DIVA TALK: On The Road With Petula Clark

DIVA TALK: On The Road With Petula Clark PETULA CLARK
There were those of us who had hoped that Sunset Boulevard would run, if not indefinitely, then at least a decade at the Minskoff Theatre, so we would be able to witness all the possible interpretations of Norma Desmond, the faded silent screen star who had been inhabited in the New York company by Betty Buckley, Glenn Close, Elaine Paige and standby Karen Mason. Wouldn't it have been great to have had the chance to see Australia's Debra Byrne, Germany's Helen Schneider, Toronto's Diahann Carroll and England's final Norma, Petula Clark? Well, Sunset and Clark fans are in for a treat this month when Petula Clark heads the second national tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard. The tour will feature direction by The Sound of Music's Susan H. Schulman and a new set design by Derek McLane; however, the dialogue and music will remain the same as the previous professional productions. So, fear not, Sunset fans, you will indeed hear Clark belt out that show's two "arias," "With One Look" and "As If We Never Said Goodbye."

PETULA CLARK
There were those of us who had hoped that Sunset Boulevard would run, if not indefinitely, then at least a decade at the Minskoff Theatre, so we would be able to witness all the possible interpretations of Norma Desmond, the faded silent screen star who had been inhabited in the New York company by Betty Buckley, Glenn Close, Elaine Paige and standby Karen Mason. Wouldn't it have been great to have had the chance to see Australia's Debra Byrne, Germany's Helen Schneider, Toronto's Diahann Carroll and England's final Norma, Petula Clark? Well, Sunset and Clark fans are in for a treat this month when Petula Clark heads the second national tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard. The tour will feature direction by The Sound of Music's Susan H. Schulman and a new set design by Derek McLane; however, the dialogue and music will remain the same as the previous professional productions. So, fear not, Sunset fans, you will indeed hear Clark belt out that show's two "arias," "With One Look" and "As If We Never Said Goodbye."

I had the chance to speak with Clark just as she was to begin Sunset rehearsals, and we discussed her new album for Varèse Sarabande, Here for You; her upcoming one-woman show; and, of course, her return to the role of Norma Desmond. Clark admits she can't wait to return to the role. "This sounds a bit odd," she explains, "but I played her for over a year in London, and I really disliked the woman when I first started playing her. . .[but] by the end of the run, or well into the run, I realized I loved her very much. When the show closed, I missed everything about going to the theatre, because it's like a family, but the thing that I missed most was Norma, and I felt as if I'd lost a very dear friend. The thing that I'm looking forward to now is meeting my friend again, night after night, to spend those three hours with her going through this extraordinary story."

Although Clark now feels the role is a great fit, she wasn't so enthusiastic when Trevor Nunn initially approached her to replace Elaine Paige in the London company. Clark had seen Glenn Close perform the role, "but it never occurred to me for a moment that I might want to play Norma." Having just returned to England after her U.S. tour in Blood Brothers, Clark was more than ready for a vacation when she received a call from Sunset director Trevor Nunn. "I had a vague idea what it was about," Clark says, "and I went to the Really Useful offices and spent three hours with Trevor telling him what a bad idea it was. All he kept saying was, 'Oh, yes, my dear, but you'll be absolutely marvelous in it.' And I said, 'Don't you want me to read for you?' 'No, no, of course not, darling.' 'Don't you want me to sing for you?' 'Oh, no, God no, darling.' And, I don't actually remember saying, 'Okay, I'll do it,' which is sort of weird if you think about it. The next thing I knew," she exclaims, "I was rehearsing it!"

The role of Norma Desmond is, without question, both physically and emotionally demanding. Additionally, it is also vocally strenuous, with a rangy score that makes substantial demands on the actress portraying her. Clark, who is probably best known in this country for such pop hits as "Downtown" and "Don't Sleep in the Subway," is a natural singer who has never studied voice and was, perhaps, not quite prepared for Andrew Lloyd Webber's score. Although she was well aware of the strains of an eight-show-a-week schedule from her time in Blood Brothers, Clark explains, "That music was pretty simple. I could play around with it. Some nights I would think, 'Oh, I think I'll do it that way. . .' After two or three weeks of rehearsal, the musical director of Sunset said to me, 'Listen, you're not going to last six weeks if you go on singing like this.' No one had ever said that to me, ever," she laughs, "but it turned out he was absolutely right. He warned me that if I went on doing it differently, feeling too free with it, he felt that my cords wouldn't hold out. So I said, 'What am I supposed to do?' 'Well,' he said, 'you're not going to like this, but you'll have to make up your mind over the next few days exactly how you're going to do these songs, and feed it into your brain, and do it that way every night. And you'll find, somehow, your body, your breathing, your cords will learn that when you get to a certain point, they have to do this, they have to do that.' It's an extraordinary thing. I had never known about that, but, believe me, it works!"
It works well, I might add. Listen to the three-track sampler that was released during her London run to see what I mean. Clark brings her trademark vocals and an almost scary determination to both "With One Look" and "As If We Never Said Goodbye." (Those songs -- plus "The Perfect Year" -- will be added to her new CD and will be available at the theatres Sunset plays.)

When asked what changed her own view about the character of Norma, Clark says, "It's difficult to describe. I think one of the things that made me back away from the start is the fact that I didn't like having to deal with, maybe, a few things about myself. I was having to dig out feelings of hate and jealousy and fear. I had never been asked to play anything like that before. . .I found that I was having to deal with a few things in my closet, but that's, of course, what makes it so interesting. That's probably why I felt so close to her at the end because I was really being her on stage." Clark also admits that she has several favorite moments in the musical: "I especially like her first scene with Joe. I feel the show can have a little humor there. Not so much that Norma is funny, but that she makes you laugh. It's my first real contact with the audience. One of the thing's that difficult about her," Clark continues, "is that she is not sympathetic. You can't sort of reach out to an audience with it. The moments where she might reach out are when she's actually standing there singing. The rest of the time she's being pretty objectionable. But some of that can be quite funny if you play it with humor." Clark also enjoys playing the show's final mad scene, when Norma is forced to face quite a few disquieting realities. "She has to escape this terrible reality that's being thrown at her, that she's losing this guy, that she doesn't have a career and everyone's been lying to her. She can't face any of that, so she retreats into insanity, but the way I have been playing her, the way I imagine I'll be playing her -- although as I say this is going to be a new production -- I think that she retreats to the time when she was 16 years old when she first became a star. She [tries to] charm, and she reveals to the audience what she was rather than play her as this campy thing . . .what she was when she first became a star. She was heartbreaking. . .[but] she became this monster over the years."

The Sunset tour will begin on Nov. 23 in West Point at the Eisenhower Theatre and will play a staggering 47 cities before it ends in Jacksonville in April 2000. Rather than being daunted by these figures, Clark is actually excited about her second U.S. national tour. "I loved touring [with Blood Brothers]. I can honestly say that I loved it. In fact, I spoke to Cleo Laine just before I came, and she said, 'Oh God, you're going out on tour again! You must be mad!' 'No,' I said, 'I actually like it.' I have a very curious sort of mind. First of all, I think this is an amazingly beautiful country, and there's so much to see. I just don't get bored."

With this schedule, one would assume Clark would have very little time for any other project, but the award-winning performer plans to work on her one woman show while she's on the road. "I've been asked to write my life story so many times," Clark mentions, "and I have absolutely no desire to do that -- to write a book and spend three years poking about in my own past, but I suppose that this show will be the closest I will ever get to it. . .It will be done with one of the directors from Cirque du Soleil, Gi Caron. We had been working on it, and 'Here for You' is one of the songs I wrote for that show, which is like a finale song. . .Gi will probably visit me while I'm doing the tour. . .[It's planned] for the next century!"

A new album, the starring role in the Sunset national tour, and a one woman show: For Petula Clark, "it may just be the perfect year."

BETTY BUCKLEY
However well Betty Buckley sang standards (a sweet, haunting "Autumn Leaves"), country tunes (an energetic "Angel from Montgomery") and folk-rock material (a poignant version of Joni Mitchell's "River"), it was when she turned her focus to theatrical character songs that she -- to borrow a phrase from Sunset Boulevard -- ignited a blaze. Delivering riveting, potent versions of Triumph of Love's "Serenity," The Baker's Wife's "Meadowlark," Sunset Boulevard's "With One Look," Cats' "Memory" and Carrie's "When There's No One," Buckley wowed the jam-packed audience at New York's Bottom Line this past Friday night. It was the first of six Halloween performances, and from her opening number -- a jazzy arrangement of Stephen Sondheim's "No One Is Alone" -- Buckley told beautiful stories through song and introduced many of the songs with interesting, often comical, stories. Ms. B also presented a few songs from the cult classic musical Carrie and was joined on stage by drag personality Varla Jean Merman (as Carrie) and comedian Seth Rudetsky (at the piano). The three had fun plowing through the show's title song, "Open Your Heart" and the duet "When Eve Was Weak."

As always, an evening with Betty Buckley at the Bottom Line was a moving, spirit-raising and entertaining experience. The complete song list for Friday's early performance follows:
"No One Is Alone"
"Angel from Montgomery"
"Serenity"
"Autumn Leaves"
"Flight"
"Meadowlark"
"Children And Art"/ "Stay With Me" / "When There's No One"
CARRIE selections: "Carrie," "Open Your Heart," "And Eve Was Weak"
"Prestidigitation"
"Hi Lili Hi Lo"/ "I Can Let Go Now"
"Send in the Clowns"
"River"
"With One Look"
"Memory"
ENCORE: "Amazing Grace"


*Also, Buckley is scheduled to entertain at the 14th Annual Mr. Abbott Awards this Monday, Nov. 9 at The Copacabana. Honoring Graciela Daniele, Betty Comden and Adolph Green and RCA/BMG Classics, the evening will also feature performances by Marin Mazzie, Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Faith Prince and Chita Rivera. Call (212) 302-5359 for tickets.

BERNADETTE PETERS
Bernadette Peters began rehearsals earlier this week for the eagerly-awaited revival of Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun. Although she admitted she usually doesn't go out at night when she's rehearsing, she said she was happy to perform at the Actors' Fund benefit honoring Shubert producer Gerald Schoenfeld this past Tuesday evening. Peters delivered a slowed-down, moving version of one of Annie Get Your Gun's anthems, "There's No Business Like Show Business." It was a perfect teaser for the upcoming production of the classic musical, which will also star Tom Wopat. Annie will play a month out of town beginning Dec. 29 (through Jan. 24, 1999) at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. before starting previews at New York's Marriott Marquis Theatre on Feb. 2, 1999.

LINDA EDER
Linda Eder, last on Broadway in Jekyll & Hyde, will perform in concert this month at the Colden Center at Queens College in Queens, New York. Currently appearing in Houston in The Civil War, which features music by her husband Frank Wildhorn, Linda Eder will perform many songs from her Atlantic Records CD, "It's Time." The concert will also include a host of tunes from Broadway musicals including selections from the upcoming Civil War. For tickets, call (718) 793-8080.

IN OTHER NEWS Hey Mr. Gentleman is the title of Helen Schneider's newest album, featuring songs in both English and German . . . It is rumored that Australia's Caroline O'Connor may replace Ute Lemper in the Broadway company of Chicago when Lemper's contract expires . . . Patti LuPone, Ruthie Henshall and many other musical theatre stars will participate in a special tribute to honor actor Gerard Casey, who recently passed away. Casey was one of my favorite Joe Gillises, having succeededKevin Anderson in that role in the original London company of Sunset Boulevard.

REMINDERS:

KAREN AKERS
Next month, Akers will return to Rainbow & Stars, the plush cabaret room high atop Rockefeller Plaza, for her annual New York cabaret engagement beginning Nov. 17 and continuing through Dec. 5 (call (212) 632-5000). Before her Rainbow & Stars stint begins, the statuesque diva will join Tom Andersen, Seth Rudetsky and Lumiri Tubo to raise money for the Girls' Choir of Harlem. The fundraiser will be held at Danny's Skylight Room on Nov. 16 at 9:15 PM. There is a music charge of $15 and a $10 food and drink minimum. Danny's Skylight Room is located at 346 W. 46th Street, and reservations may be made by calling (212) 265-8133.

LAURIE BEECHMAN TRIBUTE
The list continues to grow: More names are being added on a daily basis to the list of performers who will salute the late Laurie (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Cats, Les Misérables) Beechman this Nov. 30 at a concert held at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. Entitled Let the Memory Live Again: A Musical Celebration for Laurie Beechman, the evening will benefit Gilda's Club, where Beechman found support during her struggles with ovarian cancer. The most recent performer who has signed on is Phantom of the Opera star Davis Gaines, who will join two other masked Phantoms, Kevin Gray and Brad Little, onstage to perform "The Music of the Night." Others scheduled to perform include Betty Buckley, Sam Harris, Christiane Noll, Douglas Sills, Andrea McArdle, Melissa Hart, Robert Evan, Raymond Jarimillo McLeod, Kevin Gray, Dodie Pettit, Grant Prickett, Karen Mason, Ken Page, Dan Schiff, Brad Little, Lisa Kain Marcelli, Christine Andreas, Terrence Mann, Linda Eder, Mary Testa, Amy Jo Arrington and more ( Patti LaBelle was forced to withdraw due to booking commitments). Call (202) 226-1780 for more information or visit Congressman Fox's web site (http://www.house.gov/fox).

BETTY BUCKLEY
BB concert line-up:
Nov. 6 in at the Mishler Theatre in Altoona, PA
Dec. 28 at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples, FL
Dec. 29 at the Kravis Center for the Perf Arts in West Palm Beach, FL
Dec. 30 in Fort Lauderdale, FL
Dec. 31 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota, FL
Jan. 14, 1999 at the Irvine Barclay Theatre in Irvine, CA
Jan. 16 at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, DE
February 6 at the Bob Hope Cultural Center in Palm Desert, CA
April 17 at the Lehman Center for the Perf. Arts in Bronx, NY
April 23 at the College of New Jersey in Erwing, NJ
May 3 at the Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center in Chicago, Ill.

LINDA EDER
Nov. 13 at the Shubert Performing Arts Center in New Haven, CT
Nov. 14 at the Colden Center at Queens College in New York
Nov. 20 at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center in York, PA
Nov. 21 at the Southern Theatre in Columbus, OH
Dec. 8-9 at the FAU Auditorium in Boca Raton, FL

PATTI LuPONE
LuPone will bring her acclaimed, new concert act, "Matters of the Heart," to the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia on Jan. 11 and 13, 1999. The new act, which premiered this past August in California, was conceived and directed by Scott Wittman, the same man responsible for her Broadway concert, Patti LuPone on Broadway. The new act is an evening of original and contemporary music and boasts an eclectic mix of songwriters, including works by Lennon and McCartney, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter and Randy Newman. For ticket info and orders, go to www.tickettek.com.au/Sydney Festival Home Page or www.sydneyfestival.org.au. Trivia buffs will recall that Patti has performed in Australia on one other occasion when she received critical acclaim in the Australian production of Evita in the early eighties.

After her Sydney engagement, LuPone will bring the new act to the McCallum Theater in Palm Desert, California on Jan. 29 and 30, 1999. Call the McCallum's box office at (760) 340-2787 for tickets. And, on March 5, 6, and 7, 1999 she will appear with the Baltimore Symphony in Baltimore. Tickets go on sale Jan. 4, 1999, but they may be purchased during the Symphony's early sale from Dec. 1 to 23; call (410) 783-8000.

KAREN MASON
From Nov. 11-21, Mason will open Davenports, a new cabaret space in her home town of Chicago.

MAUREEN McGOVERN
Below are a few concert bookings for the star of stage and screen: Nov. 11-22 in a production of "Of Thee I Sing" at the UCLA Freud Theatre, in Los Angeles, CA Dec. 10-13 with the Phoenix Symphony in Phoenix, Arizona

BERNADETTE PETERS
Peters will return to The Great White Way in the revival of Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun. Previews begin at the Marriott Marquis Theatre on Feb. 2, 1999. Call (212) 307-4100 for tickets.

ALICE RIPLEY and EMILY SKINNER
You can get an evening-long dose of Alice Ripley on Nov. 15 when she performs at the China Club. Half of that evening will be devoted to her original compositions, and she will be joined by Emily Skinner for some "Duets" for the second portion. Call (212) 398-3800 for reservations.

RAINBOW & STARS
Ann Hampton Callaway Nov. 3 - 14
Karen Akers Nov. 17 - Dec. 5


Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching!

by Andrew Gans
e-mail me at andrew_gans@playbill.com

Diva Talk is dedicated to the memory of Matthew Shepard, 1976-1998.