Chansons: Songs and Stories from Piaf, Brel & Me – The Living Record Festival

Reviewer: Helen Tope

Creator: Stefanie Rummel

Coming to us live on Zoom, Stefanie Rummel’s cabaret show Chansons has more than a touch of European flavour.

Rummel, who herself has spent many years working and living in France, gives the audience the authentic Parisian cabaret experience. Filmed against a background in luscious, Valentine red, Rummel welcomes us coquettishly. She offers three flowers: one for love, one for trust and one full of bees if “you ever forget me”.

Stefanie is an award-winning singer (with Chansons scoring five awards on its debut in 2019) and she quickly puts the audience at ease. She explains that this show is a tribute not only to legendary chanteuse Edith Piaf, and songwriter, Jacques Brel, but it is also a celebration of how French people live. Through the leisurely pace of the show and her unhurried interactions with the online audience, Rummel asks us to consider this way of life in comparison to our own culture. Her performances on camera are interspersed with pre-recordings: clips of Rummel singing in Frankfurt and Reykjavik. With Rummel dropping in some great anecdotes (including one involving some epic retail therapy) Chansons achieves Stefanie’s aim to create “travel without the jet lag”.

But the focus of Chansons, is of course, the music. Rummel’s voice is outstanding: it moves from delicate, lingering notes (in a superb cover of Autumn Leaves) to real moments of joie de vivre in Rummel’s take on the Piaf classic, L’Accordeoniste. With much of the catalogue sung in French or German, Rummel punches through the language barrier with characterful performances. She also moves across genres, shifting from jazz to contemporary pop, including a bright, sunny version of Zaz’s Je VeuxIt’s the versatility of Rummel’s talent that really emerges during the show. When Rummel assembles a group of puppets to perform Frere Jacques, the puppets perform the song in 16 different languages, making her wider point that music, specifically great songs, bring people together.

The tight framing of Rummel on camera makes this feel much more of an intimate experience than traditional cabaret. Maintaining a warm, familial presence, Rummel easily secures our attention as she digs down into the theme of the show. We have songs from acclaimed Belgian songwriter Jacques Brel, including Ne Me Quitte Pas and Amsterdam (which Brel loathed, but ended up becoming a hit for David Bowie). Rummel’s interpretation of this material is assured, even as the songlist moves between some very different emotional spaces.

Rummel explains to us that the word ‘chansons’ is, in its wider meaning, telling us stories about life. Chansons itself is Eurocentric at heart, but what Rummel conveys (and manages, even in an online format), is a cultural affiliation that doesn’t need to be translated. There are tangible memories, associations that come through these songs, even when they are not sung to us in our home language. Rummel’s ability to connect to us, through us, gives Chansons a cohesive quality that readily charms and persuades us that, through song, we finally understand each other.

Reviewed on 13 February 2022

The Living Record Festival runs 17 January – 22 February 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Charming chanteuse

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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