Ah, Paris. The bright lights, the secret passageways, the.. Aristocats. Tony Award winning singer and story teller Frances Ruffelle gives voice to these and many more of the City of Light’s nuances in a night of surprises, soliloquies and smoky nostalgia. Set amongst the stunning backdrop of underground cabaret venue The Crazy Coqs, Ruffelle swoons and parades for the audience in ripe old coquettish French style, whilst her upbeat live house band funk and trill in the background. And whilst there are occasional moments of soloing from the impressively put together group of musicians, their role is clear – to provide the rhythm and beat that Ruffelle needs to put on a spectacular show.
And put on a show she does. It’s not a surprising fact to learn that Ruffelle played the very first staged performance of Eponine in Les Miserables some years ago – she was born to interact with an audience and tell a story on stage. The story she has to tell us this time around may be a very simple one – her love of Paris through the ages – but she does this in remarkable song snapshots that represent both the old and new France, an auditory scrapbook of faded glamour and wistful romance.
The eclectic list of songs don’t always rest on the familiar Gallic tones of classic French songstresses like Édith Piaf either, as Ruffelle also stretches the theme to include songs from Paul Simon and yes, those famous symbols of France, the Aristocats. In the main this doesn’t distract from the night – France is a varied place afterall, with many influences and influencees, although it would have been pleasant to hear a few more French melodies alongside the more poppy and rocky elements of the evening, if only to watch the amazing Art Deco stylings of the performance space come alive with some appropriate music.
There are also moments when Ruffelle’s theatricalities slightly grate, so caught up in the ooh la la and va va voom of French living is she that the audience, slightly more restrained individuals, can’t always keep up with the exhibitionism. However, if the finale is anything to go by, where the majority of onlookers were shouting for an encore louder than a group of French Revolutionists bellowing for an uprising, it’s clear that, en generale, Frances Ruffelle and her backing band illuminate Europe’s most enigmatic city with wit and colour, and only a hint of garlic.