Bilingual Clark wows Montreal
Monday, October 30, 2000
Thêātre St. Denis, Montreal on Saturday
Petula Clark would make a perfect Canadian -- the fluently
bilingual kind that Pierre Trudeau dreamed this country would produce.
Switching effortlessly between French and English, Clark took over Thêātre
St. Denis Saturday night. This was the only Canadian date on her North
American tour, which picks up in California next month, and she was making
the most of being in Montreal.
The last time Clark played this city was in 1976. It was a period of
heightened political tension, and the singer's determination to switch
between English and French was not well received by some fans and critics.
Her return almost a quarter of a century later was much more welcoming,
signalling a markedly different social reality in Quebec. Clark is an
international star, and the audience proved it can now appreciate a
celebrity of her stature without feeling threatened by her easy
The former child star -- who turns 68 on Nov. 15 -- is clearly at home
on any stage. Acting the gracious host, Clark guided her fans through a
Vegas-style evening dedicated to her 60-year career. From her early days
entertaining the Allied troops during the Second World War, to being an
"Anglais" star in France, to the pop-filled sixties, to her Hollywood
films and Broadway musicals, Clark has always revealed herself as a
consummate performer. Over the years, she has sold nearly 70 million
records in four languages -- English, French, Italian and German -- and is
still the most successful female singer in British chart history.
So it was rewarding to see how well her voice has survived the years.
Strong and buoyant, it showed no signs of faltering as Clark tackled a
variety of styles -- jazz, pop, British music-hall numbers, French
chansons and Broadway tunes. And with most of her songs clocking in
at the three-minute mark, Clark was able to cover a lot of territory in a
scant two hours.
Her pop days were rolled into a sixties medley, with snippets of I
Know A Place, A Sign of the Times and My Love, and
culminating in an extended version of Downtown, thanks to
additional French verses. The seven-song medley served as a worthy tribute
to the singer's fruitful collaboration with songwriter Tony Hatch --
Britain's answer to Burt Bacharach -- whose elegant arrangements were some
of the best of that decade.
Throughout her career, Clark has had many admirers, including John
Lennon, Michael Jackson and Sheryl Crow, as well as Canadian piano
virtuoso Glenn Gould, who said that her work with Hatch was better than
the Beatles. Highlights of the evening's well-paced repertoire were a
stunning rendition of Don't Sleep in the Subway, with its rich
Beach Boy-esque harmonies, a rousing Tell Me It's Not True from the
Blood Brothers musical, and I Am Not Afraid, a candid
testimonial about being forever in the public eye.
As Clark confessed, "Growing up in front of millions wasn't fun."
Despite building a solid career in Britain in the forties as a Shirley
Temple equivalent, Clark felt stifled by fans who wouldn't allow her to
It was only when she moved to France in the late 1950s, and started
performing sophisticated French pop songs written by Jacques Brel and
Serge Gainsbourg, that she was finally able to shake her image of the
For the evening's largely francophone crowd, Clark sang many of her
French hits, such as Que fais-tu la Petula? and Chariot, as
well as adding French lyrics to several of her English songs. As a treat
for her Montreal fans, she covered a stirring Vivre, taken from the
Notre-Dame de Paris musical written by local hero Luc
When the show concluded and Clark basked in the limelight, several male
fans rushed the stage to offer her bouquets of red roses. It was a fitting
gesture for a seasoned performer who proved beyond a doubt that she
deserves all the accolades she has received.