From the moment that the Festival Centre’s packed Banquet Room slid into darkness on Sunday afternoon, and Michaela Burger’s staccato and a cappella version of Edith Piaf’s early attempts at busking on the streets of Paris burst into the room, this audience was captivated.
Accompanied with professional and stylish ease by guitarist Greg Wain, this was a masterclass in characterisation and vocal performance, tracing Piaf’s life in all its many facets.
We glimpsed the early years of family instability, the moment she was discovered and the rise of her spectacular performing career, her work with the French resistance and her little-known mentoring of other performers.
Eventually the ‘little sparrow’ (a jealous rival early in Piaf’s career once said ‘Who is that plain little woman with the voice too big for her body?’) succumbed to the physical effects of the vagaries of her life, and her addiction to drugs and alcohol led to her premature death, aged only 47.
Burger transformed herself effortlessly into Piaf in all these guises. She confessed early in the show to being infatuated by Piaf ever since she was given a box set of the music. She looked for similarities between them and indeed, in their presentation, the simple black velvet dress, the gutturally powerful voice and the passionate delivery were Piaf to a tee.
Burger used some musical tricks to bring reverb and harmony to her delivery, but it was her superb vocal skills that soared from the stage to fill the room and mesmerise her audience. She also brought her own engaging manner to the story, playing with the audience during ‘Milord’ and balancing some of the more harrowing episodes of Piaf’s life with moments of teasing and humour.
Although the show encompassed most of Piaf’s well-known repertoire, it was undoubtedly the strong and compelling performance of ‘Je Ne Regrette Rien’ – encored at the end of the show – that brought the most rousing reaction from the audience. They would have been happy to see these two consummate performers continue well into the evening.
Like Piaf’s audience, we were left longing for more.
Exposing Edith’s Adelaide Cabaret Festival season has now finished but the show is touring regional South Australia with Country Arts SA, with performances scheduled for Yankalilla (August 13), Mount Compass (August 14), Clare (August 15), Ceduna (August 19), Streaky Bay (August 20), Cummins (August 21) and Port Augusta (August 22).
The Adelaide Cabaret Festival runs at the Adelaide Festival Centre until June 20.
More Adelaide Cabaret Festival stories and reviews here.
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