Mentions of frogs and snails inadvertently underlined some stereotypical views of the French way of life in Chansons, which was really all about French music, and even that was of a certain style, laced as it was with tunes made famous by Jacques Brel (1929-1978) and Édith Piaf (1915-1963), amongst others. As someone who usually only listens to music sung in English (apart from operatic works), this online production was something of a revelation – more knowledgeable readers will, of course, be already aware that ‘My Way’ has English lyrics to a song called ‘Comme d’habitude’, written by Claude François and Jacques Revaux. The show does not claim to represent all French music – there’s a whole French disco scene (the word ‘disco’ itself is a contraction of the French word ‘discothèque’), for instance, which is another conversation for another time.
It’s the attention to detail that makes Stefanie Rummel’s show so intriguing – she is well-travelled, having taken this show to a jazz venue in Reykjavik. You-know-what prevented her from performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2021, though the show was part of the Fringe’s digital offering. Her numerous visits to France over the years have given her an insight into their social norms and behaviours, and some of her observations are deeply personal, even if they are not always relatable for people like me who aren’t blessed with the ability to speak multiple languages fluently.
But there’s something to be said for the French language, and its ability to make the likes of Rummel more expressive and ooze positivity in a way she doesn’t when she speaks her native German, an observation made by her friends who noticed a change of outlook when she conversed with a hotel receptionist in France. Perhaps she is just one of those people who likes to assimilate into the local culture, wherever she is: one imagines her boozing it up at a Wetherspoons and talking about the weather on a trip to Britain.
Singing to camera is not quite the same as singing to a live audience, evidenced by some footage of some previous in-person performances. The distinctly non-ambient LED ceiling light in my front didn’t exactly help either with regards to watching this online show. There was some audience interaction, with people invited to make contributions from time to time, as they would in an in-person cabaret show. An audience member enthusiastically spoke about a recent visit to Paris, which I suppose is indicative of the audience a show full of French songs is invariably going to attract.
Some good use of video footage adds to an already substantial narrative. Background details to some familiar tunes is given, as would be expected, though Rummel is happy to stick to the facts as they are: the accordion, she points out, may well be popular in France but its origins are in China (Wikipedia doesn’t agree, although a website called ‘Accordions Worldwide’ does). A fascinating show, comfortably paced and with the right amount of history, songs and personal anecdotes, it held my attention despite me being far from fully conversant in French.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Bienvenue to Chansons, the musical intercultural show. Soul-touching stories about life and passion, from ‘Ne me quitte pas’ (Brel) to ‘Milord’ (Piaf). Live life the French way for one night, without travelling or jetlag. It doesn’t matter if you speak French or not – all is explained in English. This piece inspires our own lives by looking at other cultures. Sung and performed in brilliant showmanship by Stefanie Rummel and her pianists. It was seen in theatres and cabarets in France, Germany, Iceland, Finland, UK and US. ‘Great chansons… passionate feelings’ (Rheingauer Echo).