As soon as the limousine with its black bulletproof windows pulled up outside the theater, the buzz of the crowd died down. The groups of men and women of a certain age waiting to get in to watch the show were obviously aware. The work they had come to see had in its title a name-legend, a name magnet for a whole generation that has memories of another era and songs, which for decades overwhelmed Europe with a great voice originally from Greece, that of Nana Mouschouri.
This name may not mean much to those born after 2000, but for an entire era, from the mid-60s until quite recently, the Parisian Greek was one of the biggest stars of the pentagram in France and internationally , as well as the most famous Greek brand in the field of pop and ethnic music. With the possible exception of Mikis Theodorakis, who triumphed around the same time. She often returned to Greece to collaborate with the lyricist Nikos Gatsos and also with Manos Hadjidakis, who roughly discovered her. But that’s history.
She was in Athens these days on the occasion of the presentation of a disc with her unknown recordings from the 50s but also with the aim of seeing the Stathmos theater performance “When I grow up, I’m going to be Nana Moushuri”. This is a work of his David Lelai-Elo first staged in France, a monologue performed by Manos Karatzogiannis directed by Elissaio Vlachos. As soon as the door of the armored limousine opened and she emerged dressed in red and wearing her signature bone-rimmed glasses, all eyes were on her and cellphones were raised in the air. She walked with help the few meters to the entrance and stopped to greet her personal friends who were waiting to see her on one of her rare visits to Athens. When we all moved into the theater, where her familiar songs were being played, the same situation continued with even greater intensity. Friends and acquaintances did not stop taking pictures with her and professional photographers captured the singer, who was accompanied by her colleagues and the French author of the project.
The story he tells us through his play is completely true. It is the story of the life of an insecure gay boy from the French countryside who, from 14 to 40, always searching for a meaning beyond childhood fantasies, adored a great artist.
In this autobiographical work, Lelai-Elos recounts the obsession he had with Mouskouri since he was a child, an obsession that served as an outlet for the introversion that plagued him, mainly due to his difference from his peers. Milou is a working-class child in a French village, who doesn’t play ball with the other boys because he’s different from them, he adores his grandmother and likes to escape through the dream offered by music and television. Until he discovers the deity Moushouris and it becomes his absolute obsession. Without having seen her, he heard her in the title song of the TV series “Mistral’s Daughter” and from that moment she became his absolute favorite. When he saw her, he began to dream of Moushouri, to try to sing like Moushouri, to look like Moushouri. One of the most tasteful scenes in the play is when he pretends to have a vision problem in order to buy glasses. Eventually he saved up enough money to go to Paris to see her sing at the famous Olympia.
At the end, the audience applauded the protagonist and all the actors, who went on stage together with the author and the French actor Didier Constant, who performed the same role in Paris, and of course with the -overwhelmed- Moushouri herself.
Here I have to say that this report awakened personal memories for me. Growing up, I too listened with my family to the records that were brought to us from France with her recordings from “Olympia” and I felt national pride when at the end she presented to the public her musicians, most of whom were Greek. I remember being excited about the song “Irini” as well. It was the time when France identified Greece with three things: “Souvlaki, Syrtaki, Mouskouri”. Not so flattering, neither for her nor for Greece.
Thanks to the excessive love of the author, who realized his sexual orientation through this identification with the Greek star, various information about both her life and her huge career are passed on. But the play becomes more and more personal as it describes the hero’s first love affair with an older man, the bullying by some boys, his special relationship with girls, his illusory dreams for the future. Watching it, I wondered if things are happening today as they were with the gays of Lelai-Elo’s generation, who adored great female singers to the point of identification. I wonder if today’s queer boys still idolize and identify with glamorous women like Moushuri.
Nana Mouschouri with Manos Karatzogiannis and David Lelai-Elo.
Anyway, the author was really obsessed with her, he reveals to us his collection of her records, while when he comes with his class trip to Greece, looking at the sea he dances with bouzouki in the background, to the point of feeling Greek for her sake Nanny. From there, we see him moving forward in his life, he tells us about how he settled in Paris, how he matured realizing that he will never be Mouschouri but that he must follow his own personal truth, that he started going to gym leaving his childish sensibilities behind. But great loves don’t die, and he went from a literature professor to a journalist to get to know her up close. He managed to approach her and interview her, but when she invited him to her house he finally landed on reality, after she, dressed for the day, asked him to help her fold the laundry. And Manos Karatzogiannis took a cloth, approached the – real – Moushouri and gave her one end to imitate the folding of the sheets. The audience laughed heartily, as did she, who probably for the first time undertook to relive theatrically something that had actually happened to her in life.
The writer Lelai-Elo became a close friend of Moushouri, wrote books about her, his play was successful in his country, and indeed became a bit “Greek” as he is often here, in the homeland of his idol. So the story he tells us through his play is completely true. It is the story of the life of an insecure gay boy from the French countryside who, from 14 to 40, always searching for a meaning beyond childhood fantasies, adored a great artist. Manos Karatzogiannis wonderfully and sensitively renders the evolution of this sensitive man with the help and inventive direction of Vlachos. The audience, although somewhat elderly, reverently watched the – essentially queer in its subject matter – performance and at the end applauded the protagonist and all the actors, who went on stage with the author and the French actor Didier Constant, who performed the same role in Paris, and of course with the – thrilled – Mouschouri herself. The international Nana with millions of record sales, a legend of Greece, in a small youth theater of Metaxourgeio.
Nana Mouschouri with Manos Karatzogiannis.
And after in perfect Greek, although he had to speak French and English at the same time, and with sincere tenderness he thanked the artists, he addressed the square saying: “It is important that everyone can find their personal truth. And this David managed to achieve by writing all the adventures he had as a young man. Like each of us, it is our personality that makes us exist, as I exist with singing and others with theater. I am very moved because I feel the responsibility I have towards you, towards children and young people, especially when artists give me such a great gift like this. Many thanks to the Greek team.”
The author followed, who, after thanking the Greek collaborators of the theater performance, turning to Nana said: “When I was a small child thanks to you I survived, I found the light and my personal truth.”
Everyone asked her to sing and she accepted even though there was no instrument to accompany her. She told us that Hadjidakis gave her “Paper moon” although Nikos Gatsos doubted that he understood the lyrics. After singing it for a while in a club, he said to her: “You know, I think you understand the song very well, you just say it differently than others.” And so she sang Hadzidaki’s magical song that she wrote for “Leoforeio o Pothos” and Melina Merkouri, which she includes in all her concerts, to the point that even people who don’t know Greek sing it. This is how it happened at the Stathmos theater, everyone accompanied her singing it softly and at the end she was applauded. It was a unique evening, of great generosity from everyone.
See more information about the show here