Theatre Royal, April 2
Bernadette Peters is Broadway royalty – and she showed why with this thrilling concert at the start of her Australian tour.
Peters is now 66 but – as we’ve been saying for years – she looks decades younger. In a sparkly, figure-hugging, lavender gown split up the front, her face framed by those trademark russet curls, she looked a million dollars and has a scintillating stage presence to match.
Her distinctive voice, which moves from a gorgeous husky rasp to soaring, bell-like clarity, is also in great shape. Keeping her patter fairly tight, she let the songs do most of the talking, while still maintaining a warm rapport with the audience.
Accompanied by an 11-piece orchestra led by longtime musical director Marvin Laird, she opened with a somewhat tentative version of “Let Me Entertain You” from Gypsy but with her second number, “No One Is Alone” from Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, she took flight, undoing us emotionally in an instant.
As one of Sondheim’s foremost interpreters, her career has been closely associated with his so it wasn’t surprising that his music dominated the night, with numbers that she has performed in his shows, and others that she hasn’t.
Not that it was all Sondheim by any means. She gave us a handful of songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein: a playful, sassy version of “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame” that showed off her sure sense of comedy and a beautiful rendition of “Some Enchanted Evening” both from South Pacific, as well as a cute “(When I Marry) Mr Snow” from Carousel.
Non-Broadway material included an amusingly sexy version of “Fever”, sung draped over the piano, which she has added to her repertoire relatively recently (“it’s my first time, so please be gentle with me”) and Disney’s “When You Wish Upon A Star”.
But it was with the Sondheim that she really shone in numbers including “Being Alive” and “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” from Company, “Johanna” from Sweeney Todd, “With So Little To Be Sure Of” from Anyone Can Whistle and “Children Will Listen” from Into the Woods.
The highlights for me (though I loved it all) were heart-stopping renditions of Sally’s two numbers, “In Buddy’s Eyes” and “Losing My Mind”, from Follies, the last Broadway show she did in 2011. She also sang a moving version of “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music, which she performed when she played Desiree in the 2010 Broadway revival. It’s a song that rarely has the same impact when performed out of context but Peters brought it to fresh life.
What makes Peters so incredibly special is the way she tells a story with a song, connecting to each and every word so truthfully that it sends shivers down the spine. Sondheim’s inspired lyrics and haunting melodies seem to shimmer with extra emotion in her caressing care. Performing these three numbers in character, she broke your heart without overplaying them in any way.
She ended the night with two Peter Allen songs, “If You Were Wondering” and “I Honestly Love You” and a lullaby she wrote herself called “Kramer’s Song” to go with a children’s book she penned about her dog. As a composer/lyricist she’s no Sondheim but it was a sweet, heartfelt way to end a magical night.
Peters is Broadway royalty for a reason. Anyone who loves musical theatre should try to catch her while she’s here.
Scroll down to read my interview with Bernadette Peters about the concert tour
Bernadette Peters in Concert: Theatre Royal, Sydney, April 2 – 4, bookings www.ticketmaster.com.au or 136 100; Jupiters Hotel & Casino, Gold Coast, April 5, bookings www.ticketek.com.au or 132 849; Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne April 7 – 8, bookings www.ticketek.com.au