Radical Paris Was Rich With Song

Yvonne Constant ~ Brian Harkin for The New York TimesLean and shapely, with silver-blond hair, her face and body lightly dusted with glitter, the Gallic singer Yvonne Constant is the kind of ageless beauty that the French, who worship women of all ages, venerate without having to apply conditional terms like cougar.

Wearing a minidress over a flesh-color body stocking and silver high heels, Ms. Constant, who performed at the Metropolitan Room on Monday evening with the pianist Russ Kassoff, has made few concessions to age. (She is in her 70s.) An international show business presence since her role in the zany 1958 Broadway revue “La Plume de Ma Tante,” she proudly exhibited Marlene Dietrich legs.

 

Her new show, “Paris in the 60s and 70s,” is an acutely focused, unsentimental tutorial on French popular song and the lives of European songwriters and performers around the time of the May 1968 political uprising in France. She recalled those events as “a rebellion against all forms of authority” and remarked wryly that the radical student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit is now a member of the European Parliament.

A major theme of her show, sung in both French and English, is the radical transformation of familiar songs as they cross geographical borders. How did “Comme d’Habitude,” a dispirited reflection on marital boredom, become the Frank Sinatra ego trip “My Way”? Simple answer: Paul Anka wrote new English-language lyrics. Similarly, the Gilbert Becaud song “Seul sur Son Étoile,” outfitted with new lyrics by Mack David, became the American hit “It Must Be Him” for Vicki Carr.

Sections of the show were devoted to anecdotes about Becaud, a music hall dynamo nicknamed “Monsieur 100,000 Volts” for his furiously energetic performances, and to Dalida, the Egyptian-born star whose ex-husband and two subsequent lovers committed suicide. One of the most beloved of all French performers, Dalida also killed herself at 54, leaving a suicide note: “Life has become unbearable. Forgive me.”

Ms. Constant also touched on the lives of Jacques Brel, Yves Montand, Melina Mercouri and Serge Gainsbourg.

Ms. Constant’s approach to songs is wise, knowing and dry: not for her the anguished cry of Édith Piaf or the everyman vulnerability of Charles Aznavour. Her style of speech-song takes the long, dispassionate view of life, as if to say: “It is all water under the bridge. I was there, and now I’m here.”

Yvonne Constant performs again on June 6 and 7 at the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street, Manhattan; (212) 206-0440 or metropolitanroom.com.

© The New York Times

Opera News - On the Beat

The Metropolitan Room is still the best cabaret space in New York — more comfortable, clubbier and far less expensivethan the ridiculously overpriced Feinstein's at the Regency.

On December 9, I heard the second show in YVONNE CONSTANT's run at the Metropolitan Room. I go to cabaret performances for the same reason I go to opera — to be taken to a place I wouldn't have found on my own.

Thin and petite, dressed in a short, silver shift with a white body-stocking that made her look a little like a Gallic CAROL CHANNING, Constant gave the audience an absolutely singular nightclub performance.

Her show covered French songs from the May 1968 rebellion — the general strike that nearly toppled the DeGaulle government and ultimately did usher in a new, more liberal era — to the 1990s.

High points included Jacques Brel's "Bruxelles"; "One of Those Songs," her hit from La Plume de Ma Tante, which earned her a Tony; a stunning version of "Comme d'Habitude," the original French version of "My Way," done in the tough, dry French manner rather than the self-congratulatory, I've-done-it-all Sinatra style;

"It Must Be Him" — again the French version, and very different from the deliciously overwrought VIKKI CARR rendition we're all used to; and "Mon Vieux," a tribute to fatherly love that brought a profound hush over the entire room.

Constant has style, panache, dizzy wit, and unbelievable energy; this was one of the finest cabaret acts I've ever experienced.

Her music director was the excellent RUSS KASSOFF.