The Drama League honored award-winning actress, singer and philanthropist Bernadette Peters at its centennial gala Nov. 2. The original Off-Broadway stars of Dames at Sea — the musical which helped launch Peters to decades of stardom — appeared at the gala, along with the current Broadway cast, all of whom shared fond memories of Peters' impact on their lives.
The first time I met her was my very first trip to New York. We knew someone in Annie Get Your Gun. We got to go backstage to her dressing room and meet her, which was a dream when you know how obsessed I was with her growing up. I remember coming into her dressing room, and the archway of the doorway was all flowers and I got to meet her. That was the dressing room that I ended up being in five years later in The Drowsy Chaperone. That was incredible. I loved her growing up. Obviously, I saw her in "Annie." That was when I first knew of her as a child. I played Lily St. Regis, and then I played Ruby in Dames at Sea when I was in college, and then I played Josie in George M! Someone compared me to her in a newspaper once, so I just wanted to be her and study her. I felt like her voice was something I could aspire to. When I finally got to meet her in Annie Get Your Gun, it was on the heels of having played those roles and just wanting to follow her in her footsteps. And then our second performance of A Chorus Line, my Broadway debut, I come down the stairs and there she and Joel Grey are standing right there, and that was heaven — my idol seeing our second performance. It was just a Broadway dream come true. Joel Grey (Cabaret, George M!)
I discovered her sitting in the audience at the Palace Theatre during auditions for George M! She was 18. She was at the audition, and she was so magnificent that we offered her the part on the spot. I sort of imagined it and expected [her success], but you know how difficult the business is. Sometimes it doesn't happen, but she has a fierce sense of herself and point of view of who she wants to be. Jake Lucas (The King and I, "Peter Pan Live!")
It's a lot of stuff from my sister, because she had a teacher who did a theatre study, and she always told stories about people she's met. She came home one day, and she told me how amazing [Peters] was, and I was like, "Wow, actually, it would be really cool to like either meet her or do something in honor of her," and here I am! Cary Tedder (Dames at Sea, Honeymoon in Vegas)
There's "The Jerk." I love "The Jerk." The first time I actually realized who Bernadette Peters was…she was the voice of Rita the cat on "Animaniacs." Most people are moved by her theatre performances, but it was actually her voiceover that got me. I must have been 10 or 11. Later, of course, I realized who she was. One of my favorites of the shows that she's been in was Song and Dance. I thought Song and Dance was such a great show, such an interesting concept and I love the melodies and I love the music from it. It's unbelievable! It's really, really beautiful, and so it's really neat to just finally meet her face to face. She's very modest and very kind. Gloria Estefan
When I was a kid, I watched her on all the shows…Carol Burnett — I was an avid watcher and I adored that show, and she was on it often. She was on all the talk shows, and I remember — because I have curly hair — thinking, "This woman has beautiful curly hair, and she's singing and she was just such a great actor as well." She always drew me. I came to see her on three different occasions when she played Gypsy. She played the mom, and I thought she brought the sexiest Mama Rose in existence. I saw her in Annie Get Your Gun and I saw her in Follies, which I thought was fantastic as well. I met her in Miami — it was 15 years ago — and I became friends with her, and she was just the sweetest human being. We both share a deep love of animals and dogs, and she's very philanthropic with that, so I've tried to help out with her Broadway Barks. She's just a wonderful person. I love her. I love everything she does. She's just a solid human being, and that shines through in everything she does. It's beautiful. Lesli Margherita (Matilda the Musical, Dames at Sea)
I first discovered her as a child in "Annie," the movie. Then, when I started getting involved in musical theatre, obviously The Witch was a massive influence for me. Even in things that I do now — moves that I do…I'll "Bernadette" it. Then I did Dames in college, and I played Ruby, so listening to her sing the Ruby stuff and now getting to do Mona has been really full circle. She's been a massive influence for me, and obviously her really comedic stuff like "Pennies from Heaven" was massive for me. Just getting to stand next to her, I'm totally fangirling, and just snapping so many secret pictures like a creeper. That's a literal icon. It's been an amazing night for me just to be that close to her. Eloise Kropp (On the Town, Dames at Sea)
The first time I probably heard of her was when I saw the [film of Broadway's] Into the Woods [on PBS]. I was exposed to musical theatre a little bit later than a lot of people because I just started in dance and then started getting into theatre. I remember we were doing the show Into the Woods, and we watched the [PBS broadcast], and I remember going, "She's special" and then started doing some research on her and just kind of fell in love with the way that she's so unique and so raw, but yet so put together at the same time. You know what I mean? She has that quality about her. She's so put together, so polished, but she can get there so quickly. Sydney Lucas (Fun Home)
When I was in kindergarten, I went to a school called Midtown West, where the teacher introduced us to a bunch of members of the theatre community including Bernadette Peters. She came to our class, she talked to us, she did a wonderful presentation. We wrote our own musical and we put it on...and all of the money that was raised went to Broadway Barks, which she [co-founded]. So she came to the show, and she was just so nice. I just love her. She was one of the inspirations in my life to start acting.