Concert Review: BERNADETTE PETERS (Disney Hall)

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by Tony Frankel on January 24, 2019

in Extras,Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


Now that she’s hung up her late-Victorian hat after taking over for Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly! on Broadway last year, the inimitable Bernadette Peters has embarked on another international tour, making a stop at Disney Hall last Tuesday 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 ringlets has been in most of the shows she sings from, including Gypsy, Into the Woods, Follies, A 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. So the fitting opening after an overture of her greatest hits was “Let Me Entertain You.”

And while there was very little surprising in store for the many fans at the in-the-round hall, entertain us she does. I’ve seen Peters in some of her many shows but never in concert, an event which was exactly what I expected: She was lovely and thoughtful (“No One Is Alone”), endearing (“Mr. Snow”), coquettishly sex-kitten (looking amazing at 71, laying on the piano for “Fever”), sprightly (“So Long, Dearie” from Dolly), and comforting (“With So Little to Be Sure Of”/”Children Will Listen”).

What did surprise was the deliciously comedic “There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame” from South Pacific. Usually sung by a crew of unsatiated sailors, Peters offered sexy, slinky moves and bold feminine security. Her campy burlesque convinced us that the title is unquestionably true. She went into the audience and sang the lower registers to an elderly man. Coming back on stage, Peters caught a shoe on the last step; without missing a beat, she sang, “And nothing trips like a dame.”

I also expected solid interpretations of the Sondheim masterpieces (she’s 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 in a torturously passionate and soulful “Send in the Clowns,” to which the full house responded with ecstasy. She was equally adept at finding depth in Dolly‘s “Before the Parade Passes By” and Follies‘ “In Buddy’s Eyes” — but the latter two showed 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 — as if she’s overused her instrument. And when her belt comes off as strained, it can sometimes be disconcerting. But then she pulled off every note in Company’s “Being Alive” — although that and a medley of “When You Wish upon a Star” and “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” aren’t as suited to her as other material.

Marvin Laird, who has been Peters’ accompanist since he first met her at age 13, served as musical director and pianist of the 9-piece band, which included original Mouseketeer Cubby O’Brien on drums, but the skins sadly were over-amplified. In fact, Disney Hall is still working out those dang sound bugs when microphones are used, proved by the popping noises when Peters accentuated consonants.

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.

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 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
presented by LA Phil
Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave.
played January 22, 2018
for future events, call 323.850.2000 or visit LA Phil

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