‘Songbird’ flies from Paris to Langley

As she nears death, iconic French singer Edith Piaf reincarnates the ghosts of her past, sharing with the audience a forceful, romantic journey through her life accompanied by her heartrending songs in “The Songbird of Paris, Edith Piaf,” showing for one weekend only.

Max Cole-Takanikos and Joni Takanikos in “Songbirds of Paris.”

As she nears death, iconic French singer Edith Piaf reincarnates the ghosts of her past, sharing with the audience a forceful, romantic journey through her life accompanied by her heartrending songs in “The Songbird of Paris, Edith Piaf,” showing for one weekend only.

The mostly one-woman play was written and directed by Martha Furey and stars Joni Takanikos as Piaf, with Takanikos’ son, Max Cole-Takanikos, playing the second part.

There will be three shows: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 18 and 19, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 20 on the Martha Murphy Main Stage in the Porter Building, located at 222 Anthes Ave., Langley.

“The Songbird of Paris” is returning from a five-week run at the Berkeley Marsh Theatre in California. Before that, they performed the show in Ireland. They also performed for Langley in November 2011 but Takanikos said the play has been expanded since then.

“We had full houses and people really loved it,” Takanikos said of the performances at the Berkeley Marsh Theatre. The show’s next stop may be on a stage in New York City.

Furey has written a number of one-woman shows and performed a few at the Fringe Festival in Scotland very successfully, Takanikos said.

“She’s really good. When she wrote this play, she knew she needed to find someone to do it,” Takanikos said, adding that there’s a lot of singing in the play. “I’m fortunate she asked me to do it.”

Rising from the streets

Piaf lived from 1915 to 1963. She was born into a life on the streets and her parents abandoned her at an early age. Later, she performed with her father in acrobatic street performances before a nightclub owner discovered her and launched her into a singing career.

“She’s quite a character to take on, and not just a character, she was an amazing real-life person. She rose from the streets,” Takanikos said. “It’s a really grand story of where our life can take us. So I like taking this kind of archetypal story into my blood and bones, so to speak.”

“She also has a very unique way of singing and I knew I couldn’t imitate her in any way,” Takanikos said. To get into character, Takanikos drew inspiration from Furey’s work. When she performs, Furey doesn’t copy the person; she does an honest portrayal of the emotions and events in their lives, Takanikos said, adding that a lot of research goes into Furey’s plays, many of which trace the lives of world-renowned people.

“If Edith was here to tell her story, she would touch on these points that Martha pulled from her life,” Takanikos said.

“It’s really helped me grow as a singer more than anything, taking on a great singer,” Takanikos continued. Five years ago, she had said she’d like to learn a couple of songs in French.

“I never knew it would lead to this challenge,” Takanikos laughed.

While she has done a number of local plays, Takanikos said she never considered herself to be an actress before now.

Takanikos and Furey wanted to bring the show back to Whidbey Island again after they added another song and more dialogue.

“I just wanted to do it one more time here on the island so people who didn’t get to see it can see it,” Takanikos said.

Tickets cost $12 and can be purchased in advance at Eddy’s on First Street in Langley or at the door; cash or check are accepted. For more information, call 221-2357.

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