Monday, January 03, 2000
Clark's role call
Petula Clark brings the story of actress Desmond to the Weidner
By Warren Gerds
Norma Desmond is stuck on a guy. She's also stuck in the
past. She was glamorous and glorious in Hollywood's silent movie
Now half-crazed, Norma believes she can dazzle the world
again in talkies, with Cecil B. DeMille directing. Norma will do anything
to return to glory -- and keep that man.
You've got to know a bit about Norma to clue in to Petula
Clark, who plays her in the production of Sunset Boulevard that
opens Tuesday at the Weidner Center.
Norma was the key character in what's considered one of
the best movies ever made. The parody got new life on stage from composer
Andrew Lloyd Webber, first on London's West End, where Clark eventually
would play Norma for a year. Now she's well past another year as Norma,
hopscotching North America. The attraction?
"It's Norma," Clark said. "The funny thing is, the reason
I didn't want to do it in the first place was Norma. I didn't like her. I
didn't think that I would be able to play her."
Talking her into taking the role was Trevor Nunn, a
leading director in England. He knew her background:
Child star of the 1940s. International hit records in the
1960s, led by Downtown and Don't Sleep in the Subway. Movie
credits galore. Concert star. Stage musical credits by the bundle,
including Broadway. Three grown children. She's a grandmother,
"I had never been cast in anything like this before,"
Clark said. "I was a little nervous of it. But then I asked Trevor what he
thought I would bring to the role -- why he asked me to do it -- he said,
'I want you to bring -- and you will bring -- vulnerability and
"I had never associated that with Norma Desmond up until
that moment. I thought, 'Well, yes, it's not actually on the page, it's
not in the script, but if this woman is played as this monstrous,
one-dimensional creature, audiences won't be interested in the character
Also important is celebrity. Norma is a celebrity, and the
woman playing her has to have a name herself, Clark said. That's based on
the times she saw Sunset Boulevard, with stars and with
"The understudies were equally good in the role, but when
you saw a star coming down that staircase as Norma Desmond, we're supposed
to be looking at Norma Desmond when in fact we're looking at such-and-such
as Norma Desmond," she said.
"And it's totally unfair. A couple of the understudies
were absolutely brilliant, but it didn't quite have that thing. Andrew is
aware of it. Trevor's aware of it. It's just one of those