Interview: Caroline Nin introduces us to Songs and Stories of the Paris Lido ahead of the Adelaide French Festival

Bringing the music of Marlene Dietrich, Edith Piaf, Liza Minelli and more to Adelaide for the brilliantly programmed Adelaide French Festival this month, French chanteuse Caroline Nin presents Songs and Stories of the Paris Lido. Injecting vivacious energy as well as poignant and stirring emotion into the character of Lola Lola, the Paris Lido’s enchanting lead singer, Nin is bringing an extensive repertoire through to Adelaide’s Dunstan Playhouse.

Ahead of this exclusive season, Nin tells us some more about the show.

How long has the show you will be bringing to it been touring for, and what is exciting you the most about it?

The show has been touring for two years. I wrote it when I left the Lido de Paris after five years of performing there.

When your life – six nights a week – revolves around something as glamorous and crazy as the Paris Lido with the beautiful dancers and backstage antics of the world’s best known cabaret, you are never going to see the world the same when you come out the other side.  I wanted to create something that conveyed that.

Performing Songs and Stories of the Paris Lido is always a great pleasure as it brings me back amazing memories of fun times.  

Can you tell us a bit about the sort of impression you initially wanted to leave on your audience with this show, and how the show has progressed since you first started performing it? What’s been a significant highlight of the performance or change that you’ve undergone with it?

The point was to tell the true story of life behind the velvet curtain of the Paris Lido. Not what you see out front as an audience when that curtain is raised and you’re on! For the singers, dancers, acrobats, the magicians and more, in total 56 performers for each show, what goes on behind the scenes is more spectacular in its intensity than the show. It’s a whole other world behind that curtain.

These incredible performers live and breathe the Paris Lido. Night after night, often two shows a day, they make lifelong friends, fight, take lovers, leave lovers, have their egos inflated and then deflated but no matter what, they keep going to provide a spectacularly enchanting evening for guests on the Champs Elysees, hopefully one the audiences will never forget. There’s just nothing like it. What goes on behind the scenes is titillating, more interesting than the show itself. I wanted to tell those stories.

The show changes all the time and it does because you are never with the same audience each night. The moment you get on stage, you can feel the crowd and I then have to transform my show accordingly. It’s never the same. The beauty of live performance (there will be four musicians on stage with me), is that you can slightly change the script because, for example, someone in the audience is going to say something that makes me react, what happens next can be really funny. If that happens, I sometimes decide to change the show to keep some of those “script accidents” as I like to call them, in for the next time.

When I started the show, there were only covers of all-time favourites and during my touring,  I decided to write a “big” number, to open with as a way of introducing the Lido de Paris; its secrets, its girls and boys, its glamour. This song is called “The World’s Most Famous Cabaret”.

Have you been able to take this show elsewhere in Australia (or on tour around the world) in 2017, or are you at the start of your tour cycle?

Yes, the show has been presented to London, New York, Paris, Frankfurt.

What has drawn you to bring this sort of music to life?

I have been singing cabaret now for 25 years now, but it was an accident or a coincidence, if you will, that happened in London back in the 90’s that I got my start in cabaret. I was singing jazz in great residences all over London and one day, Marc Almond (Soft Cell front artist, “Tainted Love”) walked into a venue and asked me to sing Piaf (after all, I am French). I was horrified. Who wanted to hear Piaf in London? Turns out I was wrong. I grew up listening and singing to Piaf. It was the soundtrack to my childhood at home.  So I sang Piaf as requested.

Hearing the audience’s reaction (and Mark’s), he and I decided that I would write a cabaret show for his new venue that was opening in Soho (Freedom Theatre) back in 1992 …. From the moment I performed cabaret songs, I felt like there was no way back for me. I love the theatre of it, the story telling, the complete over the top world of cabaret, the beauty of all those songs.  I love it all.

With a New Year of music and creativity upon us, what is exciting you the most as a performer moving forward?

Having put my heart and soul into cabaret for so long, I have suddenly rediscovered my jazz roots.

I have re-united my jazz quartet, here in Paris, earlier this year and we have been doing a lot of gigs in jazz venues. We won Best Jazz Vocalist in France when we formed in 2005, but I put it on hold. It suddenly feels right to get back to it. It has been an amazing experience, as I had not sung jazz in 10 years and I have found my voice completely transformed with a whole new range. I have been singing mostly Edith Piaf for the past seven years and the belting has, I think, instead of hurting my vocal cords, actually done wonders for the new delivery of jazz I appear to be able to do. It’s been quite fascinating for me to see this transformation without even realising it was going on.

I am also writing original songs at the moment for a musical theatre project. But that is for 2019.

If this is to be an audience member’s first Caroline Nin experience, what kind of experience do you hope they have?

I hope that, first of all, they have a lot of fun and laughter. I hope that the songs touch their souls and move them. I hope that, when they go home after the show, they take a little bit of what a jewel, cabaret is.

Songs and Stories of the Paris Lido plays at the Dunstan Playhouse on January 13th & 14th. For tickets and more information, head here.

The Adelaide French Festival runs from January 12th – 14th.