Independent Spotlight: Madame Piaf with Rhoda Lopez

Perth’s theatre scene is full of enterprising people who want to work on creatively fulfilling projects that allow them to produce cutting-edge works, maintain artistic control, and provide Perth audiences with quality, unique productions. Cicely Binford takes up-close look at some of the ‘independents’ in Perth and their steadfast commitment for producing exciting theatrical works of superior quality for Perth audiences.

Rhoda Lopez Photo:  Stephen Lee
Rhoda Lopez
Photo: Stephen Lee

Next up in the spotlight is the lovely bundle of creative energy named Rhoda Lopez. Rhoda is one of Perth theatre’s treasures; she’s versatile, smart, driven, has a beautiful voice and a magnetic stage presence. You can catch her performing all over town in various guises: in plays, musicals, cabarets, The Sirens, and in Velvet Sting. She’s currently co-producing and performing a show called Madame Piaf, written by Stephen Quinn and co-produced and directed by Stephen Lee (although these two Stephens might be one and the same).

Unsurprisingly, the show is a musical biography of Edith Piaf and was born out of Stephen and Rhoda’s mutual dissatisfaction with another work about the chanteuse called Piaf. They felt this play didn’t really do justice to Piaf, portrayed her in a negative light, and didn’t use some of Piaf’s most famous songs. So Stephen felt that he should try to write his own show about the “little sparrow” and Rhoda should tackle the role. So he’s done his research about the tiny woman with the gigantic voice and put together a script with twelve songs and a number of scenes that flash back and forward to tell the story of Piaf’s rise to fame and her denouement.

Rhoda’s going to great lengths to transform herself; she’s got the perfect wig and makeup, she’s got a black dress just like the one Piaf always appeared in, and she’s even found a gold crucifix just like the one given to Piaf by her friend Marlene Dietrich. She’s been working on the Piaf stance (arms at her sides, hands on her legs) and all of Piaf’s very specific gestures. But more important than getting the look right, Rhoda’s been learning to adapt her vocal style to match France’s most famous songbird. I asked her if this was difficult or painful in any way and she said at first there was some pain, but she has been going back to her singing teacher who has told her to visualise a full brass section when working on the songs in order to help her find a different way of singing.

All of the songs are sung in the original French by Rhoda and her fellow performers, of which there are three (David Bowyer, Zalia Joi, and Emma Shaw).  Luckily language comes fairly easily to her since she spent a year as an exchange student in the French-speaking region of Belgium. She said that one of her challenges is not, as one would expect for most English-speakers, getting the French right, but is in fact playing down her French accent during the spoken scenes and Anglicising it to a greater degree. A couple of other challenges she notes are singing over the accordion (played by musical director Nikki Dagostino) and getting the same fantastically rolled “r”s that Piaf produced. She’ll likely need plenty of water on hand to keep those “r”s rolling.

Rhoda says one of her main goals with Madame Piaf is to surprise people at her transformation; she wants to make herself appear as tiny in stature as the diminutive diva, who barely came to 4’8”, and bear as true a likeness to Piaf as she can. She also hopes to turn a few Perth folks who might not know much about Piaf’s music and life into converts.

The company is mounting the show in one of Perth’s newest pop-up theatre venues, the Guild Studio. Formerly a space that housed the office of the Equity Guild of WA, it’s an intimate space that seats about forty, but they’re going to try to squeeze in forty-three. They’ll be keeping the audience warm by serving homemade soup and possibly some sweet French treats. The show runs over nine performances on unconventional days of the week to allow the musicians (Beth Sheldon on upright bass, Jeffrey Harold on guitar, and Nikki Dagostino on piano/accordion) to keep their regular weekend night gigs going; so check the bookings website or the Facebook event page to confirm the dates.

Non, I’m sure you will regret nothing by seeing this show, and you might just come away from it seeing “la vie en rose.” Vive la Piaf!

**9 shows only**
AUGUST 4 – 17, 2013
5pm – Sunday 4th August
7:30pm – Mon 5th-Thurs 8th, then Tues 13th – Thurs 15th
3pm – Saturday 17th

THE GUILD STUDIO 123 Claisebrook Rd, cnr. Somerville St, PERTH

Bookings & info:
Ph: 0403 889 352

Cicely Binford

Cicely originally hails from Dallas, deep in the heart of Texas, USA. She graduated from Texas Woman's University with a Bachelor of Arts in Drama. While at university, she had the opportunity to explore as many aspects of the theatre world as she could fit under her belt, both as a performer, as well as in a number of different design and technical roles. After moving to Australia in 2007, she found herself back in the theatre world, performing, designing, and even directing once again, with a passion rekindled by the increasingly vibrant theatre and performing arts scene in Perth. She is also an avid photographer and can often be found around town at various performing arts events with a camera strapped to her neck. Her aim is to have her finger on the thriving pulse of the arts scene in WA through participation and immersion in everything it has to offer.

Cicely Binford

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