by Pam Gems
Piaf is a play by Pam Gems that focuses on the life and career of French chanteuse Edith Piaf. The biographical drama with music portrays the singer in a most unflattering light. She is presented as a self-destructive, promiscuous alcoholic and junkie who, in one controversial scene, urinates in public.
It premiered in 1978 at The Other Place in Stratford-upon-Avon, after which it moved to The Warehouse and the Aldwych Theatre, London. The production starred Jane Lapotaire in the title role, and included Ian Charleson as Pierre.
In Argentina occurred in 1983/86 with Virginia Lago in the role of La Piaf. Awards: In 1984 Premio Estrella de Mar for Best Actress and in 1984 Prensario Award for Best Actress.
A London revival occurred in 1993/94 with Elaine Paige in the role of Piaf. In 1994, Gold Badge of Merit Award BASCA. In 1994, This gained her a nomination for the Olivier Award – Best Actress in a Musical.
In Uruguay 1994/95 Laura Canoura in the role of Piaf. In 1995 Iris de Plata Award.
A second revival in 2008/09/10 had Elena Roger in the title role. In 2009 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical.
After six previews opened on Broadway at the Plymouth Theatre on February 6, 1981 with its original star, Jane Lapotaire. It ran for 165 performances.
Opening & Closing Dates
Type & Version
Feb 5, 1981 – Jun 28, 1981
Play / Original
Plymouth Theatre, NY, USA
- Zoë Wanamaker ….. Toine
- Peter Friedman ….. “Papa” Leplée
- Judith Ivey ….. Madeleine
- Jean Smart ….. Marlene Dietrich
Opening Night Production Crew
In his review in the New York Times, Frank Rich observed, “Miss Lapotaire’s performance burns with such heartstopping intensity that one never questions her right to stand in for the “little sparrow,” who died at age 47 in 1963; one embraces her instantly and totally. While it is far more difficult to embrace Mrs. Gems’s rather frail play, I guess we can’t have everything. Let’s be thankful for Miss Lapotaire . . . Piaf often obeys the dramatic cliches of rags-to-riches-to-rags showbiz sagas. Like an old movie biography, Mrs. Gems’s play unfolds in snippets in which minor characters . . . whip by to deliver information . . . or to act out, in absurd shorthand, famous events in the subject’s life . . . Instead of raising substantive issues about Piaf, the evening’s cartoonish archetypes call the playwright’s craft into question . . . These sketchy people just grease the narrative skids and kill too much time. Singly, they may be innocuous, but collectively they become a dead weight around the play’s neck . . . Mrs. Gems also relies on that tired device of following most of Piaf’s heartbreaks with songs that comment directly on the action. This might work if the songs were Piaf’s best, but the ones here are generally lesser-known numbers that seem intended to minimize invidious comparisons between Miss Lapotaire’s voice and her character’s.” 
Awards and Nominations
Jane Lapotaire won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play. Zoë Wanamaker was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play. In 1984 Virginia Lago won the Premio Estrella de Mar for Best Actress and in 1984 Prensario Award for Best Actress. In 1994 Elaine Page won the Gold Badge of Merit Award BASCA and in 1994 a nomination for the Olivier Award – Best Actress in a Musical. In 1995 Laura Canoura won the Iris de Plata Award. In 2009 Elena Roger won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical.
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