The Waif Sparrow and the Angel: Sex, drugs and chansons

9 November 2015, 1:00
The Waif Sparrow and the Angel: Sex, drugs and chansons

The musical about the long-term friendship between French singer Edith Piaf and German actress and singer Marlene Dietrich is focused on the solid base of their famous songs and the slightly decadent atmosphere of the 1950s in Hollywood. The new production of the City Theatre Brno tells a story of their close relationship and what they meant to each other.

The whole story is dominated by the life events of Edith Piaf, all her love affairs, tragedies, alcohol and personal failure. Marlene Dietrich acts rather as her companion and advisor, even though she is not always listened to. Daniel Große Boymann’s and Thomas Kahry’s piece is based on David Winterberg’s work, the world premiere of which was in Vienna in Burgtheater in 2013. The stage concept for Brno was prepared by Stanislav Moša and directed by Igor Ondříček. Although all the dialogues and monologues are in Czech, all the songs remained in the original, so that both main protagonists sing in German, French and English.

The musical is like a pleasant cabaret: there are no mass scenes, large scenography or, surprisingly enough, big orchestra. There are only six good musicians at the back of the stage, which highlights the intimacy of the Drama Theatre space and the whole atmosphere of the performance. Christoph Weyers’ scene sets the plot in a hotel room, the Olympia scene or music studio using side stage sets. The costumes of Andrea Kučerová were accurate copies of famous models of both artists; for example, the chiffon wedding dress which Edith was wearing on one of her weddings corresponded by design with the real dress we know from old photographs. The sensitive choice of materials and the period credibility of costumes brought the big world magic of the then Hollywood to mind, when the two women met for the first time.

How the friendship between Marlene Dietrich and fourteen-year younger Edith Piaf started, how the limits of this friendship moved and what the two women could have gone through together forms the main story line of the whole performance. Markéta Sedláčková in the role of Waif Sparrow and Ivana Vaňková playing her guardian angel Marlene together played the intimate drama full of nostalgic songs and turbulent emotions and sometimes even electrifying attractiveness which occurred between them. The delicate short woman Markéta Sedláčková who has a deep alto and full of unrelenting energy was in absolute contrast to the tall and prudent Ivana Vaňková. The cast of both actresses was opposite; especially the cast of Sedláčková was tailored to her. Vaňková in a tailcoat and with a blond wig made an impression of a charming but also very strict lady who is well aware of her virtues, fame and power. On the contrary, Sedláčková in her simple black dress was like a lively child; her ringing laughter was accompanied with harsh words; her gestures resembled a playful teenage girl when in love or a lovelorn old woman drinking heavily and abusing drugs. She sensitively played all traits of the figure she represented.

Sedláčková made a great impression by her portrayal of Edith Piaf. Apart from playfulness and lavish energy, her performance of the song Mon Dieu, which was heard on the day her lover, the boxer Marcel Cerdan, died, and also the song Non, je ne regretted rien which took her literally from her death bed was absolutely charming. Both the songs in her interpretation covered all the misfortune, pain and the need to sing out all her feelings. After a long time, Sedláčková got the role which covered all her vocal range, dramatic skills and emotions which are abundant in tense moments.

The Waif Sparrow and the Angel is primarily a probe in Edith Piaf’s tragic life. Marlene Dietrich represents her guardian angel here and even though she is good, she cannot compare with the genuineness and sincerity of the street child. The principal flaw of the performance is the length; two and a half hours is way too long even for ladies like Edith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich. The lengthiness inconspicuously influences even the impression arising from the strong and emotionally tense scenes.

Daniel Große Boymann, Thomas Kahry, David Winterberg: The Waif Sparrow and the Angel. Directing concept – Stanislav Moša, Directed by – Igor Ondříček, costumes – Andrea Kučerová, stage – Christoph Weyers, dramaturgy – Klára Latzková, music – Karel Cón, Edith Piaf– Markéta Sedláčková, Marlene Dietrich– Ivana Vaňková, 1st actress – Andrea Zelová, nd actress– Barbora Remišová, 1st actor– Alan Novotný, 2nd actor– Robert Jícha. 7 November 2015, Brno City Theatre, Drama Theatre, premiere.

Archive photo MdB

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