Concert Review: BERNADETTE PETERS (Tour at Luckman)

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by Tony Frankel on March 10, 2024

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional,Tours


After she hung up her late-Victorian hat after taking over for Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly! on Broadway, the inimitable Bernadette Peters made her West End debut in Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends on the West End, which ended on January 6, 2024. Now, she has embarked on another concert tour, making her first stop at Cal State L.A.’s Luckman Theatre last night to share her love of theater, singing selections from musicals as if for the first time. And that’s quite a feat given that the girl with Kewpie-doll eyes, a rosebud pout, and insanely luxurious red ringlets has been in most of the shows she sings from, including GypsyInto the WoodsFolliesA Little Night Music, and Anyone Can Whistle. In fact, while the character actress/waif/ingénue may have played Mama Rose in 2003 — a perfect role for one who cut her teeth on Broadway’s Golden Age — one of her first stints was at 13 singing in the chorus of the second national company of Gypsy starring Mitzi Green.

After an exciting Broadway-style overture, Peters offered sexy, slinky moves and bold feminine security in the deliciously comedic  “There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame” from South Pacific. Usually sung by a crew of unsatiated sailors, her campy burlesque convinced us that the title is unquestionably true. She went to the horn player and sang the bass part perfectly. Speaking of Rodgers & Hammerstein, she said her favorite  record growing up was Carousel so she offered from that show an endearing “(When I Marry) Mister Snow.” Another R&H hit done to perfection was “It Might as Well Be Spring” from the film State Fair.

One of the foremost interpreters of the work of Sondheim, her association with the composer began in 1983 when she was cast as Dot in the first production of Sunday in the Park with George. We knew we would get solid interpretations of Sondheim masterpieces (she was one of his favorite actresses), but did she ever act the hell out of “Losing My Mind” from Follies, going from nutty to angry to wistful to vulnerable; Peters is one of the best at telling a story in song. She did that as well with torturously passionate and soulful renditions of “Send in the Clowns,” “With So Little to Be Sure Of,” “No One Is Alone,” and a gorgeously yearning “Johanna” — all of which had the full house respond with ecstasy.

With “In Buddy’s Eyes” from Follies you notice the difference between Peters and other great song interpreters from Broadway, such as Barbara Cook, Kelli O’Hara and Audra McDonald: Her voice can vacillate from a silvery, angelic soprano to a wavering, odd vibrato or a note that cracks or goes astray. But she’s adjusted her vocals to her age — appearing gobsmackingly good at 76 — as she pulled off every note in Company’s “Being Alive.” She was equally adept at finding depth in Dolly‘s “Before the Parade Passes By” and “So Long, Dearie” and some standards, including Kern and Fields’ “The Way You Look Tonight” and Rogers and Hart’s “My Romance.” And cheers to a singer who acknowledges the songsmiths!

As musical director and pianist of the 9-piece band, which included original Mouseketeer Cubby O’Brien on drums, Marvin Laird — who wrote the musical Ruthless! — has been Peters’ accompanist since he first met her at age 13 (there were four members on strings, three on reeds and one on horn). And Lenny Cowles‘ lighting was spectacular; at one point, bassist Kevin Axt was lit from the side, projecting a Fantasia-like shadow on the acoustic wall.

Her best-selling children’s book, Broadway Barks, is the story of an adorable dog called Kramer, based on Peters’ erstwhile pet, who longs for a home and gets one at a Broadway Barks event. To end the event, she sang her own composition — a lullaby called “Kramer’s Song” which is packaged with the book on a CD in which the actress sings her composition and reads the text in her inimitable voice. Proceeds from her merchandise went to the charity she formed with Mary Tyler Moore that benefits shelter animals.

It was really a treat to see her at the 1,152-seat Luckman, an intimate theatre to watch headliners, knowing that Peters has done her concerts in huge halls. She wore a gorgeous, tight-fitting, mauve-pink — almost tan — sparkling gown (a Bob Mackie original, perhaps?) that set off her voluptuous figure to perfection, especially when she thrust her bust forward from a postured position on the piano in “Fever.” This legend and seasoned pro gives a tremendous amount of pleasure to her audience, and her sheer presence and youthfulness are inspiring.

Bernadette Peters in Concert
played March 9, 2024
The Luckman Theatre at Cal State L.A.
tour continues; for dates and cities, visit Bernadette Peters

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