It isn’t often that a Broadway legend like Bernadette Peters ends up in Madison, so it was a treat to see this two-time Tony award winner at the Overture on April 19 for her traveling live show, “A Night with Bernadette Peters.” Her show was like taking a trip back in time fifty years, to the works of Sinatra and Sondheim, the era of glamour and pizzazz, and the constant objectification and belittlement of women.
The undeniably talented actress and singer kicked off the night with a rendition of “Let Me Entertain You” from the musical, “Gypsy,” in which she starred as Mama Rose on Broadway in 2003. Having set the tone for the night with this lively number, she then went on to deliver on her promise of entertainment for the rest of her 90-minute show.
Peters may now be 71 years old, but her bubbly persona and youthful appearance haven’t changed much over the years. In fact, she appeared at the Overture in a very classic and glamorous dress as if she were on her way to the Tony awards that very night, and she had her signature tight red curls.
Along with her appearance, the songs, stories and atmosphere of the night also added to the feeling that this was a show plucked straight from the late 1900’s.
Her setlist included “No One is Alone” and “Children Will Listen” from the musical “Into the Woods,” “In Buddy’s Eyes” and “Losing my Mind” from the musical “Follies,” “Before the Parade Passes By” and “So Long Dearie” from “Hello, Dolly!” and “It Might as Well be Spring” by Frank Sinatra.
While I’m glad that she chose to celebrate the epic music of composers such as Rodgers & Hammerstein, Jerry Herman and Stephen Sondheim, inevitably, some of the numbers weren’t as relevant in the 2019 setting as they were originally.
Namely, she performed a few selections that objectified women and portrayed them as little more than objects of men’s affection — an idea that was integral to productions of the past but that doesn’t hold up anymore. For example, I could have done without the song “There is Nothing Like a Dame” from the musical “South Pacific,” which is basically man’s ode to the female figure.
She also sang numerous numbers from the perspective of women characters either singing gloomily about men not wanting them or singing triumphantly about men wanting them. The former was exhibited in her rendition of Sondheim's, “Send in the Clowns” and the latter was apparent in her performance of his later work, “In Buddy’s Eyes.” These types of songs place a woman’s entire value on whether or not she is adored by a man.
I would have loved to see the more dated numbers be offset by some newer, more progressive Broadway hits. Just imagining the glory of Peters taking on “Gimme, Gimme,” from “Thoroughly Modern Millie” or “Popular” from “Wicked” gives me goosebumps. Her comedic timing and vibrant personality would complement such roles flawlessly, and I’d love to see her doing something new.
However, regardless of these qualms with the setlist, Peters put on a thoroughly entertaining show. Her stunning soprano high notes and heavenly vibrato were delectable for the ears, and it’s impossible to deny that the woman has an incredible stage presence. She had the audience’s attention 100% of the time, captivating everyone with her unique and lively interpretation of classic numbers and even in the off moments with her playful stories between songs.
An especially memorable number was “No One is Alone” from the musical “Into the Woods,” for which Peters earned a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actress in 1987, when she portrayed the witch in its Broadway debut.
Peters didn’t sing “No One is Alone” on Broadway, but she has made her unique rendition of the song a regular occurrence in her live shows. Taking the song much slower than it’s traditionally performed, Peters meandered from note to note with her soothing tone and silky vibrato, and of course, she nailed the high note finish.
Surprisingly, Peters chose not to sing her most memorable Broadway hits, such as “Rose’s Turn” from the musical “Gypsy,” “Last Midnight” from “Into the Woods,” or anything from her Tony award-winning role as Annie in “Annie Get your Gun.” This may have been disappointing to anyone excited to hear her belt out the final, “for me!” in “Rose’s Turn” like she did on Broadway in 2003, but ultimately, she shouldn’t be obligated to perform her greatest hits over and over again.
Peters’ performance was memorable from start to finish. She captured the audience’s attention with her gregarious personality and outstanding vocals. Although her song selection could’ve used a 21st century revamp, there was something charming about hearing the classic pieces sung with her one-of-a-kind flair.
Emma Hellmer is the theatre columnist for the Daily Cardinal. To read more of her work, click here.