Petula's elegant show at the Fairmont

October 28, 1975

     British singer Petula Clark's show at the Fairmont is one of the best to have played the Venetian Room. Ms. Clark is also among the most charismatic and effective singers to have worked that famed supper club.
     The production, which sometimes has 34 artists participating, is mounted by Ms. Clark's staff of orchestral and vocal superfluities, dancers, fancy lighting and extraneous material.
     But Ms Clark, just when it seemed she was losing control, roared back on mike or emerged in another costume and regained her spotlight. She looks thinner than in her pop-rock starring days of the 1960s--a bit like Mary Martin--and she has magnificent command of not only her voice but of the best skills of the British music hall.
     Three young ladies do back-up singing ("The Honey") and four singing-dancing-tumbling young men (called "Friends") play out various roles with Ms. Clark. The production is tight, thoroughly theatrical and (with the exception of a couple of poor tune selections) a first-rate hour of musical show biz.
     Dispensing, right away, with three of her 1960s gold records ("Downtown," "I Know a Place," "Don't Sleep in the Subway") Ms. Clark then greets her audience with some charming remarks and moves quickly into "What I Did for Love," from Marvin Hamlisch's score for "A Chorus Line". . . the four "Friends", in sparkling costumes, sang and danced about her.
     Ms. Clark's voice was straining on the show we saw, [Editor's note: She was suffering from the flu.] but full, still, of the gritty music hall tradition. Her song, dance, mime and comedy routines, done in a delightful clown-tramp costume (Chaplin lives!) were exquisite. "Friends" in puffy caps, rugby shirts and all, bounced around during the long medley of faves like "Birmingham Berie" and "Where Did You Get that Hat?"
     She dropped in a tender World War II reminder with "You'll Never Know" (Gracie Fields lives!) then knocked off four Beatles numbers including "When I'm Sixty-Four" and a feature by Friends (considerably exaggerated) on "Eleanor Rigby."
     Charles Chaplin's "This is My Song," which Ms. Clark made a hit record in 1967, was gorgeously sung and James Taylor's warhorse, "Fire and Rain," got the best rendition I"ve ever heard of the tune. [Editor's note: Frank Owen's masterful arrangement.]
     Pianist-conductor Frank Owens, supervising 25 instrumentalists had things well under control in a most elegant way.
     In fact, that's the word--the show is elegant and entertaining, fascinating, musical and professional. But, it is a show, and the songs sometimes suffer in the settings.
--Philip Elwood
San Francisco Examiner