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Cabaret Review

Cabaret Review: 'Petula Clark'

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Cabaret Review: 'Petula Clark'
Photo Source: Stephen Sorokoff
Back in the mid-1960s I had a brief but passionate boy crush on English pop singer and film actor Petula Clark. She knocked out a string of hit singles penned by composer Tony Hatch in a vibrantly distinctive belt voice, including "I Know a Place," "Don't Sleep in the Subway," "My Love," and, of course, the mother of them all, "Downtown," for which she won her first Grammy Award. But what really cemented my fandom were her marvelous performances in the film musicals "Finian's Rainbow" and "Goodbye, Mr. Chips." Then the diminutive star segued to a long career as an international concert singer, with occasional stops in West End musicals. Well, she's back, appearing at Feinstein's at Loews Regency with just a four-piece band. It's a rare appearance in an intimate venue, and for anyone who cares about great singing, it is not to be missed.

Clark turns 80 this year, but you'd never know it from the lithe and limber, boundlessly energetic, agelessly beautiful woman onstage. My eyes went from wide to wider to positively popping as she flung out hit after hit in its original key, with fully held top notes, burnished tone, and complete control of those wonderfully unique vocal stylings that are always enhancing and seem to emanate from the center of her soul.

All the above-mentioned tunes get an airing, as well as a flirty, playful medley of "Who Am I?" and "Color My World" (both by Hatch and Jackie Trent), a liquid "This Is My Song" (Charlie Chaplin, which Clark introduced on the soundtrack of his final film, "A Countess From Hong Kong"), and a spot-on country reinvention of Hatch and Trent's "I Couldn't Live Without Your Love" that featured a dynamic drum solo from Dan Gross and an intense, whip-up-the-crowd finish from Clark.

Representing her work in musicals, we get a meltingly simple "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" (Burton Lane–E.Y. Harburg) from "Finian's" and a glowing "You and I," the centerpiece of Leslie Bricusse's criminally undervalued score for "Chips." A haughty and flashing "With One Look" (Andrew Lloyd Webber—Don Black—Christopher Hampton), from "Sunset Boulevard," suggests that Clark was a Norma Desmond to be reckoned with (she played the show in the West End and on tour).

In her sharp and witty patter, Clark confesses to a teenage desire to be cool and sophisticated that expressed itself in an affinity for Peggy Lee and Cole Porter. She shows off those predilections with a driving, percussive take on Porter's "I Concentrate on You," in an inventive arrangement flecked with electronic guitar, and a swinging, ballsy interpretation of the great songwriter's comic lament "Miss Otis Regrets." Both are utterly untraditional yet so compelling that I can't believe Porter wouldn't have loved them (and they are executed flawlessly by musical director Grant Sturiale and the tight band, which also includes Courtney Sappington on guitar and Jason Di Matteo on bass).

Clark is also a writer herself, a talent she showcases in the pensive "Starting All Over Again" (music by David Hadzis) and in a tart, well-observed poem about life in the theater she recites that includes the interesting observation that when she gets too angry she sings, something that perhaps accounts for the intensity of emotion with which she can invest a song. And yet there's always a lightness and a sexy buoyancy to her work, no doubt springing from her impish sense of humor, which she deftly displays on a smart comic parody of "Downtown" written by Barry Kleinbort.

More than anything, though, Clark is a skilled musician, something most apparent in two magical moments when she simply sits at the piano and accompanies herself while singing a soulful "Someone to Watch Over Me" (George and Ira Gershwin) and a shimmering, dramatically acute "La Vie en Rose" (Edith Piaf–Louis Guglielmi, English lyric by Mack David), which the multilingual chanteuse, who saw Piaf perform live, delivers in perfectly accented French.

Clark, who was an English music hall star at age 9, distills 70 years worth of performing experience in her work while still in great physical and vocal shape. It's an unusual and unbeatable combination that makes for a highly memorable evening.

Presented by and at Feinstein's at Loews Regency, 540 Park Ave., NYC. Jan. 24–Feb. 4.Tue.–Thu., 8 p.m.; Fri. and Sat., 8 and 10:30 p.m. (212) 339-4095 or www.feinsteinsattheregency.com.

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