VINCENZO D’ALTO THE GAZETTE
Petula Clark’s voice is as strong and supple as it was when she recorded her hits of the 1960s, and her performance at Théâtre Maisonneuve last night was a career-spanning tour de force.


PETULA CLARK, who performed last night at Place des Arts,
defined the '60s as strongly as the Stones or the Beatles

The voice of an era,
the songs of a lifetime


BERNARD PERUSSE THE GAZETTE

      Historical revisionism would have you believe the British Invasion years of 1964 and 1965 were entirely defined by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and maybe the Dave Clark Five. It's the same myth that has soldiers in Vietnam listening exclusively to Jimi Hendrix and Cream and not Nancy Sinatra or Tommy James and the Shondells.
      And, granted, Petula Clark, 73, played to the 1,500-capacity Théâtre Maisonneuve of Place des Arts last night, while the Stones filled the Bell Centre in January. But that doesn't mean the three-chord salvo that opens Downtown doesn't define its era as perfectly as Satisfaction.
     Clark's setlist last night acknowledged the '60s-era hits that made her a household name in North America. An electrifying Colour My World, a cabaret-styled I Know a Place and the perky Sign of the Times were all accounted for, but the singer also seemed intent on reminding her audience about her stage and screen career, some new self-penned songs and a body of work in French that goes back to the days when rock 'n' roll was merely a glimmer in Bill Haley's eye.
     Not surprisingly, the selection was heavy on French songs, with the opener, Who Am I, quickly making way for a medley of Je Me Sens Bien, Romeo and Bleu, Blanc, Rouge. Don't Sleep In the Subway followed, with Clark playfully acting out the lyrics via facial gestures. As she hit the closing note of the 1967 smash with effortless power, it was more than clear her voice hasn't lost a thing since she recorded the original.
     Au contraire. In an interview with The Gazette last June, the chanteuse said she still sings all of her hits in the original keys. "My voice is stronger, more supple than it was in those days. Maybe it's because it's been tested a lot since then, and doing musicals can really strengthen - or break - your voice."
     Tell Me It's Not True, from Blood Brothers, and With One Look, from Sunset Boulevard, proved her point. In the latter, Clark played the lead role as faded film star Norma Desmond, touring with the Andrew Lloyd Webber show for two years.
     If those pipes were the real story last night, Clark also delivered a lesson in old-school star presence as she slipped into storytelling mode between songs, alternating between French and English. The audience ate up every anecdote about icons like Charles Chaplin, Sophia Loren, Fred Astaire, Jacques Brel and Serge Gainsbourg.
     During a Gainsbourg medley, while singing O Sheriff, a twinkle in Clark's eye evoked the pixie-ish pop singer of the paisley period. At other times, there was a delightful Mae West comedic sexiness to her delivery. During Just You, Just Me, she even adopted a Bronxtinged, Betty-Boop delivery as she sang "What ah my ahhhmmmsss for?" If the nine musicians on stage, under the musical direction of Kenny Clayton, sounded a bit sterile, Clark's engaging warmth more than made up for it.
     In a medley that included Round Every Corner and The Other Man's Grass Is Always Greener, Clark sang "I'm so thankful for the '60s." The audience shared that sentiment, but they had more than that to chew on during last night's career-spanning tour de force.

bperusse@thegazette.canwest.com