By Mal Vincent
May 10, 2018
Brooke Shields has been in the public eye for so long that many of her fans feel protective of her, having watched her grow up in one of the world’s toughest businesses.
For four decades she has been the nation’s “pretty baby” of the celebrity circus – facing controversies over nude shots as a child model and actress, postpartum depression medications and her friendship with Michael Jackson, and other tempests, while forging a career and family.
The latest chapter of her career will play out Saturday in Virginia Beach when she sings with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra as a part of the Virginia Arts Festival.
“I am petrified with fear,” she said as she spoke from her New York apartment before traveling to Hampton Roads to continue rehearsals. “I’ve never sung with a symphony orchestra before – 100 musicians.”
It was a surprising admission. I replied that “I know you can sing because I saw you in ‘Wonderful Town,’ and you were fine. That was a Broadway orchestra, but musicians are musicians. More could be better, you know.”
“ ‘Wonderful Town’ was the perfect show for me,” she said, “because it was a little of everything – acting, comedy, dancing – not just singing. That’s the kind of thing I do best. I think I was born a multitasker. I cannot not work. Let’s face it, I’m not going to put out an album right away. I’m not one of the ‘singers’ as such, but I loved doing that show, and I loved the reactions I got.”
Rob Fisher, a native of Norfolk and a prodigious Broadway director and conductor, worked with her on that show and persuaded her to take the Virginia Beach date. Billed as “Bernstein on Broadway,” it’s part of a worldwide celebration of composer Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday and includes music from “West Side Story,” “Candide” and “Wonderful Town.”
“Rob says I can do it. I suppose that’s enough,” she said. Fisher will conduct the orchestra, and the show will also feature Ross Lekites from the current Broadway hit “Frozen” and a new Broadway find, soprano Mikaela Bennett.
Shields, 52, has four new TV and film projects brewing. “It’s either feast or famine, and right now it’s feast.”
Her approach to work today is that of a striving artist, not a celebrity who once shocked the world with her teen jeans ads: “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.”
She was 12 when she played a child prostitute in “Pretty Baby.” She said of French director Louis Malle: “He didn’t talk to me. He was silent. He just kept telling me to be natural, not to be Lolita. I didn’t know who Lolita was.”
At age 14, her movie “The Blue Lagoon” was a hit, but concerns again were raised about child pornography because of the nude scenes. She countered that she had doubles for the nude scenes.
“Endless Love,” a 1981 coming-of-age drama, originally got an X rating before it was cut to get an R. On working as a 16-year-old with its famed director, Franco Zeffirelli, she said: “He was very difficult, very demanding. There was never a kind word from him. I never knew what he wanted. The movie ‘Endless Love’ was made in a haze.”
Some would say she accomplished quite a lot by just holding it all together through a working childhood that might have warped a lesser psyche, but she points out, almost defiantly, that “Yes, I didgo to my childhood prom.”
“I had a more normal life than you think. It was arranged so that I worked only in the summer and went to regular schools the rest of the year. And it was worked out that I got my degree from Princeton in French literature. All that happened. My family was insistent upon the the college degree.”
Along the way, there was relentless press pursuit with stories about her dates with Michael Jackson and a public report that she lost her virginity during her sophomore year at Princeton to TV “Superman” actor Dean Cain. She debated on camera with Tom Cruise about medication, depression and Scientology, which ended amicably with her attending the marriage of Cruise and actress Katie Holmes.
She has surprised us with success in movies, television and theater. The question is why are we so consistently surprised?
On Broadway, she has become a box-office draw who breathes new life into long-running shows like “Cabaret,” “Chicago” and “Grease.” She said that playing Betty Rizzo in “Grease” “was on-the-job training. As a singer, I’m not going to rival any of the greats, but I’m going to deliver. I’m going to be good enough. You have to realize that when I was cast in ‘Grease,’ I had never sung professionally. I was doing seven shows a week and taking vocal lessons in the day.”
Still, she says, “There is no security. No security whatsoever in this business. None.”
On her latest challenge as well as her past triumphs, she says: “I have got to get out of my own way and not continue to think I’m lesser than. All of us have to believe in ourselves to keep going.”