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Montevecchi’s Tour of the ‘Boulevard’

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Life is a cabaret for Liliane Montevecchi.

From Roland Petit’s Ballet de Paris to almost 10 years in the Folies Bergeres, to New York’s Paris Ballet, a long-term contract at MGM, the concert version of Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies” and a 1983 Tony Award for the musical “Nine,” the Parisian entertainer has had her share of opening nights, curtain calls, high kicks and throaty ballads. On Sunday, her one-woman “On the Boulevard” will launch the Pasadena Playhouse’s Balcony Theatre season.

The titular boulevard belongs to Paris after dark, the setting for the New York-based actress-singer’s musical “tour”--accompanied by the sounds of Sondheim, Aznavour, Porter, Gershwin, Brel, Herman, Yeston, Newley & Bricusse and Rodgers & Hammerstein.

“I cannot tell you what the show is till you see it,” Montevecchi said over the phone from New York, where she is completing a mini-version of the show in an engagement at the Rainbow Room. “It is a very personal thing. It is about my heart, my singing, the way I do a song. Each song tells a story--the story of my life.”

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Montevecchi credits director Tommy Tune with the confident persona she brings to the show.

“It is the first time I wear my own hair,” she said proudly. “I always wear a turban or a wig. But Mr. Tune told me, ‘It’s time to be yourself, to be you.’ I was afraid, you know. When I was in the Folies Bergeres, we had all these extravagant gowns and sequins. . . . But he said, ‘Trust yourself, because you have what I like.’ I guess I had to have somebody telling me that before I could (believe it).”

In the show--which she has dedicated to her late mother--Montevecchi also says she feels a palpable give-and-take with the audience.

“They’re interested, they care, they’re there--healthy and listening,” she said. “They give me so much, and I give them much more in return. I think I’m open all the time to suggestions that tickle my fancy, adding different colors to my rainbow. I’m always saying, ‘Somebody, give me another color.’ Vulnerable? Ooh-la-la. If they don’t like me, it’s awful. Then I cannot do what I do. So it is very fragile. But that’s OK. I take my chances.”

Montevecchi is also looking forward to taking her chances in Los Angeles, where then-MGM producer John Houseman first brought her for a screen test in 1952. (Resulting film credits include “The Glass Slipper,” “Daddy Long Legs,” “Meet Me in Las Vegas” and “The Young Lions.”) “I was spoiled to death in Hollywood,” she said with a laugh. “I had many wonderful friends--and many wonderful things happened to me there. So I’m happy to hear that some of these friends are still alive!”

Although her career has encompassed singing, dancing and acting--in various mediums--it was as a ballerina that Montevecchi established herself.

“Ballet gave me the discipline and respect of theater,” she said. “I think it’s the best place to start, because it’s so hard to be a ballerina. If we miss the first plie, we miss everything. We have to arrive on time, we cannot eat too much or drink too much, we cannot (live) life too much. It’s sort of like a nunnery. But it’s also extraordinarily rewarding. Nothing can touch the ballet in that way. I still go to dance class every day. I have to.”

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In a profession dictated by looks as much as talent, Montevecchi has made peace with her inner and outer selves.

“Being a ballerina, I’m constantly in front of a mirror,” she said matter-of-factly. “So I have to like what I see in the mirror--otherwise I’d never go to class again. I’m getting older,” she said, while firmly but politely declining to give her age. “You cannot help that. I have to accept it the best I can. So I rest, I don’t put junk in my body. I don’t surround myself with people I shouldn’t. And I never let down my discipline or love of theater. That’s always there.”

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