India's Top 100 Digital Stars 2023

Dragging Paris's Madame Arthur cabaret into the modern age

Madame Arthur prizes tradition but is also pleased that young audiences come for the venue's weekly-changing shows

Published: Oct 9, 2023 04:35:41 PM IST
Updated: Oct 9, 2023 04:47:06 PM IST

Dragging Paris's Madame Arthur cabaret into the modern ageFrench artists Maud'Amour, Grand Soir, Odile De Mainville and Diamanda Callas, members of the transformist Cabaret Madame Arthur Image: Joel Saget / AFP

They call it the queerest cabaret club in Paris: nestled in the capital's Pigalle neighbourhood, "Madame Arthur" dominated the French capital's drag, cross-dressing and trans scene for more than 60 years.

It was closed in 2010, like many of historic Paris's small venues, much-loved and risque, but also ageing and losing money.

But by 2015 Madame Arthur bounced back with a heady cocktail of burlesque performances featuring cover versions of old and new hits—only ever sung in French— accompanied by off-the-wall piano playing in a more modern, larger venue.

Madame Arthur prizes tradition, but is also pleased that young audiences come for the venue's weekly-changing shows.

Every Thursday to Sunday, Madame Arthur's 15 burlesque artists dress up in extravagant costumes for a night of fun and folly.

They perform pieces from the back catalogue of francophone songs—current favourites are Stromae, Celine Dion and Barbara—and will also try their art on international acts such as Bjork or Michael Jackson, but only in translation.

Charly Voodoo, a pianist, composer and the ensemble's musical director, used to teach at a music conservatory. Now Charly is in charge of arrangements and improvs, under constant pressure to produce a new show every single week.

The nights are long: While the official show runs from 8:00 pm to 11:00 pm, performers and guests then proceed to disco-dance until the small hours.

Madame Arthur—the name refers back to a 19th-century song rather than a real person—opened in 1946 at a small venue in Pigalle, showcasing some of France's first trans women, including then-famous Bambi and Coccinelle.

Also read: Sundance film fest finally returns to mountains

Star singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg—whose dad was the cabaret's first pianist—also played there for a while.

Unlike some rival clubs, Madame Arthur has never allowed performers to use playback tracks.

Madame Arthur's current owner, Fabrice Laffon, bought the place in 2015 when there was a real chance it would never reopen after forced closure five years earlier.

"It was touch and go," he told AFP. "But this place's story just had to go on."

The comeback was successful thanks to "incredible young artists"—"trans or not trans, girls and boys"—with performances based on the club's hallmark combination of song and piano, he said.

"We opted to go back to the roots, a queer cabaret with a unique outlook and unique performers," said pianist Charly Voodoo. "Word of mouth did the rest."

Madame Arthur regularly takes its show on the road and its performances in Paris are live-streamed.

Post Your Comment
Required, will not be published
All comments are moderated