Keeping the tradition of the French chanteuse alive and available, Yvonne Constant has a new show dubbed “One of a Kind,” and indeed she is these days. Constant has three more dates coming up at the Metropolitan Room--May 7, May 20 and May 28, all in a 7 p.m. slot. Constant is of the chanteuse genre that has captivated many Francophiles, among whom I counted myself even before my first trip to Paris in my youth.
On her opening night (April 30, 2013), Constant recounted experiences upon arrival in the United States in terms of freedom, not political freedom in comparison to France, but personal freedom as a woman. Ruminating on the subject of freedom, she noted that “the problem is love—it gets in the way of your independence.” But in terms of the personal freedom she discovered as a woman in New York, she spoke about how free it seemed for a woman to be able “to walk in the street smoking a cigarette,” apparently something frowned upon in France at the time.
I first saw her in “La Plume de Ma Tante” in the 1950s. Let’s not talk about passing years. Constant looked great in her glittering outfit, with a mini skirt that showed off her trademark legs. She reminisced about dealing with producer David Merrick and meeting Johnny Carson, on whose show she appeared 45 times. “He liked me for my wit,” she said with a smile.
The key, of course, is her music. After singing “Je Chante Avec Toi Liberté” from the Verdi opera “Nabucco” and “One of Those Songs,” she launched into the amusing “La-La-La” (music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers), with her musical director and accompanist Russ Kassoff singing along with her.
Constant likes to sing the French original that was adapted into the English “My Way,” which became a big hit for Frank Sinatra. Many do not know this, and Constant enlightened her audience with “Comme D’Habitude,” with music by Claude François. In a shift of mood she sang “Mon Vieux” (“My Dad”), a sentimental ode, which she performed in English.
After ruminating on a scandal in France, Constant amusingly sang the cynical “How Money Changes Hands” from the American musical “Tenderloin,” written by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick.
Liberty and patriotism were extolled by Constant with reference to the partisans who fought the Nazi occupation of her country. She sang “Le Chant Des Partisans” (music by Anna Marli, lyrics by Joseph Kessel and Maurice Druon). She also sang “Paris en Colere” from the movie “Is Paris Burning?” (music by Maurice Harre and lyrics by Maurice Vidalin).
There were various other selections sung in her inimitable style, and of course, an encore—the jaunty “It Was a Good Time.” And indeed that pretty much summarized he evening. Yvonne Constant’s performance itself offered a good time with the authentic article—a French chanteuse. At the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street. Phone: 212-206-0440. Reviewed May 1, 2013.