Souvenirs of Paris, 1950 | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Souvenirs of Paris, 1950 

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Souvenirs of Paris, 1950, Royal George Theatre Center Gallery.

Claudia Hommel has a sweet smile, a charming presence, and a pretty soprano voice. I'd consider her for a supporting role in any musical--especially one that required a French accent. But she's not strong enough to carry off the challenging set of songs from and about France that she's compiled for this two-act revue. Playing the hostess of a mid-century cabaret, to which she welcomes the audience by dispersing free oranges (still rationed five years after World War II ended, she advises), Hommel rarely delivers the tingles these alternately lush and lusty songs can produce.

Accompanist Bob Moreen is a gifted pianist and a mellow saloon crooner, and his reading of Dave Frishberg's hiply world-weary "Another Song About Paris" is a highlight. But the bulk of the show rests on Hommel's shoulders. Lightweight comedy or sentimental sweetness suits her fine--as in Noel Coward's whimsically snobbish "There's Always Something Fishy About the French" or the lovely "Les feuilles mortes," which sounds much better in the original French than it does in its hackneyed English version, "Autumn Leaves." But her singing falls short in more dramatically demanding fare. Her versions of Edith Piaf classics like "La vie en rose," "L'accordeoniste," and "Hymn to Love" are pale compared to the sweepingly theatrical originals; and her voice is simply too thin to carry off the arching melodies of Gabriel Faure's exquisite "Les berceaux" or the jagged jumps of Duke Ellington's fiendishly difficult "Paris Blues." Hommel's passably professional but unexceptional program seems best suited to private bookings--it'd be perfect for a suburban Bastille Day party.


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