Feinstein’s at Loews Regency – January 24 – February 11
When Petula Clark opens her show at Feinstein’s singing “I Concentrate on You” slowly and with quiet solemnity, I thought to myself, “This is a chancy thing to do.” After all, though her extensive work in films and in the theatre have earned her considerable acclaim and success, as has her international multi-lingual recording and concert career, I daresay a good number of her fans are most familiar with her work in the pop arena. They are not likely to expect a classic Cole Porter ballad. But after a few lines, she switches to an uptempo rendition. From an artistic perspective, this is an even riskier choice: how does one perform this intensely romantic song uptempo and remain true to the piece? Clark accomplishes this by rooting her interpretation in the lyric, as though she were expressing defiance of the “wise men” who say to her “that love’s young dream never comes true.” Far from being nightclubby, her rendition represents a fresh dramatic take on the song. It is one of the evening’s many surprises and delights.
She precedes a sweet rendition of Burton Lane and E.Y. Harburg’s “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” with an anecdote about the young director Francis Ford Coppola and his production assistant, George Lucas, during the filming of Finian’s Rainbow that is both appealing and interesting. A charmingly self-deprecating characterization of her young self at the time she saw Piaf in concert leads into a lovely interpretation of “La Vie en Rose” (Édith Piaf, Louis Guglielmi) in French, with Clark accompanying herself at the piano; the moment is special. Accompanying herself again later, she delivers a simple and heartfelt “Someone to Watch Over Me” (the Gershwins).
The show includes a second Cole Porter song, “Miss Otis Regrets.” The arrangement is sassy, the band is hot, and Clark’s performance is spunky. That hot band consists of musical director Grant Sturiale on piano, Courtney Sappington on Guitar, Dan Gross on drums, and Jason Di Matteo on bass.
At one point in the program, Clark recites a poem she wrote one night while on a train from Paris to London. It examines the phenomenon of theatre and relates it to real life. The piece is beautifully written, and her exquisite delivery is as masterful as Noël Coward’s readings of his works—I was reminded in particular of Coward’s poem “The Boy Actor” (the one that ends “But I heard the curtain going up”). I know of no higher praise the world has to offer than comparison to Noël Coward. Clark further shows her acting skill in “With One Look” (Andrew Llloyd Webber, Don Black, Christopher Hampton, Amy Powers, from Sunset Boulevard). Over and above the purely technical strength of her performance, with one song she captures the character of Norma Desmond perfectly. Her commanding portrayal made me regret not having had the opportunity to see her in the role.
Indeed, the evening does include several of the hits that will be forever associated with Petula Clark: “I Know a Place,” “Sign of the Times,” “My Love,” “Downtown,” “Who Am I?,” “Color My World,” “Don’t Sleep in the Subway,” “I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love” (all by Tony Hatch, the last four co-written with Jackie Trent), and Charlie Chaplin’s “This Is My Song.” But Clark doesn’t simply recreate the versions we’re familiar with. (For one thing, her voice has matured since she recorded them, so they would, perforce, not sound the same.) Rather, she augments and freshens them in various ways—attitude and playfulness, gestures, hand-clapping, sing-along. She does “My Love” as though it had been written for Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, and when she reprises “Downtown,” she does so with a very funny parody lyric written by Barry Kleinbort. It’s a joy to see a great star having a ball. By the time she gets to the end of the show, the evening has become a lovefest between Clark and her audience.
About the Author
Roy Sander has been covering cabaret and theatre for over thirty years. He’s written cabaret and theatre reviews, features, and commentary for seven print publications, most notably Back Stage, and for CitySearch on the Internet. He covered cabaret monthly on “New York Theatre Review” on PBS TV, and cabaret and theatre weekly on WLIM-FM radio. He was twice a guest instructor at the London School of Musical Theatre. A critic for BistroAwards.com, he is also the site’s Reviews Editor; in addition, he is Chairman of the Advisory Board of MAC.