Nikki Nouveau is a singer of French chanson who is bringing her new show Montmartre! Rendezvous in Paris to Adelaide for the Cabaret Fringe Festival next weekend. We had a chat to Nikki about the show, French music and more.
Bonjour Nikki, you’re bringing your show Montmartre! Rendezvous in Paris to Adelaide for the Cabaret Fringe Festival. Could you please tell us a little about that show? What can audiences expect?
The show is an evocative musical soirée set in Montmartre, Paris at a time when artists and painters, such as Salvador Dali, Picasso and Toulouse Lautrec thrived in a world of creativity, innovation, art and romance. It is a time of bohemian life narrated by a spirit travelling through time that takes the audience on a thought-provoking, inspiring and nostalgic journey through the most beautiful moment in the story of Montmartre.
Which French artists /eras will feature in this show? Will there be any of your original music?
The production is loosely based in the late 1800s to the early 1900s with the musical soundscape traversing eras. The iconic music of Edith Piaf, Cole Porter, Serge Gainsbourg, Joe Dassin, Jacques Brel and Erik Satie feature in the show, along with original compositions La Rue Pigalle (Nouveau/Upward), Absinthe Tango (Nouveau/Thorn) and Champagne (Nouveau). Sung in French and English with live musical accompaniment by Adelaide piano virtuoso David McEvoy.
How long have you been singing?
I trained as a classical singer in opera and my first public performance was singing ‘Vilia‘ from the operetta ‘0‘ in a small church at the age of 17.
My singing has taken me on a diverse musical adventure of original song writing and performing a variety of vocal styles, such as musical theatre, cabaret, jazz and French chanson.
You studied at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), Australian Musical Theatre Academy and MASQUE National Institute of Performing Arts. What made you decide to pursue these studies and a career in music?
I was always interested in music and the arts from a very young age. It wasn’t a path that ran in my family nor was encouraged. My Greek parents were conservative and wanted me to earn a good living with a professional career such as accounting. So, I chose two paths – finance and performance. I completed an MBA in business and became a chartered accountant, a career that helped me through the darkness of the pandemic, faced by many artists.
But my passion has always been music and acting. I feel creatively fulfilled with every production I write and perform. In fact, I could not imagine my life without this artistic expression.
Also, how have these studies informed your show writing and performance?
I love characterisation and bringing elements of theatre into my shows. My performance studies have helped me to build interesting concepts and write engaging scripts that connect with audiences. I understand the importance of constant practice and skill development, as this is absolutely essential to delivering polished, quality entertainment. My business and finance studies have assisted in creating realistic show budgets, problem-solving, business development and marketing.
What attracted you to French music and made you decide to write shows around it?
‘La vie en rose’ was the song that first captivated me. The melody is so rich and beautiful that even when sung acapella it still holds strong. My love affair with French culture started at the tender age of twelve when I sat down for my first French class in high school and continued throughout my studies in university, where I completed a Bachelor of Arts in French language.
Although I have always been drawn to all things French, I am more of a Franco-fanatic than a Francophile. Honestly, I do not know exactly where this fascination comes from. In fact, during the long Melbourne lockdowns I wrote my third French-themed show so that I could explore the source of my Franco fascination.
The show entitled ‘Paris Nocturne’ is my love letter to Paris and a musical celebration of the women of France: Edith Piaf, Josephine Baker, Dalida, Brigitte Bardot, Coco Chanel, Colette, Madame de Pompadour, Josephine Bonaparte and the infamous Marie Antoinette. These women all have one thing in common: they created what I like to think of as the ‘Paris Phenomenon’. Their influence helped shape an unparalleled society of beauty, femininity, love, sex, art, literature, music, culture and style. And it is this phenomenon that I have always been drawn to.
Adelaide audiences may have also seen you in quite a different Burlesque Assassin – is that a purely burlesque show? Do you still do burlesque?
‘Burlesque Assassin’ was my very first cabaret production. It enjoyed a sold-out three-show season at Nexus Theatre during Adelaide Fringe 2011. It was predominantly a burlesque show but also featured singing with an original live music band, as well as dance, aerial theatre and num-chuks. It wasn’t a conscious decision to exclude burlesque in my shows going forward, it just kind of happened as I focused more on cabaret singing and storytelling.
You’ve performed in New York City, Edinburgh, Berlin and throughout Australia. Were these performances all of French chanson? Did audiences react differently in different countries?
Not all of my performances have been strictly French chanson. I did not find that audiences reacted too differently in the countries that I toured.
In Edinburgh, I enjoyed a sold-out five-show season in 2012 as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe performing a burlesque-themed show titled ‘Bordello Blues’ singing songs of Marlene Dietrich, Nina Simone and of course, Edith Piaf (she features in most of my shows!).
My Berlin performance titled ‘Piaf and Dietrich’ was centred around the life-long friendship forged between Edith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich since their initial meeting in a New York City ladies’ bathroom in 1948. The musical repertoire included songs shared by both legends as well as Berlin cabaret classics.
You sing Piaf’s songs in a way that is very much your own style – how would you describe your singing style?
Piaf’s vocal signature is easily identifiable with her warm, distinctive tremolo tone which was as big as she was small. Like Piaf, I am a petite lady with deep emotive expression and vocal projection but my style is described as a mix of classical, clean overtones and delicate textures.
You regularly perform your show No Regrets: The Edith Piaf Story in Melbourne. When did you create the show and what made you decide to write a show about Edith Piaf?
The success of ‘No Regrets’ really took me by surprise. I was inspired to write the show in 2015 after reading Piaf’s incredible biography ‘No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf’ by Carolyn Burke. I was so very drawn to Piaf and her story. I felt as though I knew her. The show was created in two months and premiered in early 2016 at an intimate Melbourne vaudeville theatre for a three-show season. Following the success of the short season run, the venue asked me to return: the show was performed 40 times in 18 months. I then took the show on the road all around Australia. I currently perform ‘No Regrets: The Edith Piaf Story’ regularly at Paris Cat Jazz Club in Melbourne and The Vanguard in Sydney, as well as other special venues and spaces.
What’s your favourite Edith Piaf song?
My favourite Piaf song is one of her more obscure pieces: Mon Legionnaire, written by Marguerite Monnot and Raymond Asso. I love the story and melodic changes. It is a song about a woman’s longing for an American soldier, whose name she does not know, and with whom she has a brief one-night affair as she chants “Il m’a aimé toute la nuit, mon legionnaire” (my legionnaire loved me all through the night). When Piaf first sung this song in 1937, she was only 22, and it was quite controversial as the lyrics and theme were considered risqué and daring.
What’s your favourite French song?
I absolutely adore the song Paroles, Paroles by the incredibly talented French singer and actress, Dalida. She was born in Egypt to Italian parents and is one of my greatest inspirations, singing in eleven languages. Much like Piaf, she had a hugely successful career but her personal life was riddled with immense tragedy and heartache. She is considered one of the most popular female singers of all time in France. Unfortunately, she is not so well known here in Australia.
Why should audiences come to see Montmartre! Rendezvous in Paris at Cabaret Fringe?
‘Montmartre! Rendezvous In Paris’ presents an authentic retelling of the history of bohemian life in Montmartre where I lived for several months to complete my research, interview locals and visit well known establishments such as Le Chat Noir, Moulin Rouge, Le Lapin Agile, Museum of Montmartre and Dali Paris Museum. The storytelling aspect of the performance evokes emotions of nostalgia, wonderment, love and sadness using elements of music, theatre and dance, that I hope will resonate in the heart of audiences long after the show.
Will you be touring this show after Adelaide?
The show premiered in late 2019 just before COVID hit and so touring plans have been on hold until now. I am currently in discussion with venues and theatres to tour the show around metro and regional art centres of Australia.
We thank Nikki Nouveau for this interview and look forward to seeing Montmartre Rendezvous in Paris in Adelaide next weekend.
KEY INFO FOR MONTMARTRE! RENDEZVOUS IN PARIS
WHAT: Montmartre! Rendezvous in Paris, a cabaret show by Nikki Nouveau
WHERE: Star Theatres, 143 Sir Donald Bradman Drive, HILTON
WHEN: 7:30pm on Friday 3 and Saturday 4 June
HOW: Purchase your tickets via the Adelaide Cabaret Fringe Festival website: https://cabaretfringefestival.com/artfuel/program/17/show
HOW MUCH: $40
What’s your favourite place in Montmartre?