Lean 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.”


By STEPHEN HOLDEN ~ the New York Times ~ MAY 25, 2010