A story about the little known friendship between Edith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich
Few people can say they have a best friend as close to them as the friendship between legendary stars of the early 20th Century, Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf. Although not many knew about their intense friendship, letters and texts between the two revealed their lifelong connection that even began as romantic. Now, on stage at the CAA Theatre, Mirvish presents Piaf/Dietrich – A Legendary Affair, directed by Gordon Greenberg, a musical about their thriving friendship that helped elevate both into showbiz history.
If you read the biographies of both Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf, it becomes very clear that neither lived an easy life. Piaf came out of a childhood affected by alcohol and lead a predominantly nomadic life in her early years. Her rise to fame as Paris’ top chanteuse was marred by a series of near-death accidents that left her further reliant on morphine and alcohol.
Dietrich became a staple name on stage and in silent film throughout the 1920s in Berlin. Her role in Der Blaue Engel caught the attention of Paramount Pictures and brought her name to Hollywood where she became one of the highest paid actresses of the era. Her fame lead to an estranged relationship with her daughter, along with a string of affairs with top celebrities including Frank Sinatra and John F. Kennedy.
It’s the drastic differences in their lives that make the friendship between Piaf and Dietrich all that more interesting. Dietrich was the shining star, but it was she who approached a struggling Piaf and took her under her wing. Through Dietrich’s bold, no-nonsense personality and booming demeanor, Piaf blossomed as a performer in America despite refusing to sing in English. Unfortunately, it was Piaf’s reliance on substance abuse that would drive the friends apart.
Louise Pitre and Jayne Lewis take on the title roles of Piaf and Dietrich and they both do so sublimely. Pitre embodies Piaf’s pain, pride and her desire to run to love wholeheartedly. As the opposite to that, Lewis as Dietrich is a woman jaded by what life throws at her. Both play off each other beautifully.
Musically, their voices shine in ways that most don’t expect from a standard musical. No light and airy sopranos here; Pitre sings with a rough and passionate rawness, particularly when she throws her heart and soul into “Non, je ne regrette rien,” while Lewis is as bold and brassy as ever, stunning in her performance of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” It was also great being able to see “La vie en rose” performed as a duet.
The stage is set to embody the glamour of Dietrich and Piaf in their glory days. Utilizing levels on stage and off stage in the audience, this performance makes great use of the space. It’s also visually dazzling with plenty of lights and lit up marquees. Special seats at elevated tables on the sides of the stage offer certain audience members a unique view of the show, with one of these luxurious tables playing an integral part in the performance.
Set designer Michael Gianfrancesco does a fine job here along with costume designer Louise Bourret who gave Piaf her signature black dress but also made sure Dietrich sparkled and shined under all those lights.
Piaf/Dietrich – A Legendary Affair is a delight. The whole experience not only shines lights on these beautiful but troubled souls but also allows the audience to sit in the embrace of the golden age of Hollywood for a spell.
- Piaf/Dietrich – A Legendary Affair is playing at the CAA Theatre (651 Yonge St) until December 8 2019.
- Performances run Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm with matinees on Wednesdays at 1:30 pm and weekends at 2:00 pm.
- Tickets range from $69 to $129, discounts are available for groups of 10 or more.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by phone by calling 416 872 1212, or in person at the box office.
- Run Time: Two hours with intermission.
- Audience Advisory: This performance contains theatrical haze, herbal cigarettes, strong language and mature subject matter. Viewer discretion is advised. Recommended for ages 14 and up.
Photo of Jayne Lewis and Louise Pitre by Cylla Von Tiedemann.