Review: The mystery that is Edith Piaf at Touchstone Theatre
Legends are made, not born.
What becomes a legend most is the air of mystery in the person’s life and profession.
The X factor is especially key to the legendary chanteuses of the recording, radio, movie and television golden era in the 20th century, among them Marlene Dietrich, Billie Holiday, Judy Garland and Edith Piaf.
The entrance of Edith Piaf (Nathalie Mentha) on the stage is shrouded in fog, symbolizing the air of mystery that surrounds Piaf’s birth, life and career.
“Edith Piaf: Hymn to Love,” through March 8, Touchstone Theatre, Bethlehem, wraps the story of the French singer in mystery.
The show, a concert, really, of Piaf songs by Mentha, accompanied by Jason E. Hedrington, at a spinet piano, is interspersed with monologues by Emma Ackerman, that fill in some, but not all, of the details about Piaf’s life.
Before Mentha descends a spiral staircase, an ankle and shoe appear in the spotlight. Then two ankles and two shoes appear. More of her emerges as she moves slowly, deliberating down the steps, wearing a black dress with jacket-like lapel embellishments.
Mentha goes to center stage, under one stark white spotlight, feet firmly planted apart, arms outstretched, often reaching skyward, and powerfully and emotionally belts out song after song made famous by Piaf, including perhaps her best-known, a trifecta of tragedy: “La Vie en rose,” “Non, je ne regrette rien” and “Milord.”
The three songs summarize Piaf’s view of life (looking at it through rose-colored glasses, as it were), her summation of choices she’s made (no regrets) and her passion (trying to transform infatuation into love).
Singing entirely in French and offering no explanations of her own regarding Piaf, Mentha takes her stand in the spotlight beautifully, loudly (singing with no microphone or amplification) and defiantly. She creates a cabaret of the conscience of Piaf.
As created by Teatro Potlach in collaboration with Touchstone Theatre and directed by Pino Di Buduo, with lighting and set by Chris Egging, the one-hour (with no intermission) “Hymn to Love” is a simple, but not simplistic, exquisitely-rendered portrait of the songs and life of Edith Piaf, mystery and all.
Tickets: Touchstone Theatre box office, 321 E. Fourth St., Bethlehem; touchstone.org; 610-867-1689. Group rates available. Touchstone offers a pay-what-you-will ticket at the door, as available, allowing walk-up patrons to name their ticket price.