January. I spoke to 50 members of APAP [see Part I of this interview], who are on the guest list and they are coming to Carnegie Hall.
On the website is there a list of dates for Piaf! The Show? Blogcritics is read around the world, a global magazine. If people go to the show website, they will read the tour dates if they are traveling and buy tickets if they will be in the area.
I only listed the dates up to the sixth of January at Carnegie Hall because I don’t want to confuse people. However, we continue to update the site and will include the next section of dates so people will be able to follow the tour without our giving too much confusing information. I don’t include private dates for shows. We have the final gala for the U.S. soccer 2016 for a private sponsor to see Piaf! The Show.
Well, I believe what you are doing is historic for French musical theater and song. And it’s historic related to Edith Piaf. Here is a “little guy” who has grown into a major entrepreneur, whose shows are performed around the world. You are bringing a production which represents and celebrates the best of French culture to audiences worldwide.
Next year we will be in the U.S. also performing Paris! The Show. You will love it. It’s the story of love, with songs and the roles Jacques Brel performed in song; the story is amazing. There are three singers, Anne Carrere, Stephanie, four musicians, two dancers. It was inspired by Americans who spoke to me and said, “Hey why don’t you create musical comedy using the greatest French cultural songs?” So we did this in Paris! The Show.
The French Embassy knows what you’re doing, yes?
Initially, it was, “Hello, I’m a little man from Nice, and I’m going to present my show at Carnegie Hall.” (Gil imitates hanging up) Ok, ok. (they weren’t very interested) But later on I spoke to the Minister of Culture. She said, “Someone talked to me about you. Are you going to have a production in Carnegie Hall?” When I said yes, she wanted the whole story.
And for Paris! The Show we will have a world tour at the same time as for Piaf! The Show. Because I want to continue to produce and write, next week I am going to meet Charles Aznavour. I would like to create a show about Aznavour’s life and career. It’s another “the show” series of French musical theater. It is entitled Aznavour! The Show. The reason? Charles Aznavour, who is 92 years old, is going to perform in Madison Square Garden on the 15th of October as part of his world tour. I will be there. I want to meet this guy.
I saw the producer of Charles Aznavour’s Madison Square Garden show yesterday. I told him that I wanted to produce Aznavour! The Show and I said I wanted to meet Charles and show him the pictures and my work created around Aznavour! The Show. Because Charles is still alive, it’s difficult to create a show about an artist’s life unless you have their blessing. So I have to be in touch with Charles and tell him what the presentation of his life might be. Charles Aznavour is iconic. He is able to fill big venues. But smaller venues also want to see him as well. For example, Princeton would be interested in such a show about Charles Aznavour’s life and career.
And Charles Aznavour is interested in meeting me because he knows that I will create a wonderful show about him. “Jezebel” is the song of Charles Aznavour performed by Edith Piaf. He heard our performance and Anne’s singing and I was told that he said about me, “Who is this guy. I want to meet him.”
So next week I will meet him in Paris. To give an example of how iconic and beloved he is, at 92 years old, his show has sold out twice in Madison Square Garden.
Charles Aznavour is not singing at 92?
Yes, he’s singing at 92 years old. He’s on a world tour. He’s been in Rio De Janeiro, Singapore, New York twice, Los Angeles twice. He is sold out everywhere. Just to give you a sense of perspective and a reference with other singers: Charles Aznavour has over 100 million CDs sold. This is more than Michael Jackson. He is perhaps the most important performance singer still alive in the world. All over the world his shows are sold out.
He knows generally that I want to create a show about his life and that I want to meet and interview him. I will ask him for his acceptance of the production of his life and career. Sometimes, artists get upset if you reveal their lives. But I want to show him some videos and some workshops and explain my vision to represent him on the stage. I must confer with him to get his OK.
Would you consider having him sing with Anne?
No. But in Paris! The Show, we have musical comedy of Charles Aznavour’s songs and Anne singing.
Yesterday, when I saw Charles Aznavour’s producer and I spoke with him about my vision, I thought about how I would present my approach to Charles. It will be, “Ah, I would like to do that, and that, and that. Do you agree or not?” He can stop me. For example, if a “little” producer went to Michael Jackson and said, “Hey Mr. Jackson, I would like to create a production of your life and career,” Michael Jackson would probably have said, “No.” So we’ll see what he says. He is still alive and still singing. But he knows that we are not going to destroy the career of Charles Aznavour. We will be very positive and celebrate him.
Amazing. Good luck, Gil on all your projects and on the world tours.