Fast Chat: Petula Clark goes uptown to Feinstein's
The "Downtown" girl is heading uptown.
Petula Clark, the British pop princess who topped the charts in the '60s with a slew of hits, including "I Know a Place," "Don't Sleep in the Subway" and, of course, her signature song, "Downtown," is enjoying her first New York City nightclub gig since 1975. Her show at Feinstein's at Loews Regency Feb.9-11 -- a mix of her hits and standards -- is one she hopes will make you forget all your troubles, forget all your cares.
The Grammy-winning songstress, who resides in Switzerland, also has a new French-language CD coming out, including a song with singer Charles Aznavour.
Clark, 79, recently spoke with Newsday's Daniel Bubbeo about her Manhattan gig and her film career.
It came to my musical director, Grant Sturiale, from some friends of his and he thought it might be amusing for me to see. I thought it was lovely. There seems to be a Duane Reade somewhere in the city if it's not Rite Aid or CVS. I thought it would be fun to change with the music.
You haven't worked in a New York nightclub in over 35 years.
Has it been that long? I'm not good with numbers. The last time I performed in a New York nightclub was at the Empire Room in the Waldorf Astoria and I had a full orchestra and dancers. For this show, I had to cut my band down. I have just four musicians. It's more close up and personal, and I'm enjoying it. Of course, in a room like this there's nowhere to hide. In a concert hall, there's more space between you and the audience. ... I don't have quite what you might call a cabaret act. By the time I've done most of the songs people want me to sing, I put in some things I like. And I play piano.
At one of your shows, didn't someone come on stage when you performed a song from "Jesus Christ Superstar"?
Oh, that was a long time ago. It was in Vegas and I sang "I Don't Know How to Love Him." At the end of the song, there was a blackout, and when the lights came up again, there was a young man with a long beard and long hair on stage. He looked at me and said "You're not Mary Magdalene," and I said "You're not Jesus Christ." He said, "Yes, I am." Then some men came and took him away. To this day I don't know how he got up there.
Hopefully, nothing like that will happen in New York.
Well, I'm not singing that song this time.
People seem to forget that you started out as an actress in English movies when you were a kid and in your teens. What was that like?
It was a strange kind of childhood. I was under contract to the Rank Organisation. I was also singing for the troops who were stationed in the U.K. -- Poles, the Free French, the Brits. I was a working child in a film studio and it was a very closed kind of atmosphere. It was a very adult world. I found I was growing up in many ways faster than most children, and in others I wasn't. I wasn't allowed to have boyfriends, and I had no social life. The studio was concerned about my image.
Did you enjoy working with Fred Astaire on "Finian's Rainbow"?
Oh, yes. I was nervous because I was going to have to dance with Fred Astaire, but he was just as nervous about singing with me. He was charming and generous. When we would be out and people would say to him, "You're fabulous," he found it really embarrassing.
He was a perfectionist. Was it difficult keeping up with him in the dance numbers?
I rehearsed with his choreographer Hermes Pan, so then I was dancing with Fred and it was the easiest thing in the world. They were almost like the same person.
What was Peter O'Toole like on "Goodbye, Mr. Chips"?
That was a very different thing. He's lovely, too, very Irish, very expansive. He was very funny and brilliant, and we got on from the first moment we met. I saw him when he was in play a few years later, and I went backstage to his dressing room and we held hands with tears rolling down our faces.
"Downtown" is the song you'll always be identified with. Do you ever get tired of people asking you to sing it?
It's a bit like asking Tony Bennett if he gets tired of people asking him to sing "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." If it was something silly like singing "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini," I'd feel funny. It's great to hear people ask for it and to have them joining in.
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