"I just watched the first six [episodes]," Bernadette Peters, who spreads warmth in song, and great emotion and humanity through story, told me by phone just before the New Year. The three-time Tony winner was, of course, referring to her critically acclaimed Amazon series "Mozart in the Jungle," which picked up two Golden Globe Awards, including Best Television Series–Musical or Comedy, earlier this month.
"It's so good," Peters enthused. "I never like to watch myself, but… I love the series — I think it's a great series, and I'm always thinking of ways to improve.… And, the writing: Even last year when we started, I was so impressed with the writing because nothing is just thrown in arbitrarily for effect. It's all original. It's so good, and this year they changed all the title cards and the music. They just upped the ante, and it looks beautiful."
The complete ten-episode second season of "Mozart," which concerns a foreign conductor, Rodrigo (Gael Garcia Bernal), who becomes the maestro of a New York symphony orchestra, was released Dec. 30 and can be watched in its entirety on Amazon Prime.
"It's great because there are no commercials," Peters explained about the chance to binge-watch the entire season. "You think in your mind, 'They’re shorter than other shows anyway,' so you just start watching them. It's fun. You can get the whole thing rather than wait, although a woman who loves the series in my building said, 'But then it’s over!' And then there's remorse that there is nothing to look forward to." For those who have yet to watch the series, there is plenty to look forward to, including Peters' terrific rendition of Ross Bagdasarian and William Saroyan's "Come On-A My House," which was a hit for Rosemary Clooney in 1951. "I didn't sing the Rosemary Clooney version," Peters said. "I sang the Julie London version. It's slow, very slow, and it's cool."
The chance to display her inimitable vocal talents followed the decision to give Peters' character Gloria — the chairman of the board of the symphony — a back story that includes a former career as a cabaret performer.
"Gloria is a woman that's out in the world, that's running something and has to keep proving herself because she's the president and the chairman of the board," Peters said. "There's the hiring and the firing and all the decisions, and she has a great love of the creative process and the artistry. I was talking to the man that runs Lincoln Center, and the great problem is trying to please the conductor artistically and, yet, give the audience what they want. You know the audience will come for certain pieces to be played, but you also want to give the conductor artistic license to be able to choose what he wants to do. And, [Gloria] is so on the side of the creative process. This season you find out she was actually a cabaret performer, like Beverly Sills was an opera singer [who later became general manager of New York City Opera]. So she has a great love; she wants to be taken seriously; she wants to run it well, and she wants to bring classical music into the future and the modern world, to make it as beloved as other music…. So it's a lot of balls for her to juggle.
"There's also a board member who doesn't want things to change, wants to keep the old guard, and wants to throw her out," Peters continued, "and she gets him in the end and she wins in the board room. But it's great to be able to play somebody that is solid and smart and, yet, artistic."
Peters said it was an especially exciting season to film, one that brought the stellar company — which also includes Lola Kirke, Saffron Burrows and Malcolm McDowell — to Mexico City.
"First, we were an hour and 45 minutes out of the city, and it's so beautiful in the countryside," Peters said. "We were in this place that had peacocks on the lawn and other animals. There was an early call at four in the morning, and the halls were sort of open to the outdoors, and a flamingo was in the hallway. We didn't know how to get by the flamingo to get to work!"
The storyline for the second season of "Mozart," Peters explained, follows Rodrigo as he takes the symphony to his hometown of Mexico City "to perform in this beautiful theatre with Diego Rivera murals that are so big.… The maestro that taught him when he was a little boy comes to the show, and he wants Rodrigo to take over the symphony there, and he says, 'I cannot. I am committed. I have the symphony in New York.' So his maestro curses him, and he comes back and he thinks he’s cursed! He can't hear anymore."
Aside from her work with "Mozart," Peters — the best-selling author of three children's books that benefit Broadway Barks, the pet adoption charity she co-founded with Mary Tyler Moore — can also be heard giving voice to writer Kay Thompson and illustrator Hilary Knight's Eloise, the famed resident of the Plaza Hotel. This new audiobook collection, in which Peters brings the precocious young girl to full life, includes the original "Eloise" tale as well as "Eloise in Paris," "Eloise at Christmas Time" and "Eloise in Moscow."
"You can buy the four CDs without the books, but you can also buy the actual book [with the CD included]," Peters said. "I was reading it to my little niece, and boy, the kid is smart. She loved the sense of humor. I was reading 'Eloise in Paris' to her, and she'd say, 'What does that mean?,' and I'd explain what the French meant to her, and she was laughing when I said, 'And then Eloise had six champagne corks that she sent back to New York special express.' She thought that was hysterical!"
Next up for the Broadway favorite: Feb. 12-13 concerts at the Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts in Costa Mesa, CA, the same venue that hosted last year's sold-out Into the Woods reunion concerts, featuring creators Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, as well as Peters and several of her co-stars.
"It was fantastic," Peters said of the reunion, which was also seen this past summer at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. "It was like being at a rock concert. The one in L.A., especially, because the ['Into the Woods'] movie had just come out, and these people were so hungry for the show because it [had originally been seen] in New York and maybe they listened to the DVD or the CD."
This writer had the chance to attend the matinee performance at BAM last summer, and the response from the audience was, indeed, deafening. Peters demonstrated once again that she is the definitive Witch; no stage or screen star has ever mined the role for more humor and pathos than she.
In addition to several concerts around the country, the multitalented artist will also return to London this summer. "I'm actually going back to Royal Festival Hall. That's where I previously played, and it was great. They love musical theatre there, obviously, so they're very appreciative, and I'm looking forward to going back." As for a Broadway return, Peters said with a laugh, "Well, if something's irresistible, I will return, but if not, I will just go about my business."
And, has playing a woman on the other side of the footlights in "Mozart in the Jungle" given Peters an urge to direct or produce?
"No," she laughed, "but I think an actor has to be smart anyway, to play different roles, and I sort of run my own career in a way."
And, for those of us who look forward to delighting in Peters' many talents on stage and screen for years to come, we are extremely thankful.
From Mabel to Momma Rose! Celebrating the Stage Work of Bernadette Peters:
From Dot to Dolly: Celebrating the Stage Work of Bernadette Peters
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to email@example.com.
Senior editor Andrew Gans also pens the weekly Their Favorite Things.