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TO AUG. 10

Edith Piaf was “discovered” busking on a Paris street, and as one version of her story goes, she was also literally born there, on a gendarme’s coat. Her mother wasn’t interested in her, and her father, a carnival performer, couldn’t care for an infant, so he sent the child to live with his mother, who worked in a bordello. When Piaf was old enough, she rejoined her father at the circus. “I was hungry, I was cold. But I was also free,” she said of her early life. Pam Gems’ Piaf picks up the story at the moment of her big break and follows it to her death in 1963. At one time the highest-paid female singer in the world, Piaf sang to the bitter end, despite a long, slow decline courtesy of a typical Behind the Music trifecta: sex, drug addiction, and a big car crash. Waifish Helen Hedman (pictured) carries the Potomac Theatre Project’s production, exquisitely channeling the woman who sang like an angel and talked like a guttersnipe. The rest of the small cast take on multiple roles, from the thugs and prostitutes who were Piaf’s lifelong companions to her friend and fellow icon, Marlene Dietrich (played by MaryBeth Wise). Director Chris Hayes moves the show along at a lively clip, punctuating it with Hedman’s songs (under the musical direction of Alfredo Pulupa). As for the trek out to the Olney Theater Center for the Arts, where the play shows with Monster, Crave, and No Man’s Land in conjunction with the Potomac Theatre Festival 2003, “Non, je ne regrette rien.” Piaf runs to Sunday, Aug. 10 (see City List for a complete schedule) at Olney Theatre Center for the Arts’ Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney. $10. (301) 924-3400. (Janet Hopf)