Naomi Emmerson as Edith Piaf
Piaf: Love Conquers All
photo: Larry Auerbach
is a highly-acclaimed one-woman show featuring multitalented Naomi Emmerson. A celebration of Edith Piaf, the most celebrated female entertainer of her time, the show appeared at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2005. The production then toured Ontario and Quebec to great success, moving on to win the Outstanding Musical award at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2007. Followed by a limited Off-Broadway 10-week engagement, the company then traveled to more than 10 cities before coming to San Francisco this month.
Written in 1992 by Roger Peace, the show debuted that year in Montreal. Emmerson took the lead role in 1993 and currently serves as the director and artistic producer.
Northside San Francisco
had a chance to talk to Naomi Emmerson recently and we discussed the role she’s played approximately 200 times during her acting career.
What is your attraction to playing Piaf?
When I first started playing her in 1993, it was a job. But now my motivation is to continually bring her music out to the audience in a meaningful way that is a tribute to her life. The music probably motivates me the most. The lyrics really tell her story, so if you listen to them you’re really getting a window into her life. She had a very mercurial life full of extremes and recklessness and she was things that I am not. So I get to pretend and then feel honored that there was a woman who made a ton of sacrifices to share her music with the world.
Tell us three things we probably don’t know about Edith Piaf.
I bet nobody knows that she was a Rosicrucian later in her life. And she was very mystical and believed in spirits and had many precognitive experiences. She had an Ouija board she carried with her all the time. One time she read the board and then opted out of taking a flight and the plane later crashed. She also helped approximately 150 prisoners of war to escape from the German camps. She would perform for the prisoners and then would make sure to have her picture taken with them. Then she’d find out these peoples’ names and IDs were forged for these prisoners. During a return performance, she’d smuggle these prisoners fake IDs and they could essentially walk right out of the camp. Also, she was by far the highest paid female entertainer of her time – more than Judy Garland or Ella Fitzgerald.
If you could have lunch with Piaf, what would you ask her?
I actually had a very vivid dream in which we were drinking together in a bar. I would probably ask her if she minds that I’m singing her songs and does she approve.
Her passions included men, music and morphine – in that particular order?
I think her men would have been the first one, because without men and love in her life, she couldn’t have done her music, I believe. And then when she had the pain of lost love, she sang even better. So those were connected. And of course the morphine played a big part in her life. Piaf got addicted to it after she was in a very bad car accident. After three years of abuse, she did finally quit. But she never gave up the booze!
If people are unsure about seeing this show, what would you say to convince them?
First off, the tickets for the show are very reasonably priced. In New York, we charged $45 and here the tickets are $25–$36. Also, the theater is beautiful; the set is amazing and people who know Piaf will come and really enjoy feeling like they’re visiting an old friend. And for those who don’t know anything about her, they will leave the theater absolutely wanting to know more.
Piaf: Love Conquers All: Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street (near Battery), July 7–August 7. Tickets $25–$36 available at 800-838-3006, www.brownpapertickets.com.