Clark is finally coming 'Downtown'

April 04, 1995|By Daryl H. Miller | Daryl H. Miller,Los Angeles Daily News

As Americans bopped to the beat of No. 1 hit "Downtown" in 1965, British pop singer Petula Clark suddenly found herself a bloody sensation in the States.

Too bad the international star didn't have time to meet those American blokes in person.

"I was an enormous star in Europe, Canada and Australia . . . all over the world, except America," Ms. Clark said. "But I was already very successful and very busy, so when 'Downtown' became a hit, I said, 'How am I going to fit it in the calendar?' People were calling me to go to America but I couldn't get here. I was too busy."

Thirty years later, she's finally found the time, teaming up with another pop icon, David Cassidy, in a musical production of "Blood Brothers" at the Lyric Opera House.

The two-time Grammy winner (for "Downtown" and "I Know a Place") plays a downtrodden Liverpool mother of twin brothers who were separated at birth, only to be reunited years later by a strange twist of fate -- they fall for the same woman. The musical, written by Willy Russell ("Educating Rita"), was first presented in London in 1983 before being revived there in 1988. It then traveled to Toronto and New York in 1993, where Ms. Clark made her Broadway debut.

The musical unnerved Ms. Clark at first. She couldn't fathom playing a Liverpudlian when she herself was from the south side of London.

"Liverpool is a very special place. It has the reputation of a rough place, a real melting pot," Ms. Clark said. "Some of our best writers, humorists, rock singers come from there. It has this huge aura around it. I've never played a woman of this class before."

Rather, Ms. Clark has made a career of being a good girl. Born in Epsom, Surrey, England, Ms. Clark got her start singing on BBC radio before nailing her own program "Pet's Parlour." She earned her peculiar first name when her father couldn't think of anything better, so he made one up.

"Now there are quite a few Petulas," she said.

By 12, Ms. Clark had become Britain's leading star, appearing in 25 movies alongside such actors as Peter Ustinov, Anthony Newley and Alec Guinness (who participated in her first big-screen smooch).

The life of a movie star certainly had its share of droll moments, Ms. Clark admitted.

"I wasn't allowed to date. I was more valuable as a child than as an adolescent. And at the time there weren't many good roles for adolescents. So they kept me young. The bit of bosom I had was kept in and I wore my hair in a braid. I hated it, of course.

"They didn't want me to be seen out with guys, that kind of thing. That side of it was a bit difficult."

Singing proved to be much more exciting, taking her around the world with such favorites as "A Sign of the Times," "Color My World," "Don't Sleep in the Subway" and "I Couldn't Live Without Your Love." All in all, she recorded 27 hits and is second only to Diana Ross as the most successful female star in British pop history.

"I think I've got quite a good voice, a natural voice. It's a voice that can convey certain emotions. But I don't think it's one of the great voices by any means."

The mother of three grown children, Ms. Clark describes "Blood Brothers" as a "very quirky, unusual piece" that stands in its own category of musicals. She prefers to refer to it as a play with music.

"It's difficult to pigeonhole. It's not 'Les Miserables'; it's not 'Phantom of the Opera.' It's totally unique. Some think it's very much like an opera, not because of the way it's written, but because of the kind of story it's telling," she said.

"It's a tragic journey from beginning to the end of the show. And there are all kinds of wonderful moments."

SING-ALONG

Petula Clark will lead a sing-along of her Grammy Award-winning "Downtown" at Harborplace Amphitheatre at noon today.

"BLOOD BROTHERS"

Where: Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave.

When: Todayto Sunday. Show times are 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, with matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Tickets: $20 to $45

Call: (410) 494-2712

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