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Paulanne Simmons

Camping Out With Camille


Photo by Mark McColl

"Camille: La Fille Du Cirque"
Pier 17, South Street Seaport
Performances on Sept. 5, 13 and 19 at 10 p.m.
$20 (212) 279-4200 or visit www.spiegelworld.com
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Sept. 5, 2006

Camille O'Sullivan, better known as "Camille – La Fille Du Cirque," says she sings the songs of Tom Waits and Jacques Brel because they are "poems set to music" and because they're about characters who have a story to tell. These stories are generally not innocent or happy. And so she promises at the beginning of her show, at the Spiegeltent at South Street Seaport's Pier 17, that the evening will be filled with both lightness and darkness.

As it turns out, there's a lot more darkness than lightness. O'Sullivan sings not only Brel and Waits, but also Jim Bowie and Kurt Weil. She even tackles that great Peggy Lee hit, "Is That All There Is?" She performs with remarkable gusto, throwing herself into each song emotionally and physically. Her voice fills the tent like the harangue of a faith healer or the hymn of a Gospel choir.

O'Sullivan is part Irish and part French. She says she got her love for Brel from her French mother. Perhaps her taste for liquor (at one point she demands a bottle of wine if she is to go on) comes from her Irish father. If it did, drinking has not led her to the neighborhood pub to drink a pint with friends, but rather to smoky cafes frequented by prostitutes and losers. .

Like a Franco-Gaelic Marlene Dietrich, O'Sullivan seduces with a heady touch of immorality. But what came to Dietrich naturally O'Sullivan has to work for. She throws her head back dramatically, falls on the floor, frolics off the stage, sits on strange men's laps. She tears songs apart in interesting ways, but doesn't always get it right when she puts them back together.

It sometimes seems that O'Sullivan has taken on a persona before fully exploring the possibilities. It's still fairly early in her career; this is her U.S. debut and she admitted to being really nervous. She also generously and truthfully gave credit to her five-piece band for its terrific back-up.

O'Sullivan's performance is charged with emotion. She inhabits both the song and the characters she is singing about. But unlike Judy Garland, so famous for pulling at the strings of the heart, she lacks the total authenticity that makes the audience believe she believes. Her performance sometimes seems to be more about showing despair and anger than feeling it.

With that said, Dietrichs and Garlands only come along once in a rare while. Like a diamond in the rough, O'Sullivan still shines.

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