They’re two words that are thrown around fairly liberally these days, but when you watch Petula Clark perform, you know you’re in the presence of a genuine “legendary star”. Indeed, it’s hard to believe that Petula Clark’s career spans eight decades. She appears ageless as she commands the stage for a performance that lasts well over two hours.
Her adoring audience needed no encouragement when invited to sing along with her. They knew every word to Downtown, This is My Song, Don’t Sleep in the Subway, Colour My World, with which she topped the charts in the 1960’s. But Clark’s career commenced well before the 60’s, beginning as a child star entertaining troops in concerts and on radio during the Second World War.
Her catalogue of song hits is vast, but Clark had much more to offer than hit songs. She’s a gifted story-teller, and her stories of her friendships and encounters with other legends, like John Lennon, Peggy Lee, Fred Astaire and Charlie Chaplin, are told with grace and humour.
She paid tribute to Lennon with Imagine and to Peggy Lee with Fever, explaining before she sang it, that she refused to record Fever until after Lee had died. She told of spending an afternoon with Chaplin, dancing with him to her recording of This is My Song which Chaplin wrote for the film A Countess from Hong Kong. She shared memories of working with Fred Astaire when they starred in the film, Finian’s Rainbow, and sang two songs from the film.
Though her voice, understandably, has lost some of its bloom, it’s still immediately recognizable as Petula Clarke’s. She’s aware of its deficiencies, even stopping at one point to repeat a phrase, when her voice faltered. Not that anyone was worried. She still had plenty of soaring notes to share, singing in both French and English, with impeccable annunciation and phrasing.
She offered masterful interpretations of Lloyd-Webbers, Don’t Cry For Me Argentina and his demanding With One Look, which she performed wrapped in the cloak she wore when she starred in Sunset Boulevard on the West End.
Clark also included several of her own compositions in her program, including the catchy From Now On. For one or two songs she accompanied herself on the grand piano, but mostly she sang to the sensitive accompaniment of her long- time musical director, Grant Sturiale and four local musicians who made up her impressive backing band.
Following her Australian tour Clark will return to London’s West End for the first time in 20 years, to play ‘The Bird Woman’ in Mary Poppins. No doubt her performances in that will earn her more standing ovations to rival the one given to her by her enthusiastic Canberra audience.
Petula Clark: Once More with Love
Canberra Theatre – Canberra Theatre Centre, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Friday 10 May 2019
Image: Petula Clark (supplied)
Review: Bill Stephens OAM