J A N U A R Y 2 0 - 2 7 , 1 9 9 8
2QUESTIONS: Petula Clark
Petula Clark -- the international film and recording star perhaps best
known to American audiences for her mod-pop ditty "Downtown" -- helms
the newly revised national tour of Sunset Boulevard , which has
set up shop at the Merriam Theater through January 31. And given the
questionable history of the musical version of Billy Wilder's acclaimed
1950 film-noir expose of Hollywood, Clark has her work cut out for her.
Sunset Boulevard 's original leading lady, Patti LuPone, was
trashed by critics and prematurely (and scandalously) removed from the
London production. Later on, Glenn Close originated the role in Los
Angeles and brought her performance to New York. But despite her
previous Broadway musical credits, she simply couldn't hit all the
notes, inadvertently stepping beyond high drama and into high camp.
Subsequent divas Betty Buckley and Elaine Paige tackled the role of the
faded silent-screen star with acting and vocal abilities to spare, but
weren't big enough names to bring in the box office numbers.
Meanwhile, both the London and Broadway shows were handsome but costly
productions, and after running for years, they both closed without
recovering their costs. Even last year's national tour closed
prematurely, unable to support itself under the bulk (and expense) of
its enormous set and lacking the star-power needed to carry off the
show. Clark, for her part, hopes to reverse that sorry trend.
Is it intimidating to play a character called "the greatest star of
She probably believes [that], because she's been told that so long. But
what she really is is deluded and unpleasant -- although I think Norma
is possibly more likable in this production. Norma is probably one of
the best roles ever written for a woman. It's certainly one of the
hardest. When I first saw the show, I really didn't think the role was
for me. When I discussed this with Trevor Nunn [the original director],
who talked me into taking the part, I asked him what he thought I had to
offer in the role. He said, "your vulnerability." I never thought about
that before or noticed it. But I suppose that's what I bring.
Do you have a favorite song in the show?
"As if We Never Said Goodbye" is my favorite, because it's such a
magical moment. When she returns to her environment, you see her come
back to life. She probably became a monster because she missed the
studio, her work -- missed that magic. That can happen. And when she
goes back to the studio, she comes back to life.
-- M. Scott Mallinger