BWW Review: Six Years After Its Debut, Maxine Linehan's Stunning Petula Clark Tribute Show Retroactively Becomes One of New York Cabaret's Greatest Hits
For the third installment of his New York Cabaret's Greatest Hits--a wonderful new monthly series at the Metropolitan Room celebrating award winning and critically acclaimed cabaret shows of the past--Producer Stephen Hanks (and his Cabaret Life Productions) wisely chose Maxine Linehan's What Would Petula Do? A Tribute to Petula Clark. Although this show won no awards, nor received critical acclaim in 2009 (when I first saw it at the Laurie Beechman Theatre), Linehan's revival this past Monday night of one of her first cabaret shows could certainly be considered one the best of this or any year.
Linehan is one of cabaret's young rising stars and she can do no wrong with this material. From the moment she hits the stage in her oh-so-mod black sequined mini dress, sexy auburn ponytail complete with wispy bangs that frame those huge Twiggy doe-like eyes, you feel delightfully transported back to the Swingin' '60s of Petula Clark's mad, mod, marvelous, London. Setting a high energy groove from the start with her spectacular band (led by Musical Director/pianist Ryan Shirar), Linehan kicks the evening off with a Petula audience favorite "I Know A Place" (Tony Hatch), immediately followed by a bouncy mash-up of "I Couldn't Live Without Your Love/You're The One" (Tony Hatch/Jackie Trent and P. Clark/T. Hatch) singing with glorious spot-on pop vocals so reminiscent of her hero.
This snappy, redheaded Irish lass has more than just a great voice, she has the gift of the Irish storyteller as she draws us in with the history of Clark's amazing life, including the reveal that Petula made her London radio debut in 1942 at age 9. Attending a theatre performance that was delayed by a Nazi air raid, the producer requested that someone perform to calm the audience. Clark volunteered a rendition of "Mighty Lak' a Rose" to an enthusiastic response, launching a series of some 500 appearances to entertain the troops. Linehan informs us that in addition to her radio work, Clark frequently toured the UK with fellow child performer and lifelong best friend, Julie Andrews. With this story, Linehan seamlessly segues into another Clark blockbuster, "Don't Sleep in the Subway" (Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent).
One of the perks of this "Greatest Hits" Series is being able to observe how an artist has grown over time. While still displaying her amazing vocal chops that can handle pretty much any musical style, Linehan has joyfully matured into a more confident, focused, sultry performer. She turned up the heat with Tony Hatch's samba infused "Call Me," and during her mesmerizing rendition of "Old Devil Moon" (Burton Lane and E.Y. Harburg) from the musical film Finian's Rainbow, in which Clark starred with Fred Astaire. Linehan pays further tribute to her idol by performing songs from musical theater shows in which Clark starred either on Broadway or in the UK. Linehan sings a majestic "The Sound of Music" from Rogers and Hammerstein's 1980 record-breaking West End production of the show, a heartbreaking "Tell Me It's Not True" (Willy Russell) from Clark's 1993 Broadway debut in Blood Brothers, and performs a beautifully stoic rendition of "With One Look" (Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Jack and Christopher Hampton) from Sunset Boulevard. Linehan tells us that Clark played the role of Norma Desmond a record 2,500 times. Linehan finishes strong, belting out another Clark audience favorite with Charlie Chaplin's "This Is My Song," causing a spontaneous standing ovation. Her encore "Downtown" (Tony Hatch)-what else?--becomes a joyful love-fest and sing-a-long for both her and her audience.
Linehan has surrounded herself with top-notch professionals. Songwriters Gerald Stockstill and K. Jones have composed the show's title song "What Would Petula Do?" a lyric that perfectly describes 1960's England, captures the pop music style of the period, and suits Linehan' s storytelling skills very well. Ryan Shirar further enhanced this fabulous production with outstanding musical arrangements and accompaniment, while the stellar band--featuring Linehan's husband Andrew Koss on guitar, Ritt Henn on bass, and Clayton Craddock on drums--added further musical authenticity to the evening. Kudos should also go to Director Scott Siegel for reconstructing this show to not only capture the totality of Petula Clark's contribution to pop music and musical theater, but to also showcase the immeasurable talents of Maxine Linehan.
The next New York Cabaret's Greatest Hits features Meg Flather in Portraits on Monday, December 14 at 7 pm at the Metropolitan Room. This new monthly series launched in August 2015 celebrates award winning and critically acclaimed "Blasts From the Past" shows and performers. There is already a full roster of shows planned for each month in 2016, with every show on the 13th of the month. Produced and hosted by Stephen Hanks. Associate Producer Fr. Jeffrey Hamblin, MD. For full schedule and reservations call 212-206-0440 or go to www.metropolitanroom.com.
Photos by Lou Montesano/Still Rock Photography
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From This Author Billie Roe