I enjoyed my periodic French fun fix with ever-charming chanteuse Yvonne Constant in her latest “History of France” show at the Metropolitan Room. (There are two more performances left, tonight, February 5, 2011, and February 22, both at 7 p.m.) More revealingly were the reactions by four women sitting next to me, who were first discovering Constant and were strikingly impressed, just as her other acquired fans have been over the years.
The ladies, in from Milwaukee for a weekend of Manhattan entertainment, had seen “La Cage Aux Folles” the night before, were booked to see “Three Sisters” the next day and Paulo Szot at the Café Carlyle at night. After Yvonne Constant, they were headed to do a New York thing by having dinner at Sardi’s. They had read about Constant’s show on the internet and were intrigued without knowing her background.
Their enthusiastic reaction to her spirited, authentically French songfest demonstrates that Constant has what it takes to win new enthusiasts when given the bookings to reach them and not just rest on her laurels that include a Tony for her Broadway debut, repeated performances on the Johnny Carson show, a recent stint in an Encores! revival of “Follies” and a host of cabaret appearances. As I have noted before she is uniquely authentic bringing to New York her repertoire of French chansons.
Once again, there she was, looking great in a tasteful figure-fitting outfit short enough to show off her trim legs. There was the frequently flashed broad smile, there were the knowing funny asides between numbers and there was her overall take on French life versus life here. That was summed up in an anecdote she recounted about the late French Preisdent François Mitterand, who openly had a mistress and daughter with her, and whose wife invited them both to be with her at his funeral. In contrast she mocked how an American president had to go before the country to apologize for an event that happened “in proximity to his desk.” She then amusingly launched into singing a few bars of “It Was Just One of Those Things.”
Of course, the real meat of Constant’s show is her interpretation of French songs, some of which involve her interacting with musical director and pianist, the very accomplished Russ Kassoff. Although she pays tribute to other artists who have sung various numbers, her interpretations are her own.
I have my favorites, such as “Ah Monsieur,” in which a French woman gets angrier and angrier as her lover fails to show up for their 5 o’clock tryst. I also enjoy “Comme D’Habitude,” which wound up being adapted into “My Way.” Constant also does a nice job with “Il Venait D’Avoir 18 Ans,” about an older woman’s pleasure with an 18-year-old. There is also the sentimental, “My Dad.” Constant pays tribute to the colorful Greek icon Melina Mercouri, who lived in France while her country was under a dictatorship, by proudly singing “Je Suis Grecque” The music was written by Joe Dassin, son of famed film director Jules Dassin, who became Mercouri’s husband, and the younger Dassin also co-wrote the lyrics.
That’s only a sampling of what Constant expertly serves to her audience. When she sings, there is a feeling that we could well be in Paris. Reviewed at the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street. Phone: 212-206-0440