Maxine Linehan: What Would Petula Do?

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Maxine Linehan

What Would Petula Do?

Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, May 14, 2016

Reviewed by Alix Cohen for Cabaret Scenes

Photo: Stephen Sorokoff
Photo: Stephen Sorokoff

Apparently—surprise!—Petula Clark did not come out of nowhere to lead “the British Invasion” of 1960s pop performers. In fact, she was known as her country’s Shirley Temple, inadvertently beginning her career in 1942 at the age of nine by volunteering to calm a BBC studio by singing when bombs fell during a visit to the station. By the time she was 17, she had done radio, film, television and recordings in several languages. “Downtown” was the first of 15 consecutive Top 40 hits on the U.S. charts, bringing her to the states. Film and theater followed. At age 83, she just released a new album.

Maxine Linehan has done her homework. Clearly a labor of love, this 2009 show, rethought with producer/director Scott Siegel, is about as appreciative as they get. Material suits the performer’s voice and style, the warmth of personal inspiration is palpable. Clark, with whom the vocalist has been in touch, almost made it to Feinstein’s/54Below. Perhaps she’ll attend one of Linehan’s upcoming Théâtre du Châtelet performances in Paris.

Popular Tony Hatch songs comprise the first half of the show. “I Know a Place,” “Don’t Sleep in the Subway” (written with Jackie Trent) and “Call Me” bounce by with open-throated ebullience. Linehan can do that thing where octaves kind of zigzag down like a pinball. Her contralto moves seamlessly above and below its waterline. “Call Me” arrives rather kittenish. Curiously, she barely moves but for a pulsing right knee. Physical movement would take the infectious quality here up a notch.

“Color My World” (Hatch/Trent) evokes white disco boots, black eyeliner, The Frug, boys in printed nylon shirts, bangs. Lyrics shoot out like rockets. It’s all the audience can do, bobbing in their seats, not to yell out an encouraging “Yeah!

” The artist’s voice is more muscular than that of her subject and more controlled. Impact is greater.

“My parents met in London in the swinging sixties, then moved back to Ireland…with their record collection.” Linehan and her mother used to sing along with Clark. This bond goes way back. The show’s title song, “What Would Petula Do?” (Gerald Stockstill and Kenneth Jones)—”I’ll buy me a mini skirt that’s pink/I won’t give a damn what people think/Cause that’s what Petula would do…doodly dooo…”—sounds like a ’60s movie theme.

The first number from Clark’s roles in film and theater is Gerald Stockstill’s lovely arrangement of “Old Devil Moon” (Burton Lane/E.Y. “Yip” Harburg) from Finian’s Rainbow. Clark played opposite Fred Astaire with whom she was the last to dance on film. Bass underpinning, patted drums, and piano flourishes support Linehan’s understated, long-lined delivery. Vibrato is way back in her throat. The last “loooovvve” glides over our heads like a milkweed pod in a breeze.

“The Sound of Music” (Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein II) is prefaced by a story of Linehan’s auditioning for the 17-year-old Liesl Von Trapp when she was age 17. Instead, she was offered the role of Louisa (who doesn’t have a song) because she looked all of 13. Her mother talked her into accepting. Musical Director/pianist Ryan Shirar’s keyboard begins fluttering and out soar these gorgeous notes.

A chill goes up my spine. This is not the shimmering soprano to which we’re accustomed, but oh, it takes flight.

Selections from Goodbye Mr. Chips, Blood Brothers and Sunset Boulevard follow. The first two, though very Hallmark (Cards), feel sincere in Linehan’s hands. The third is more vocal performance than character-imbued depiction.

Hatch’s iconic “Downtown” ends the evening with intermittent audience participation. Maxine Linehan knows how to share happy. She beams. The audience beams back.

With Clayton Craddok (drums), Corey Schutzer (bass) and Andrew Kloss (guitar).

Alix Cohen

Alix Cohen’s writing began with poetry, segued into lyrics then took a commercial detour. She now authors pieces about culture/the arts, including reviews and features. A diehard proponent of cabaret, she’s also a theater aficionado, a voting member of Drama Desk, The Drama League and of The NY Press Club in addition to MAC. Currently, Alix writes for Cabaret Scenes, Theater Pizzazz and Woman Around Town. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine and Times Square Chronicles. Alix is the recipient of six New York Press Club Awards.