Photo – Matt Craig
Adelaide is all agog around the Festival Theatre Centre on the banks of the Torrens River because the French Festival is on. Well, yes you’d expect berets on the blokes and sexy gear on the women as well as accordions, lots of flowers, champagne, Ravel, songs and stories from the Paris Lido on the Champs-Elysees, soirees, Debussy, haute couture and French films.
All of that you get, and more, and this year you get a French icon, Edith Piaf. Well, you get Michaela Burger, and that’s about as near as you can get. Although she has performed the show elsewhere, this was the first time she performed Exposing Edith in Adelaide, the show she created here and her audience responded with gratitude for the intense pleasure she gave in an impeccable show.
At one point in Michaela says how like she is to Edith. “She was 4 ft. 10”. I am 4 ft. 11”. She was born in a Parisian gutter. I was born in Coober Pedy. She was called a sparrow. I like birds.” Not much to go on you’d think especially since Michaela was trained in Adelaide in the classical music genre, her early performing years in opera, her French taught at school and during three months residence in France. But she immersed herself in Edith’s story, her songs and her voice, fascinated by this small, dynamic woman who started her money-earning performances on a Paris street singing for hours while he sister held out the hat. She earned not one centime and decided that was a waste of time. Her sister urged her to try again. Reluctantly she did and from those oh so humble beginnings a star was born. On such pivotal moments, great achievements and stories turn and Michaela, with her glorious voice, expressive hands and impressive acting ability builds up for the audience a story of a life, often called tragic but triumphant in its resilience.
Edith loved several men, sometimes on sight and, loving them passionately as she did, she wrote and sang songs for them that we love to hear all these years later. At her peak, hers was the most famous voice in the world. She succumbed to the lure of alcohol and, after three car accidents in 1951 and taking morphine to dull the pain, she became addicted to it and used other drugs under the pressure of stardom and lost loves. Later she almost died from one of her many illnesses, her small frame shrinking skeleton-like. But there was something that pulled her back from the brink, that remarkable resilience that gave her the strength to keep going.
Michaela sang for us in the Piaf-powerful voice she has and imbued those songs with the joy and grief Edith felt when she sang them. To do that, Michaela needed to be accompanied by someone empathetic and at one with her, her subject and her music. She found one in Greg Wain whose skill gave his guitar voice in perfect harmony with Michaela and thus with Piaf. He and she were innovative with their music and the audience loved the occasional sound from two microphones and a magical box just touched by Michaela’s foot to produce her voice doubled and tripled and the eerie sound when she sang into the sound box of Greg’s guitar.
What of those most famous songs? With a voice with the range and impact hers has, as expressive as hers is and the songs sung with such passion, it is no wonder the audience loved all Michaela sang. But the audience lapped up “La Vie en Rose” (a song Piaf wrote about seeing life through rose coloured glasses) and “Non, je ne regrette rien”– No! no regrets, No, I will have no regrets of the things that went wrong, for at last I have learned to be strong. Edith died in 1963 of, it is thought, liver cancer. She was 47.
The show ended with one of the loveliest songs ever written. One which Edith Piaf sang on radio in 1950 in French and English – “Les Feuilles Mortes” – the dead leaves or what we known as “The falling leaves” We are fortunate that Michaela Burger and Greg Wain are here to remind us of the little sparrow in such a convincing and entertaining way. The audience thought so, giving her and Greg a standing ovation.
Michaela Burger and Greg Wain presents
by Michaela Burger and Greg Wain
Venue: The Space Theatre | Adelaide Festival Centre SA
Dates: 13 January 2018
Tickets: $30 – $25