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Don't forget about Molly

By Barney McDonald

Molly Ringwald is still sitting pretty, finds Barney McDonald

Jazz singer and former teen star Molly Ringwald. Photo / Supplied
Jazz singer and former teen star Molly Ringwald. Photo / Supplied

Of all the questions I want to ask Molly Ringwald about her illustrious career, the one that haunts my imagination is pure frivolity: Did she keep the crazy pink prom dress that informs the title of Pretty In Pink?

It's a piece of pop culture trivia that only fans of seminal John Hughes coming-of-age films like Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, both also starring a teenaged Ringwald, could appreciate. And there are many of us. I'm the same age as 45-year-old Ringwald, and she was the quirky teen queen who haunted many adolescent dreams, mine included.

Instead, I've been instructed to eschew the obvious lines of inquiry because too many journalists have been frothing at the mouth to talk about her past. A maximum one or two "tasteful" questions about her Hughes films is all I'm permitted, so I'll wisely save my jewel in the crown until the end of the interview.

Ringwald is visiting New Zealand for the first time to perform two nights at Vector Arena's The Tuning Fork, an intimate new performance space that kicks off with an evening of jazz standards sung by our beloved redhead.

Her father is renowned blind jazz pianist Robert "Bob" Ringwald, so to say jazz is in her blood is an understatement. She has been singing professionally since playing Kate at the age of 10 in a Los Angeles production of Annie, subsequently performing lead vocals on a couple of Disney albums, belting out The Star-Spangled Banner at numerous sporting events and appearing on Broadway in major productions of Cabaret and Sweet Charity.

"In terms of singing, I've always really just sung jazz," she says. "I've always considered myself a jazz vocalist. But I like all different kinds of music. I can't think of a genre of music that I don't really like."

The visit to Auckland coincides with the release of her debut solo album of songs from the Great American Songbook, Except Sometimes, a landmark in a career that includes dozens of films, a starring role on TV hit The Secret Life of the American Teenager and the publication of two books: Getting the Pretty Back: Friendship, Family and Finding the Perfect Lipstick and When It Happens to You: A Novel in Stories.

"It was a dream to put the band together and play with these incredible musicians," she says. "Doing the album wasn't exactly planned. It came out of the desire to have a record of what we were doing together. And the album turned out really well. It's exceeded expectations in how well it's done."

If it seems unusual for Ringwald to release her debut album at 45, after several decades of acting. She counters that it's simply a natural progression and the result of different priorities earlier in her career.

"I feel like I actually made a choice to focus on the acting rather than the singing when I was a teenager," she recalls. "I can't say that there's anybody to blame for that but me, which is fine because I still kept singing. I still did musical theatre. But I feel like I was really ready to do this project. I feel like my voice has evolved and changed and got better."

Without prompting, Ringwald to talk about her trio of Hughes movies in the 1980s, the inclusion of her rendition of Don't You (Forget About Me) as the final track on the album segues naturally into discussion of the legacy of those films. Originally performed, but not written, by Simple Minds as the penultimate track in The Breakfast Club, Ringwald's cover reimagines the song as a smoky, winsome ballad. But there is a deeper purpose to her choice.

"When I was recording the album it wasn't really that long after John Hughes passed away," she explains. "I wanted to do it as a tribute to him and also for that time in my life. I think it was just a one-time thing. I'm not really that interested in revisiting that.

I'm more interested in evolving. That was just very specific because of John's passing."

But does she dread the inevitable questions or discussion about the films that made her famous?

"I think it just depends on the day," she smiles.

"I can't deny that those films are incredibly meaningful for people. I don't have the same attachment, in a way. I didn't experience them because I was in them.

People like to move on in their lives and be seen for what they're doing," she continues. "I think I am but it's undeniable that the focus is mainly on those movies. I just have to accept it and realise that people have their memories attached to them, and also to me because of that.

"I think it's kind of a mixed blessing," she concludes. "Some days I'm just, 'Oh God, do I have to talk about Sixteen Candles one more time?' And then on other days I get to show Pretty In Pink to my 9-year-old. It was amazing to have her be as into it as other kids. So I got to experience those movies through her eyes."

Speaking of Pretty In Pink... Oh dear, we're out of time. Let's leave the last words to Psychedelic Furs instead: "Pretty in pink, [wasn't] she?"

Molly Ringwald performs at The Tuning Fork on June 12 and 13.

- Herald on Sunday

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