April 11, 1986
BY ALAN NIESTER
Special to The Globe and Mail
Ageless Petula thrives on variety
APART FROM the fact they are notable entertainers, Bob Hope and Petula Clark have something in common. Both, believe it or not, were active entertaining troops during the Second World War.
Watching her perform from a spot perhaps 50 feet from the stage of the Imperial Room on Wednesday night, it seemed incredible that this youthful looking, vibrant woman was even alive during the war, let alone entertaining troops. It was equally incredible to hear her sing a long line of hits that are now about two decades old. Perhaps the wrinkles showed up close, but from a slight distance, the look and the clear, youthful voice suggested that this was a woman of perhaps 26, not exactly twice that.
Clark, opening a 10-night stint, has had a long and storied career. At 10, she was a child star in Britain. At 30, she was reborn as the major female figure in the English invasion, scoring a long string of top 10 hits. At 37, she starred in Francis Ford Coppola's film adaptation of Finian's Ralnbow. She has worked in film, theatre, pop music and television, all with remarkable success. And the package she has put together for her Toronto appearance draws heavily from all those forms.
Naturally, most people in the audience came to hear the hits - "Downtown," "I Know a Place," "Color My World" and all the rest. While she demonstrated that her voice really hasn't changed that much since the sixties, it would seem to be Clark's contention that if someone wanted to hear the old songs just as they were back then, they could just as well stay and listen to a copy of Petula Clark's Greatest Hits Volume 1. Virtually all the old crowd-pleasers were retooled. "Don't Sleep in the Subway" was not so much sung as it was spoken, as if the pleading nature of the song had just occurred to Petula yesterday. "I Know a Place" became a high camp show tune. A truncated "My Love" metamorphosed from a ballad to a bossa nova to a country number before it was mercifully terminated, and even "Downtown" became a call and response number with the audience. In fact, of all the old hits she presented, only "I Couldn't Live Without Your Love," which she referred to as a personal favorite, received a run-through that was in the least bit true to its original form.
But the old hits were only a small portion of the performance. This was a surprisingly diverse package, ranging from newer numbers such as "Celebration," Lionel Richie's "Hello" and Phil Collins' "One More Night" to chestnuts such as "How Are Things in Glocca Morra" and "Don't Cry For Me Argentina." All of these numbers were given a personal stamp, some successful, some not. Her version of the Collins' tune seemed to lose its melody line with each change of key, but her big, emotional stab at the Evita number received the biggest ovation of the evening.
It would have been easy and safe for Petula Clark to merely run through the hits from beginning to end, but that is obviously not fulfilling enough for the entertainer. Instead, she has selected songs she enjoys, and feels comfortable experimenting with. As a result, audience members probably left the room humming, but perhaps not the songs they might have thought they would. And they probably left with the knowledge that there is a lot more to Petula Clark than "Downtown" and "I Know A Place."