by D.L. Hintz
Petula Clark was a seasoned performer long before the hit song “Downtown” made her an international star in 1965: She started her stage career at the age of 7 and had her own wartime radio program in 1943 when she was just 11 years old. She has sold more than 30 million records in her career and has more gold records than any other British female singer.
Now an energetic 66, Clark has released a new CD and is touring with the Broadway musical “Sunset Boulevard,” which passes through Richmond Dec. 8-13. Style caught up with her last week in her New York hotel room.
Style: In “Sunset Boulevard,” you play the spiteful actress Norma Desmond who is characterized by some as a “monster.” What do you hope the audience will see in Norma?
Clark: She is a difficult lady. She is a deluded woman and she behaves very badly. But I hope you get to see her more clearly by the show’s end. If Norma was just a monster and [her lover] Joe was just a gigolo, well that’s not very interesting. There is humanity there but it’s not necessarily on the page. That’s why the songs are very important; that’s where you get to see the real her.
Style: Your new CD is called “Here for You” and features songs from several contemporary Broadway shows, including “Sunset Boulevard.” Are you pleased with this recording?
Clark: I believe it came out quite well even though it came together very fast. I was doing some shows in Atlantic City and nipped over to Los Angeles. We really only had a week to do 14 songs; that’s pushing it. But I have done most of these songs onstage so they came together rather easily. ... “Pinball Wizard” [from “The Who’s Tommy”] really rocks!
Style: Will this recording surprise fans of “Downtown” and “Don’t Sleep in the Subway?”
Clark: I don’t believe in getting stuck in a rut. I’ve never felt like I’m a relic of the ’60s. The ’60s were great, but I was working for years and years before they came along. The ’60s came and went and life goes on. I know it was a special time [for many people], but it wasn’t really a special time for me.
Style: Is performing still as much fun for you as when you first started out?
Clark: I still love it, it’s a wonderful buzz. Shows are more technical now, and people pay more attention to the technical details. But the most important part is the communication between a performer and the audience; that hasn’t changed in thousands of years.
Style: You may be touring for over a year with “Sunset.” Won’t it be hard to play Norma for that long?
Clark: It’s a very emotional role. I ran into Glenn Close [who originated the role on Broadway], and she said, “You won’t be able to make it eight months.” She said I would end up in a clinic or a loony bin. ... But I don’t mind touring. I think it’s fun. I’m looking forward to coming back to Richmond. I was there with [the touring production of] “Blood Brothers” [in 1994]. We stayed at a nice place with several quaint little shops nearby. But we always had trouble finding someplace to eat late at night. I’m ravenous after a show. Could you find us a place to eat?