Petula Clark official site" href="http://petulaclark.net/" target="_blank">Petula Clark has fallen in love with New York audiences. And judging by the demand for tickets, the feeling is mutual. The crowds turning out for a bit of '60s nostalgia delivered by the legendary singer and actor at Feinstein's at Loews Regency have also been treated to some newer material. The performances have been so popular that her run has been extended to Feb. 11.
"New York is hip. The audience knows exactly what's going on, from humor to nuance of a lyric," Clark said in a recent interview. "The other night it was like a rock concert. The audience was so enthusiastic and generous-standing up and singing, clapping their hands. And this is a sophisticated crowd."
Immediately after her New York appearance, Clark flies to Australia for a 15-day concert tour.
Clark rose to international fame with her rendition of Tony Hatch's "Downtown," for which she won the first of her two Grammys. Hatch, an English songwriter, followed up with "I Know a Place," landing Clark her second Grammy. Their collaboration resulted in 15 top 40 songs for Clark in London, L.A. and New York. She has sold more than 70 million records.
But long before her fame as a singer, Clark had a passion for acting. She caught the acting bug by the tender age of 5, when her father took her to see a play, MARY TUDOR. It was love at first sight, even for a child.
"I thought it was incredible," Clark, 79, recalled. "It was amazing to watch, and I thought I was dreaming. That's when I said to my dad, 'That's what I want to be.' I wanted to be Ingrid Bergman."
But long before she starred on the big screen, she launched a career entertaining the troops during World War II, for which she was honored by the Queen of England. She performed more than 200 shows for the forces throughout England during the war, all before the age of 9.
"When I was a kid, I listened to Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald and so many other performers. I listened to jazz, classical, everything, because music is just music to me, no matter what category it's in," she said. She was encouraged to act by listening to radio dramas. "I found that when I sing onstage, there's a play going on in my head for every song.
"Some people still think of me as a pop singer because of the big hits, but it's only part of what I do," Clark said. In fact, she's recently completed a French album which includes a song she co-wrote with Charles Aznavour.
Clark's acting credits include starring as Maria in a London production of "THE SOUND OF MUSIC," as Norma Desmond in "SUNSET BOULEVARD" in London and a U.S. tour, and in Broadway's "BLOOD BROTHERS." Film fans might remember her in "FINIAN'S RAINBOW," co-starring with Fred Astaire, and in "GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS," with Peter O'Toole.
Clark thoroughly enjoyed her Broadway stint in "BLOOD BROTHERS" with David Cassidy. "The play was a great success in London, and I was asked to take it to New York. I was very hesitant at first, but after I saw it on Broadway I thought it was brilliant and wanted to do it." She appreciated the teamwork of a Broadway ensemble. "It's an amazing community, like you're a family. We did all kinds of charity work because it was around Christmastime and the company from Les Mis joined us in going around and singing carols. We went around from restaurant to restaurant, raising money for worthy causes. It was wonderful," she recalled.
The stage has its own special magic, she said. "I have to say that live performance is my favorite. Something happens between you and an audience: it's like two-way traffic."
Contrary to popular perception, Clark is no Mary Sunshine. "I'm not cheerful all the time," she said. "I'm not an idiot. I'm aware of other things that I care and worry about just the same as anyone else. I'm a Scorpio, and my way to combat negative feelings is to try and push through it.
"My persona is not particularly upbeat. We've all had those feelings of being out of the loop, but just getting out and being with other people is wonderful."
After success with a string of catchy, upbeat, pop songs, "maybe I was seen as a reassuring big sister," she said. "I think parents may have felt safe with me as someone their kids were listening to."
Clark is so comfortable in her own skin that she needs no preparation for a concert performance, she said. "It's not that difficult to sing, but making a song your own is very, very personal. You have to use what you are and have experienced and how you feel about life, so you're not just pushing out the notes."
Her voice hasn't changed all that much through the years. "Well, maybe it's a little bit warmer these days, with more soul," she said. "I've lived through some times." And having a little goat cheese during the interview was not such a good idea, she said, coughing a little. "It's that dairy. I know I shouldn't eat it," she said with a laugh. "Well, I'm off tonight, so it won't be so bad."
Petula Clark performs through Feb. 11 at Feinstein's at Loews Regency, 540 Park Ave. at 61st St. (212) 339-4095
Photo Credit: Stephen Sorokoff