April 4, 2004

Page: H-1

     After two powerful performances in national tours of the musical dramas "Blood Brothers" and "Sunset Boulevard" at Hershey Theatre, Petula Clark is returning to the area in her greatest role of all: herself.
      The '60s pop sensation, noted for hits such as "I Know a Place," "This Is My Song," "A Sign of the Times" and "Don't Sleep on the Subway" (her favorite), will bring the most personal concert of her career to the American Music Theatre Monday, April 12.
      Every piece she plans to sing there, with orchestral accompaniment, has a personal connection, she said.
      "Some (like the indispensable "Downtown," which entered the Grammy Hall of Fame last year) are my hit songs. Some are from musicals (like "Sunset Boulevard") or movies I have been in'' (including "Finian's Rainbow"), she said Tuesday by phone from Miami.
      The lesser-known songs she has written or co-written over the course of her remarkable six-decade career.
      Most personal of that lot is "I'm Not Afraid." The music was created by a young composer from Geneva, Switzerland, where Clark and her husband of 33 years, Frenchman Claude Wolff, live when not occupying their secondary flat in London.
      "The moment I heard his wonderful music, I sat down and started writing the lyrics - just like that," Clark said, still sounding surprised by the instant connection and inspiration.
      "The words are very personal, but it applies to a lot of us," said Clark, who has long refused to compromise herself by recording, performing or playing parts strictly for commercial value.
      "It's all about not being afraid to show who you are, about throwing away the masquerade," she said, quoting a sampling:
      "I'm not afraid to stand before you tonight, here in the light that's too bright. All through my life, I've stood here, just like tonight, but not quite ..."

Sondheim surprise
      She may also surprise her audience by singing Stephen Sondheim's "I Never Do Anything Twice."
      "I had to be bullied into recording that song," she admitted. "I adore Stephen's music but I said 'I can't sing this. It's a bit ... saucy, shall we say.'"
      But record it she did, and that ditty with the double entendre is now a show stopper in concert.
      "Now I absolutely relish it," she said. "It's great fun and a little surprising for the audience."
      Fans may relish a rare, nonmusical moment, too: a reading of "It's a Funny Thing, the Theatre," a poem she wrote on the Eurostar train while commuting between concert sites.
      "It was the middle of the night. I didn't have anything to read, so I just started writing. What came out was basically about my love of the theater, a journey of its own. It sounds rather dreary, but I promise it's not," she assured with laugh.
      "I enjoy doing musical theater," said she, whose stage credits include three London hits; a revival of "The Sound of Music"; her own original musical, "Someone Like You"; and, most recently, "The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber."
      "But musicals are not the be-all and end-all for me. I enjoy straight theater pieces as well. I was just asked to do a new play (a drama) in London, which is very demanding, virtually a monologue. We shall see."

Global gal
      Because she is a global entertainer, Americans, especially, have the illusion that Petula Clark is simmering away on some back burner in the twilight of her career.
      At 71, the talent discovered while entertaining Allied forces as a child in England during World War II, is still a viable and vital headliner (as evidenced by her 2001 PBS special, "A Sign of the Times").
      Her compilation compact disc, "The Ultimate Connection," hit the Top 20 in 2002. But her greatest satisfaction lies in the continuing success of her concerts.
      As is typical, she spent the past two months touring Australia and New Zealand and comes to Lancaster fresh from a one-week (April 5-9) engagement at the Hilton in Atlantic City.
      She also continues to crank out albums in several languages, predominantly French, but most recently German ("Kaleidoscope," 2003).
      "They play my records in all sorts of extraordinary places," said Clark who is fluent in French and English. "I even get mail regularly from Mongolia!"
      Concerts pay the greatest personal dividends, though.
      "I love working with a team of people in theater, but in concert I can really be myself and just let go," Clark said. "It's a very pleasant feeling. I enjoy very much touching people that way, and I am touched by it too. It is definitely two-way traffic."

AMT concert tickets are $46. Call (800) 648-4102 or visit