- CHARITY BENEFIT
By: Paulanne Simmons
When Flo Ankah, better known as Floanne, walks onto the stage at the Metropolitan Room wearing a trim black dress and an impish smile, the first thing she says is “I never felt compelled to sing Edith Piaf’s songs.”
Floanne gives at least two plausible reasons: she’s too tall (just about everyone is taller than the “little sparrow”) and Piaf sang them all perfectly already. But then Floanne goes on to say that she always imagined the characters Piaf was singing about, and thus came about Floanne’s Edith Piaf, Alive and Living in New York.
Unlike Piaf, a quintessential Parisienne, Floanne was born on a French farm. And unlike Piaf, who learned her art here and there, Floanne is a triple threat trained in dance, voice, theater, film/TV and improvisation. The training is evident.
Floanne, who is bilingual, sings many of Piaf’s best known songs in both French and English: “L’Accordeoniste,” “Hymne a l’Amour,” “L Vie en Rose,” “Milord,” “Non, Je Ne Rgrette Rien.” She also sings a smattering of songs she imagines Piaf would have liked to sing: Jacques Brel’s “Amsterdam,” Barbara’s “L’Aigle Noir.” If her voice does not have the sensuality of Piaf, it certainly has a marvelous range.
The show does seem a bit under-rehearsed. Floanne is not always completely sure of the English lyrics and once was helped by a friendly audience member. But that really didn’t take away from the evening and will surely be overcome with time.
When Floanne is not singing, she’s telling the story of Piaf’s life, sometimes as herself and sometimes (less successfully) as Piaf. It is a story most people in the audience probably know. But Floanne emphasizes the possibility that myth has triumphed over reality.
Was Piaf born on the streets of Paris or in a hospital? Was she abandoned by her parents or were they busy street performers? Was the eye infection that made Piaf legally blind as a child cured by the prayers of prostitutes or medicine?
There are certain facts about Piaf, however, that are indisputable. She was a woman who suffered the pain of personal sorrow, including the death of both a lover and a daughter. And it was this pain that can be heard in her songs, along with the joy and love of life that comes with surviving. Floanne captures both; the pain and the joy.