A bit of history via Yvonne Constant
Barbara and Scott
The Two of Clubs
Finally, we come to Yvonne Constant, a Tony Award-winning musical comedy star who performed on Broadway in such shows as La Plume de Ma Tante and No Strings. A star of movies and television, as well, Ms. Constant has performed in cabarets all over the world. Now, though she is a woman of a certain age, she is otherwise ageless. Her recent show at the Metropolitan Room, Paris on the Road to Piaf was a generally informative history of chanson and the people who sang it in Paris during the golden age of such music.
Talking about the likes of Yves Montand and Charles Aznavour, Ms. Constant oftentimes revealed information we didn't know. We're not going to tell you how Yves Montand got his name; let Ms. Constant have that honor. Besides, this show is not about her singing, which is fine on the rough and tumble songs like "Milord" and the wonderful comedy number she pulled off using several different voices, "Tout va Tres Bien, Madame La Marquise." The latter was a particularly special performance. And that's fitting, because Ms. Constant has been, throughout her long and busy career, a particularly special performer.
Yvonne Constant Brings Paris to 46th Street
I didn't expect to find a convenient segue leading into my review of Yvonne Constant's show except to say that I caught her opening at Danny's Skylight Room the very next night, March 28, or to say both singers wore sequins.
They're quite different personalities. But early in her set, the French entertainer stops during the introductory verse of Cole Porter's "Night and Day" ("... the drip, drip, drip of the raindrops ...") to playfully curse cabaret master Bobby Short for his established directive to include those intros. "God knows I loved Bobby Short. I loved his energy and enthusiasm, but these lyrics irritate me." Offering a piece of paper from the piano, musical director, Russ Kassoff pipes up, "Yvonne, I have a surprise for you." In this bit of staged "business," she acts as if she'd never before seen the French translation and proceeds to sing a few lines.
Then, she stops again and declares, "Now I am irritated in two languages."
But in her night club act, she is charming - in two languages.
Her theme is La Chanson Realiste, the music popularized in France between the World Wars, but she does take one detour from the musicalized history lesson to flash forward to the 1960s (no, not to her own time on the boards in La Plume de Ma Tante, No Strings, The Gay Life). It is to embody the title song from Irma La Douce. It turns out to be one of the the highlights of the whole evening, like a miniature three-act play, wonderfully dramatic and building beautifully.
With this number, Yvonne uses her whole body, stalking across the stage and incorporating full gestures as she tells the story that goes from bitter loneliness to exultation upon the hope of love's return.
Of course, l'amour is the main subject at hand. Although she sings the majority of the material in French, the still-glamorous lady generously serves as guide/translator. Sometimes this comes in the form of switching to English for a chorus, but more often a concise aside as a summary or commentary (sometimes flip, sometimes just helpful).
Certainly a familiarity with the material makes for a fuller appreciation. I was glad I understand some French and know many of the songs, as there are some that would be known to most with a passing familiarity (the Josephine Baker specialty, "J'ai Deux Amours," and the well-worn torch songs "My Man" and "Parlez-moi D'amour").
Yvonne is casual, despite the heavy nature of some of the material; she does not go in for big endings and flourishes, and a "well, that's that!" attitude comes through as she seems to dispense with one number and is eager to move right along. Edith Piaf signature numbers are dynamic and exciting, and seem to inspire a more fully involved performance rather than an amiable but laidback approach. Her "Milord" and "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" are quite thrilling in her strong throaty, dynamic renditions. Some of the other material as essayed does not call on her theatricality, but I did find myself wrapped up in the era as she talked about icons and the sensibilities of the times.
Yvonne is fortunate in having the services of Russ Kassoff as her (sole) musician, who several years ago conducted for French legend Charles Aznavour. The pianist-arranger, more commonly seen in a jazz setting, adds much flavor and support in this more straightforward, nostalgic style. I'd caught him just a few days earlier nimbly matching Debbie Gravitte's Broadway-style bravura, too, and I'm eager to hear his imminent release, a belated first solo CD.
He told me, "Yvonne is very interesting and much fun to work with. It's a pleasure to explore this not often performed canon of songs with her." He added, "Regardless of whether or not you speak French, she gets you to understand the stories that she weaves."
I think you'll agree. Perhaps not for every taste, but after hearing many well-meaning All-American singers trying to take on this kind of material, I must say you can't beat the genuine article, with the entrenched history and understanding, authentic accent and flair.
Broadway Star - The Gay Life - Mimi It has since been renamed "The High Life!"
Bought the newly re-mastered CD of "The Gay Life" on Amazon.com and found out that Yvonne didn't sing in the show even though she had a starring role. Barbara Cook - the principal singer came to see FOLLIES.
Broadway Star - No Strings
I was lucky enough to see Yvonne Constant in "No Strings!"
PARFAIT - PERFECT - ANIMATED FILM
"PARFAIT" is a narration done by Yvonne for the French version.
Visit Herbipolis.com for more information.
The English Version is called PERFECT.
Yvonne did one woman shows such as "Yvonne Constant Sings Yves Montand."
She performed this show in New York, Chicago and Washington. Yves Montand was very pleased indeed!
La Chanteuse - Yvonne Constant at Danny's Skylight Room
Cabaret came originally from France.
So did chanteuse Yvonne Constant - and that she's both authentic and, as Rex Reed called her, "a delight in any language" was eminently evident in her newest show, La Chanson Realiste: Paris in the Twenties, presented at Danny's Skylight Room.
Yvonne's focus was on love songs that were popular in France in the "realistic" period between the two World Wars - songs originally identified with such stars as Dietrich, Mistinguett, Piaf, and the girl who captured the heart of Paris wearing only a ring of bananas, Josephine Baker.
Several numbers later became popular in America with English lyrics, such as "My Man" and "Just a Gigolo."
Setting the scene for each song, Yvonne, with her husky, musical sing/speak style, her dancer’s movements, and her amusing comments, recreated a time gone by - at the same time creating a present-day, warm connection with her audience.
Providing top support at the piano was musical director Russ Kassoff.
The Lighthouse Center for the Arts in Palm Beach, Florida
Yvonne Constant: French Chanteuse
Yvonne Constant of New York City and Paris delights her audience with a mix of saucy and romantic French numbers with show tunes, and whether singing in English or French, she has a sexy, intimate demeanor in communicating with her audience.
Yvonne was featured in a Jan. 20, 2003 New York Observer review as, "a French soufflé that never falls" and "a toast of Broadway in the famous revue La Plume de Ma Tante" when she was a young and rising star fresh to New York.
The reviewer Rex Reed also called her "wickedly original."
Date: Wednesday, March 9, 2005
Time: 8 p.m.
Location: The Lighthouse Center for the Arts, Palm Beach, Florida
Thursday, March 10, 2005
Time: 8 p.m.
Yvonne Constant - Movies
Yvonne Constant & Maurice Chevalier in MONKEYS, GO HOME!
MONKEYS, GO HOME!
Monkeys, Go Home! [DVD] (1966)
Simian slapstick for kids about an American (Dean Jones) who inherits a run-down French olive farm. Despite forewarnings from the village priest Maurice Chevalier) and a young woman (Yvette Mimieux), he recruits a band of monkeys as pickers...creating havoc and hilarity. With Bernard Woringer, Yvonne Constant. 88 min. Soundtrack: English Dolby Digital Surround.
THE FAVOR, THE WATCH, AND THE VERY BIG FISH
A sweet hapless Louis photographs religious art scenes. He disrupts his frantic search for a "Jesus" model, to do a sick friend a favor. As a result, he befriends a zany ex-con piano player who believes he can walk on water; he voice syncs a romp-in-the-hay for a porno film, and falls in love with a charming, larcenous, slightly terrific girl.
Ebert Rating: *** By Roger Ebert, May 29, 1992
“The Favor, the Watch and the Very Big Fish” is a slight comedy, very slight, and very British, even though it seems to be set in Paris. It’s the kind of movie you need a taste for, and most people will probably find it too winsome or just plain peculiar. If you like Jacques Tati, with his quiet, off-balance moments of whimsy, you may like it. I doubt if it’s possible to love it, though.
The movie stars Bob Hoskins in one of his strangest roles, as a photographer specializing in biblical scenes. He tries to make postcards of the same sorts of tableaux that Renaissance painters made ceilings from. He carefully arranges his models in front of gaudy backdrops, dresses them in biblical garb that would have made Cecil B. De Mille proud, and photographs them looking holy.
Hoskins, who has played gangsters and London cabdrivers and made love to an animated rabbit, can play almost anything, and this is one of his inspired performances, although it’s so odd that it may go unnoticed. He works in a studio upstairs over a “religious supplies” shop run by Michel Blanc, that superb actor of tidy little men (such as “Monsieur Hire”).
One day Hoskins’ friend Zalman, an actor, implores him to do a favor: Zalman is ill and cannot go to a dubbing session. The people there have never seen him. Will Hoskins take the job? Hoskins protests that he has never acted in his life, but he does the favor, and discovers to his amazement that he is dubbing the soundtrack for a hard-core sex scene. His fellow actor is a young woman played by Natasha Richardson.
And now events grow very complicated, as Hoskins recruits a man off the street (Jeff Goldblum) to pose as Jesus in a series of new photographs. Goldblum is deranged to begin with, and being Jesus is the worst possible input for him. Before long he becomes convinced he is Jesus, and so do several other people, while meanwhile a romantic triangle forms with Richardson, Hoskins and Goldblum.
The film’s director, Ben Lewin, sets these events in a place that is physically Paris, although everyone speaks English with various accents and no attempt is made to explain the location.
Like the comedies of Tati (or Chaplin and Keaton, for that matter), this is a movie that takes place in “streets” and “rooms” and in a “city,” as if such places were generic. Lewin takes a lot of care with some of the low-key physical comedy in the film: double takes, close misses, coincidences, complex physical movements. These physical moments pay off in chuckles, not big laughs - but then with Tati, too, you smiled more than you roared.
At the end of the film we are left with very little except for a comic attitude, a delicate approach that depends on the sophistication and patience of the audience to make it work. Maybe you’ll like it. Maybe you won’t. At least you haven’t seen anything like it before.
Jackie Gleason, Yvonne Constant and Gene Kelly
Jackie Gleason in Gigot - 1962
Director: Gene Kelly. Starring: Jackie Gleason, Katherine Kath, Gabrielle Dorziat, Yvonne Constant, and Jacques Marin.
Gigot (Gleason) is a deaf custodian who barely earns enough for his own subsistence, but he comes to the aid of a loose woman and her little girl.
Jackie Gleason and Yvonne Constant
As a very young Rolande in 'Maxime," Yvonne got to work with Charles Boyer, but only a year later, Yvonne was starring on Broadway in La Plume de Ma Tante and received a special Tony Award.
Yvonne and her cast mates in "La Plume de Ma Tante" won special Tony Awards. It ran for 835 performances.
It was the first show I saw her in, and I met her several times that year.
At that time, she was also named one of the year's three "Most Promising Actresses" along with Barbra Streisand.
In addition, Yvonne has won:
The Backstage Bistro Award for Oustanding Female Vocalist and was named a Knight of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture.
Pamela Austin, Colette Brosset,
Yvonne Constant, Roger Caccia,
Genevieve Coulombel, Robert Dhery,
Michael Kent, Jean Lefevre,
Jacques Legras, Michael Modo,
Pierre Olaf, Nicole Parent,
Ross Parker, and Henri Pennec
for contribution to the theatre.
Hanford Lemoore's Review at junkyardclubhouse.com
Today, I would like to discuss one of the true classics of the Disney live action canon: Monkeys, Go Home!
Dean Jones puts his chimps to work, in Disney’s "Monkeys Go Home!"
In this delightful film, Dean Jones plays Henry Dussard, an American who has just inherited an olive farm he has never seen, in the south of France. Ooh la la! Being an American, he’s got some nutty ideas about how to turn this olive farm into a profitable venture — by hiring chimps instead of people to work the farm. Luckily, he previously was a chimp trainer for NASA, so he’s got a team of recently-retired space chimps at his disposal. So wacky!
In the ’60s, even the chimps were protesting
The little French town doesn’t like the idea of having to compete against a chimp-run farm, and they mount an underground resistance against Dussard. The chimps strike back by mounting a protest of their own, fighting for their right to work just as humans do.
At the same time, a boozy French broad shows up claiming to be Dussard’s long-lost cousin (and she is truly fabulous, played by Yvonne Constant), staking claim to half of Dussard’s farm, and threatening Dussard’s budding relationship with a barely-legal French tartlet, played by Yvette Mimieux.
Maurice Chevalier, with the French corner of It’s a Small World
And just for good measure, Maurice Chevalier plays the town priest, who shows up now and then to impart some heavily-accented wisdom, and sing a song or two.
Oh! The music! The music is the best part, and I’m not kidding around here — I would sincerely buy Robert F. Brunner’s soundtrack/score. It’s great ’60s light-quirk-funk-pop stuff.
Yvonne in the movie "La Belle Verte"