On the 'Boulevard' with
The nonstop career of the 'Downtown' singer
brings her, at 66, to larger-than-life Norma Desmond
Although there are
striking similarities between singer Petula Clark and the character
she plays in "Sunset Boulevard," Norma Desmond is not Petula Clark.
7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m.
Nov. 19, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Nov. 20 and 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 21 at Popejoy Hall, UNM Center for the Arts. Tickets:
$31.50-$56.50. Call 851-5050.
they're both feisty; they're both glamorous; both in the latter half
But unlike Desmond, an
aging silent star convinced she can make a comeback in talkies,
Clark is still a star, appearing in more than 30 American and
British films and consistently recording CDs.
"I don't go around looking for
work," Clark says. Work, she says, comes looking for
"Sunset Boulevard," which
garnered seven Tony Awards in 1995, arrives in Albuquerque next week
for an eight-performance run with the famed British pop singer
("Downtown" and "I Know a Place") in the starring
Based on the 1950 film by
Billy Wilder, "Sunset Boulevard" tells the ultimately tragic story
of Norma Desmond, a woman who refuses to face reality, living in a
world consumed by dreams of fame, love and youth
Into this dream world
stumbles Joe Gillis (played in this production by Lewis Cleale), a
down-on-his-luck screenwriter who becomes her reluctant lover and
kept man. Gillis, Desmond believes, will provide a bridge to her
"Sunset Boulevard," which
Wilder wrote and directed and which starred Gloria Swanson and
William Holden, won three Oscars in 1950, including one for best
story and screenplay going to
More than four decades
later, in July 1993, Andrew Lloyd Webber transformed the cynical
story of soul- crushing compromise and twisted dreams into a
musical, his 10th.
from Glenn Close to Patti LuPone have played Desmond on the stage,
Clark never wanted to play
"It took me a long time to
fall in love with it (the role)," she says from a hotel room in San
Francisco. "I didn't fall in love immediately with Norma. She's a
difficult character, an acquired taste, shall we
"I didn't want to play the
role at all, but I was talked into it by Trevor Nunn, who directed
it on Broadway and London and L.A. He's one of the greatest
directors in the world.
saying 'No, no, no,' and he kept saying 'Yes, yes, yes,' and I guess
he was just better at it than I was," Clark says. "I haven't
regretted it, though."
the fading star in a London production, and now in a tour across the
United States that runs through the year
Originally, the musical
opened in London with LuPone -- who received stinging notices. Close
fared better when she played Desmond in Los
Close, who won a Tony as
best actress for the role, opened on Broadway late in 1994 with
$37.5 million in ticket sales, the highest advance sales in Broadway
history. (The record was previously set by "Beauty and the
By the time "Sunset
Boulevard" hit Broadway, Webber, the first person to have three
musicals running concurrently in New York and London, was something
of an institution.
The winner of
six Tonys, including two for "Sunset Boulevard" (best score and best
musical), Webber built a reputation on long-running, moneymaking,
star-studded productions with sweeping stories -- often inspired by
literature or history -- captured in pop-inflected operatic scores.
You probably know the titles even
if you've never heard a note of the music: "Evita," "Phantom of the
Opera" and "Cats," the longest running musical in West End and
epics, though, "Sunset Boulevard" tells an intimate story writ large
by Webber's lush score and Desmond's larger-than-life
"I am big,"
Desmond declares to Gillis soon after meeting him. "It's the
pictures that got small!"
Clark is the latest in a line of doyennes to give voice to la diva
"Andrew said 'Sunset
Boulevard' is the only show where we need a star to play a star. It
gives it that added buzz to it.'
"And I think I agree," Clark
"I've seen it played by
almost every well-known person (who played the role) and by three
understudies, who were wonderful in the role but the audience didn't
feel that buzz.
"And in one case,
the understudy was better than the woman who was playing it," she
says conspiratorially, "but I'm not going to tell you who that was."
Desmond presented special
challenges to the actress-singer. "I had never been asked to play
anybody like her, and I wasn't sure I could do it," Clark says.
"She's a formidable character, and the role demands a great deal of
an actress and a singer."
pauses, gathering her thoughts.
think there are people who come to see me in it who are surprised as
well," she says. "They aren't expecting me to be this bizarre. I
think it takes them a little while to accustom themselves to it.
This is not the Petula Clark they
In a time when Hollywood
actresses older than 30 bemoan the difficulty in finding work, the
66-year-old entertainer says hasn't experienced that
"I didn't ask for this
show; they came and twisted my arm to do it," she says.
"I think it probably is a
problem," she says of growing older, "and not just in this business,
but personally it hasn't affected
Perhaps Clark hasn't been
affected because show business is the only life she's
"What can I say?," she says
laughing. "I can't remember anything else, I started when I was
She pauses again, this time for
a little dramatic emphasis.
don't actually have goals or ambitions," Clark says. "I like to
enjoy my life from day to day. . . . I don't look back and I'm not
nostalgic. I have been criticized for that, I know. But I think
today is the important day."
after "Sunset Boulevard," however, Clark will be looking back, "but
not in too sentimental a way" in a one-woman show that will be as
close as she says she will ever get to her performing own life
"It will be a concert,"
Clark says. "You know I've been asked to do my own life story, an
autobiography, and I've never, ever wanted to do it. This is the
closest I will get to that.
be doing my ¹60s songs and movies, and talking about my French
career, which not many people know about, and my love of jazz. It's
kind of a cocktail of what I like and what I
But even with these
commitments penciled in, Clark won't be pinned
"If there's something else
that comes up that I want to do," Clark says simply, "I will."