Johnny en Rose: Songs of the Little Sparrow is but one show with a French theme which is on at this year’s Adelaide Fringe. We spoke with John Gabriel Koladziej, the artist who created the show and who is the titular Johnny en Rose.
You’re bringing your show Johnny en Rose: Songs of the Little Sparrow to Adelaide Fringe this February. Tell us about the show.
Sure thing. Johnny en Rose: Songs of the Little Sparrow is a cabaret show I’ve been doing in New York and Los Angeles over the past two years. It’s a solo show, performed with live accompaniment, comprised of Edith Piaf songs and personal stories. Definitely a coming-of-age piece. Essentially, “Boy meets Piaf!”
How did the show come about?
I had always intended on doing a solo cabaret show, but just never got around to it. I was doing some spring cleaning and found an envelope stuffed with music and song lists that I had made over the years. When sitting down to actually piece some of this together, I realized that so much of it was Edith Piaf music. She made a large impression on me as a kid, which is kind of a funny thing. Then I thought, “Wait a minute, there’s a show in that!”
Have you always been interested in/inspired by Edith Piaf?
Yes, since I was about eleven or twelve. I acquired a copy of one of her biographies (you’ll have to come to the show to find out just how!) and found it completely fascinating. Her world, her songs, her life … it was very different to my suburban upbringing outside Los Angeles. It all sounded so wild and I was instantly intrigued.
How did your coming from New York to the Adelaide Fringe come about?
Caught the festival a couple of years back and just had to make this happen! Such a great variety of show and I really enjoyed the folks in Adelaide. My kind of people – friendly, social, and they know how to have a good time!
How does your show differ from other shows in which Edith Piaf songs are covered?
Mostly in that the show is not necessarily a biography of Edith Piaf (although there are
stories and Piaf lore in the show). It’s a bit more of a personal evening and I’ve found a lot of folks seem to relate to the material, not just the Piaf songs, but experiences and stories that I share during the piece.
Are you taking the show to any other Australian cities or is the Adelaide Fringe the only place people can see the show?
Adelaide is the only stop this year, but who knows what may happen in 2020!
You worked with composer Dan Redfeld previously on Little Women – An American Musical. How did you and Dan Redfeld come to collaborate?
I’ve known Dan since I was a teenager (we even workshopped our musical version of ‘LIttle Women’ with Deborah Gibson and Elaine Stritch) in the days prior to 9/11. Most recently we wrote a song cycle for soprano and orchestra called A Hopeful Place and the album is out now. His music is melodious, haunting, and gorgeous. Definitely worth listen!
What can people expect from your show?
Well, it is cabaret, so it’s a fairly intimate experience. It’s a mixture of personal anecdotes and stories from Piaf’s own life, mixed with some really fantastic French music. A bit of time-travelling and there is a Parisian feel, but you’ll be back in time for dinner!
What is your favourite Edith Piaf song and why?
That’s a toughie! I really do love “Mon Dieu,” but I’m very much partial to “Hymne à l’Amour” (you’ll find out in the show). It’s simple and the lyric is by Piaf herself. The final line is actually etched on her grave at Père Lachaise.
Is there an Edith Piaf song you have chosen not to sing in the show and if so, for which reason?
Actually, there is. I don’t do “Je Ne Regrette Rien” in the show, not because I don’t like the song (I do!). It simply doesn’t fit in with my own story – I’ve always felt that regret was natural and very much human. I feel it’s something akin to empathy. I think we’ve all done something that has had undesirable repercussions for ourselves or others, it’s empathy and kindness that help us move past and onward (and hopefully not do it again!)
What is so interesting about Edith Piaf?
Her life – upbringing, career, talent, love life, and struggles and how she seemed to survive and embrace all of it. Something very inspiring in that, for me.
You trained at the Stella Adler Conservatory in New York City and hold a BFA in Drama and an MFA in Musical Theatre Writing, both from New York University. Where did your interest in music and in musical theatre come from?
I had a primary school teacher when I was 9-10 who felt it was his responsibility to teach his students about music, art, architecture, etc. It was completely off the curriculum and he was completely eccentric. I remember in the first week of class he handed out the libretto to Jesus Christ Superstar and we followed along with the record album. Most of the kids hated it, but I absolutely loved it!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Just that I can’t wait to see folks there and I hope that I get to meet them after. It’ll be a good time!
There are only 2 shows of Johnny en Rose: Songs of the Little Sparrow at the Adelaide Fringe: Friday 15 February and Saturday 16 February both at 7:40pm. Tickets cost $20 (there are also reduced priced tickets available for Bank SA customers, children and concession card holders). You can buy your tickets here.
Do you like the songs of Edith Piaf?