Amid French shock and mourning, Philadelphia’s Bastille Day celebrates ‘power to the people’

Undeterred by mid-afternoon thundershowers, revelers and Francophiles by the hundreds filled the 2100 block of Fairmount Avenue on Saturday to celebrate Bastille Day.

On Thursday, a terrorist drove into crowds celebrating Bastille day in Nice, France, killing 84 people. So, with the French flag lowered to half-staff, Bearded Ladies Cabaret Artistic Director John Jarboe, as influential chanteuse Edith Piaf, starting things off by leading the crowd in a rendition of John Lennon’s “Power to the People.”

Heavy hearts gave way to a raucous parody of the storming of the Bastille and mock execution of Marie Antoinette by the Bearded Ladies.

This was Philadelphia’s 22nd Bastille Day celebration, according to London Grill owner Terry McNally, who has traditionally played the part of the French queen. The Eastern State Penitentiary, which once housed Al Capone and Willie Sutton, was reimagined for one day as the French Bastille and a refuge for Antoinette.

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Using the French motto “Liberté, égalité, fraternité,” the ensemble combined a humorous review of French history with an acknowledgment of contemporary social and political issues. The show featured the return of Benjamin Franklin along with historic French notables Joan of Arc and Napoleon — who proclaimed his support for Donald Trump.

As in prior years, the highlight of the performance was Marie Antoinette shouting “Let them eat Tastykakes” from the ramparts of the “Bastille” as her minions tossed thousands of the baked confections to the cheering crowd below. With the prison taken and Marie Antoinette in custody, Piaf and the queen reconciled, sparing her the guillotine.

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