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Bernadette Peters Talks Music, Movies & Oregon Symphony

Friday, November 21, 2014



Bernadette Peters via Wikimedia Commons

One of Broadway's brightest lights and biggest belters, Bernadette Peters, performs with the Oregon Symphony on Saturday night. 

Theater critic Frank Rich summed up Peters’ career better than anyone else when he wrote: “As an actress, singer, comedienne and all-around warming presence, Bernadette Peters has no peer in the musical theatre right now.” 

Over her five-decade career, Peters has been nominated for seven Tony awards, winning two. She has garnered nine Drama Desk Award nominations and won three. Some of Peters’ best-known Broadway roles include Mama Rose in "Gypsy," Dot/Marie from "Sunday in the Park with George," the Witch from "Into the Woods," and Annie Oakley from the 1999 revival of "Annie Get Your Gun." 

In addition to her long list of theatre credits, Peters has appeared in many films and TV shows. Her work in these genres has earned her three Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe award for her role in the 1981 film "Pennies from Heaven" with Steve Martin.

Peters is also passionate about animals. In 1999 she co-founded "Broadway Barks" with fellow actress Mary Tyler Moore and continues to work with animal-friendly charities as well as other charitable causes, including Standing Tall, for children with disabilities, and the Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

GoLocalPDX had a chance to speak exclusively with Ms. Peters prior to her arrival in Portland. Here is what the compelling songstress had to say.

GoLocalPDX: One of my favorite songs ever is"Gee Whiz" from your debut album. I played my  45 of that song so much I wore out the grooves on the record. Now I can't stop hitting repeat on my iPod every time your version of "Being Alive" comes on. It is simply the best version I've ever heard of that song. Might we hear either of these songs on Saturday night in Portland?

Bernadette Peters: No "Gee Whiz," or anything else from the first album, but I will be singing  Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Some Enchanted Evening," Peggy Lee's "Fever" and Stephen Sondheim's "Being Alive" and a lot of other Sondheim. In fact, I just completed a reunion of the original Broadway cast of (Sondheim's) "Into The Woods" in Costa Mesa, Calif. The audience went wild. It was like a rock concert. We had to add an extra show. It was pretty terrific. 

What was it like to once again perform a role you originated so long ago?
It's been 28 years and I've lived a whole lifetime since then. But—for me—this time it had much more intensity. I was able to understand it better and understand what Stephen was trying to say with it more. 

Do you have any comment on Meryl Streep playing The Witch you made so famous onstage in the film version of "Into The Woods?"
Meryl is a movie star. She is a big name and a great actress. I am anxious to see how she interprets it. I am a big fan of hers anyway.

Is there a particular singer or composer that you have been listening to more than others recently?
I've always loved Sting. He has such a wonderful voice and his music is really beautiful. And there is a ton of Sondheim I have yet to sing. 

What is the biggest difference between performing onstage with a symphony, like Oregon Symphony, and onstage on Broadway?
On Broadway you are playing a character. And when I am not onstage I am backstage listening to other people sing music onstage. With a symphony I am choosing my own music. The funny thing is that I am often singing other peoples songs. (In this concert) I am singing "No One is Alone." but I didn't sing that in "Into The Woods."

Which do you prefer?
It depends. I am lucky. It's wonderful that I get to do both.

Can you talk about your new Amazon Prime show "Mozart in the Jungle" based on a memoir by Blair Tindall? Was it like to play the chairperson of the board of a symphony?
I loved working on it. It's fun. It's funny. And, in many ways, it's poetic. You don't see that a lot on television. 

The film, "Pennies From Heaven," was way ahead of its time. What was something you took away from that experience?
To only do something that's well written like "Pennies From Heaven." I had being doing alot of movies before, but after I finished that movie, I promised myself I'd only do projects that were special. I ended up doing a small, Off-Broadway show following the movie. I needed to do something well written and special. And still do.

You kicked ass in John Huston's movie version of "Annie." And you were always amazing on "The Carol Burnett Show." What is it about you and Carol that works so well together?
We have a special connection. She started doing movie musical parodies on her show after she had seen one of my shows. Years later, after one of her cats had passed away, we talked about how difficult it was and whether or not she should get a new one to replace it. I told her that she was not replacing her cat, just adding a new family member, and that she would never forget her furry friend.

If you had a chance to work with any of your leading men onstage or on camera again, who would you like to re-team with: Clint Eastwood? Mandy Pantikin? Tim Curry? Or is there a new actor out there you would like to work with? 
I would work with all of them! But I really loved working with Gael Garcia Bernal in "Mozart in the Jungle"...wait until you see him on the show! There is just something about him. I adore him as well as my other co-star Malcolm McDowell and the rest of the cast. 

You've been busy with television and touring appearances. Any chance we might see you soon on Broadway (Peters last appeared on Broadway in a revival of "Follies" in 2011)?
There is nothing that's really drawing me back to Broadway. I love doing it by the way. But it is a huge committment of time and energy. It needs to be something that feeds me and feeds the audience. And, right now, I am loving going on tour and doing the (Mozart) series on Amazon Prime. The music. The poetry. Gael. It is just the best show and I am having a great time.

The Oregon Symphony with Resident Conductor Paul Ghun Kim and Music Director/Conductor Marvin Laird will perform with Bernadette Peters, 7:30 pm Sat., Nov. 22, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway. Click here for ticket information. "Mozart in the Jungle" starring Bernadette Peters, Malcolm McDowell, Gael Garcia Bernal, Lola Kirke and Saffron Burrows will be available on Amazon Prime beginning Dec. 23.


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