DIVA TALK: Tony Winner Bernadette Peters Chats About NJ Concerts, "Smash," "Coming Up Roses"

By Andrew Gans
October 5, 2012

News, views and reviews about the women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.



Bernadette Peters, the Broadway favorite who infuses all her work with great humanity and exudes a palpable warmth that spreads over audiences like welcome sunshine, has a new male in her life: Seven-month-old Charlie, who "looks like a Labradoodle mixed with a wirehair pointer," the two-time Tony-winning actress told me earlier this week.

"I was performing, and I was going through Texas," Peters further explains. "I was visiting a shelter, and [Charlie] looked so much like [her late, beloved] Kramer, and Stella [Peters' other pooch] had been really grieving. I'd wake up in the morning to her crying, and she'd be looking at Kramer's bed. It was breaking my heart.

"So now she's got a companion that wants to wrestle with her!" Peters says with a laugh. "And, she's 15! But, you know, she gets by. She's okay. They kiss each other, too!"

Peters has long had an affection for our canine friends, and she's poured that love into Broadway Barks, the annual dog and cat adopt-a-thon benefiting New York City animal shelters and adoption agencies that she co-founded with pal and fellow actress Mary Tyler Moore nearly 15 years ago. Peters, whose Broadway resume now boasts leading roles in five Stephen Sondheim musicals (Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, Gypsy, A Little Night Music and Follies) is especially proud that Broadway Barks has "become part of the community, and it's become their event. Broadway celebrities love it and really want to be part of it. You know, it's the sweetest thing. The fella that's starring in Once, Steve Kazee, was giving an interview, and he said, 'Before I was on Broadway, I would stand on the sidelines, and I'd watch Broadway Barks, and I thought, "One day I'm going to be able to go up and be in Broadway Barks!"' That's so sweet!"

It's a busy time for Peters, who has several concert engagements lined up throughout the year, including two upcoming gigs in New Jersey; a scheduled return to NBC's Broadway-themed musical series "Smash"; and the eagerly awaited release of her new film, "Coming Up Roses."

Peters in Follies.
photo by Joan Marcus

Peters, who will undoubtedly weave a spell over audiences Oct. 11 at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood, NJ, and Oct. 12 at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, NJ, says the process of choosing songs for her repertoire is often a subliminal one. "You know, it's an interesting thing," Peters explains. "What happens sometimes is that — and I even talk about this on stage — if I haven't sung the song in a show or it's not from a show I was in, a song will come into my head and get stuck there and run around in there yelling, 'Sing me! Sing me!' And, sometimes it takes me years to listen until I finally do, and that's the case with 'Shenandoah.'"

The newest additions to her concert evening are her two showstoppers from her recent performance in the critically acclaimed production of Sondheim's Follies: Peters' hauntingly moving "In Buddy's Eyes" and her heartbreaking version of the torchy "Losing My Mind." "I love revisiting those songs," Peters says. "His songs are so wonderful. To have more Steve Sondheim to sing just thrills me."

Peters has also been toying with the idea of including her stunning, perhaps definitive, rendition of "Send in the Clowns," which she performed to much acclaim in the recent revival of A Little Night Music. "I think that if I set the scene before [I sing the tune], there probably is a way to do that. I haven't put my attention to it yet, but I plan on doing that." Audiences, however, can expect an eclectic evening, featuring songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein, a healthy dose of Sondheim gems and even a jazz-tinged, sultry "Fever."

Would Peters, who dazzles in concert arenas around the world, ever consider playing a more intimate venue like Manhattan's newest nightspot, 54 Below?

"You know, it's funny," Peters answers. "I haven't done that in such a long time, but recently...I did a private engagement in a restaurant, for just like five tables, two or three feet away, and it was quite interesting to rethink [my repertoire] for people right there. And, I kind of liked it... I did what I usually do, and it worked, which was interesting.... I did an arc, though, that I liked, about 55 minutes I suppose."

Bernadette Peters on "Smash."
Photo by Eric Liebowitz/NBC

It was recently reported that Peters will reprise her role as Broadway legend Leigh Conroy, the mother of Broadway starlet Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty), in the second season of "Smash," which will debut in early 2013. "I think she's a great character," Peters says of the spotlight-seeking actress. "The dynamic between the mother and the daughter is really, really interesting, where the mother is this big star on the way down, but yet everyone knows who she is — she draws all the attention. As the daughter describes, 'Sucks all the air out of the room,' so that there's nothing left for her. And, [the daughter is the one] starring in the show. The daughter is starting to have a career and find her own identity, and she's having a difficult time doing it. And, the mother loves her, yet the mother has her own ego and is a success and loves the attention."

"They are the most wonderful cast," Peters adds. "They are so nice and generous. They're just lovely people and very gracious: Debra Messing, Christian Borle, Megan, Katharine McPhee, Anjelica [Huston], all of them. And then the [chorus] kids are just adorable. It's a wonderful set and a wonderful cast."

Peters will also be seen in the Mary Sunshine Films/Bullet Pictures, Inc. film "Coming Up Roses," which features Rachel Brosnahan and Tony nominee Peter Friedman under the direction of Lisa Albright. It will make its premiere in New York City Nov. 9 at AMC Village 7 on Third Avenue. "It's a dramatic story because it's another mother and daughter relationship, and clearly the daughter and the mother love each other, but the daughter takes care of the mother. The mother probably is bipolar, but it was never identified in those days. It actually is more-than-loosely based on the [film's] director and her mother. The director was the daughter, who had a sister and a mother — who I play. She's also an ex-performer, not in anything big, and apparently, they didn't write this into the script, but Lisa told me that her mother got stage fright all of a sudden and had to stop performing. Her mother was big into musical comedy, and she did a lot of that, and her daughter adored her for it. If a moment was going bad, she'd say, 'Okay! Let's think of an up-tune! We need an up-tune here!'"

Bernadette Peters in Song and Dance.
photo by Kenn Duncan

As for her own return to the stage, Peters says, "You know, it's eight times a week, so I have to take a big breath before I do that again, before I jump in. So it has to be something irresistible. And even so," Peters laughs, "I still think I need more time.... But I love it, too! I love the consistency of it and the schedule. There's a part of me that loves it also."

When asked if she has a favorite of her numerous Broadway outings, Peters pauses and says, "I've really been so fortunate, actually, to play so many wonderful roles. I really have, and I feel so lucky. I usually say that my favorite one is the one I'm in at the moment, but I'm really lucky to have played Rose and originate Dot and originate the Witch. To originate Dot and to do Song and Dance and Annie Get Your Gun… And, I loved that I got to do Sally Durant Plummer because it's an interesting character. Mostly everything about those [Follies] characters [are] not really on the page. Everything they bring back with them after those 20 or 30 years that they've been gone. Everything they bring back — that's not really written. It's all underneath. It's very, very, very interesting.

"Even with Desiree, that's another wonderful role," Peters continues. "Who would have thought [I would play her]? I always enter shows through the music, and she just has the one song, but funnily enough, the person that kept telling me, 'That's your role' was my singing teacher because she knows these shows, and she was an actress, too."

Peters and Rachel Brosnahan in "Coming Up Roses."

Peters recently had the chance to revisit one of her earlier triumphs when she caught the Public Theater's recent outdoor staging of Into the Woods. "Putting it outside in the woods was perfect," Peters says. "It was just so joyful to have it in that setting.... It just heightened some things for me, and I love the music. I really do."

With the revival of Annie now in previews, Peters also reminisced about filming the role of Lily St. Regis in the 1982 movie musical. "Oh! It's so interesting, 'Easy Street' we did twice. The first time it was being directed by Joe Layton, and then they let him go, and then John Huston directed it.... They changed the whole song. I mean, 'Easy Street' was first done outside on the lot, dancing up the street — lots of dancing — and I keep saying, 'I'm not a real dancer,' so the way I danced, I drank a cup of coffee! What you don't have in technique, you drink coffee…for the precision. And then they changed that number and brought it all inside, going up stairs and going down… so it was a totally different number."

And, as Peters' concert dates approach, how does she spend the day of a show? "Well, I vocalize and exercise, and there's a rehearsal usually. Eat right, eat light, actually. Think about the show and just be in the frame of mind that we're all going to have a wonderful time!"

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Peters' current concert itinerary follows:

October 5 in Boston, MA- Marriott Copley Place Hotel
October 11 in Englewood, NJ- Bergen Performing Arts Center
October 12 in Morristown, NJ- Mayo Performing Arts Center
October 25 in Naperville, IL- Wentz Concert Hall
December 1 in Scottsdale, AZ- Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
January 5, 2013 in Fort Worth, TX- Bass Performance Hall
February 15 in Tallahassee, FL- Florida State University- Ruby Diamond Hall
February 28 in New Orleans, LA- Ernest N. Morial Convention Center
March 8 in Salem, VA- Salem Civic Center
June 29 in Arcadia, CA- L.A. Arboretum and Botanical Gardens
September 28 in Buffalo, NY- Kleinhans Music Hall

Click here for a video celebration of Peters.

Read more about Bernadette Peters' career in the Playbill Vault.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

Click here for a photographic career retrospective of Peters.

PHOTO ARCHIVE: Bernadette Peters on the New York Stage

View the Entire Photo Gallery
Bernadette Peters in Song and Dance, 1985
Photo by Kenn Duncan