DIVA TALK: Catching Up with Tony Award Winner and A Little Night Music Star Bernadette Peters

By Andrew Gans
July 23, 2010

News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

BERNADETTE PETERS
"I was talking to Steve [Sondheim] the day the notice went up [that the revival of A Little Night Music was going to close]," two-time Tony winner and premiere Sondheim interpreter Bernadette Peters told me the day before she began performances as the captivating actress Desiree Armfeldt in the Tony-nominated revival of that Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical at the Walter Kerr Theatre.

"I was talking to him about something else, and then he said, 'By the way, did they ever call you about replacing Catherine [Zeta-Jones] in A Little Night Music?' I said, 'No.' He said, 'Really . . . because I think you'd be great in that role.' So the next day, Richard Frankel, the producer, called my agent, and the ball got rolling. And then I found out they were talking to Elaine [Stritch], which I also thought was a great idea, and I said, 'Oh, well, I'm on board if Elaine's going to do it!'"

Such was the conversation that kicked off what is this summer's most exciting theatrical event: the return to Broadway of theatrical dynamos Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch.

"[Desiree is] a role that people always told me I should play," Peters admits, "but I never really connected to  it because I usually connect into roles through the music, and she basically has [just] 'Send in the Clowns' and [a portion of] 'You Must Meet My Wife.' So there's not a lot of music for her, but it's a wonderful part and an amazing script. Now that I've been working on it . . . I'm just enjoying it so much."

Although the company that Peters and Stritch recently joined had already been performing the lush, romantic musical for more than half a year —  with 2010 Tony winner Zeta-Jones and five-time Tony winner Angela Lansbury — Peters says that "everybody that we work with has been re-assessing their role because they're with two different actresses now, and because they're such good actors. My leading man, Alexander Hanson, he's fantastic, so he's re-examining it with me, and we're [re]making it now. You have to have it happening for the first time . . . so that's what we're doing."

Peters and Elaine Stritch take a first-night bow
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Peters is also equally delighted with her new Broadway co-star, Emmy winner Stritch, who plays her mother, the worldly-wise Madame Armfeldt: "I love [Elaine], too. I just think she's brilliant, and I admire her so much. Her talent is enormous, and she's so smart. And I also admire her [and] love her as a person, too. So we have a mutual support going back and forth, which is just wonderful and lovely."

And, Stritch recently told me, "I dig [Bernadette]. On both sides of the fence — I dig her in the theatre, I dig her out of the theatre. I don't know her well, but I know that she's okay. I can tell by looking at her. I can tell by meeting her socially. And, she's an actress. I told her today that she should really go after playing Blanche [in Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire]."

Stritch also believes she and Peters are "very much alike, and we're finding things every day in playing the parts. She's got the same kind of humor that I do. Our sense of humor — I love that expression — it's a sense of humor, a deep sense of humor, and I see it in her. That happens once in a while in acting. You get in a company, and you're playing opposite someone who is like you, so you're on the same page so to speak. And she goes very deep as far as humor is concerned . . . . but it's not getting in the way, it's adding, I think. I'm just sad that I don't have more material with her, but the times we have together pay off."

Both actresses also share a deep affection for composer Sondheim, whose recent 80th birthday celebrations around the country included the renaming of Broadway's Henry Miller's Theatre to the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. "He's someone that really changed the face of musical theatre," Peters says. "When we did the ten-year reunion of Into the Woods, my thrill was to sit in the middle of all that music, and listen to everyone sing that score. That's the thing about his music: When you have a great song, with great lyrics, great ideas, thoughts, feelings, it gets deeper and deeper — especially as you go through life and learn more about yourself." And, Peters has been handed what is arguably Sondheim's best-known song, "Send in the Clowns," which she performs in Night Music's second act. "I did it years ago, and I hadn’t done it in a really long time," she says, "and I love that it comes out of the scene [between Desiree and Fredrik]. It comes out of this great disappointment, because she thinks she’s going to be with this fellow, and she finds out he doesn’t want her, so it’s ridiculous and disappointing."

Peters' first curtain call
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Peters describes Desiree as "a woman who has been an actress her whole life and has gotten a little discouraged about it, mainly because . . . she misses being with her daughter, because the daughter's in the country with her mother. . . [Later Desiree] is in the country, and lo and behold, the biggest love of her life, her daughter's father, comes back into her life. So now she really wants to, perhaps, not act as much and be with her daughter and the man she loves more than any other man in the world, Fredrik. And so she goes about seeing how that can be. But Fredrik has a young wife that he's . . . fixated on, so Desiree has to be careful. She wants Fredrik, but she can't be too overt because she'll chase him away."

When asked what it is like for an actor to play the role of an actor, Peters laughs and says, "Well, you know, you know about a lot of it. You know about the road and about how tiring it can get. But you know about the good parts of it, and you know about the tiring parts of it and the things that can be disappointing. And sometimes you do just want to go home, so it's familiar."

Peters says she loves that Night Music has a happy ending. "You don't get that often," she says, "and sometimes people never find each other that should be together. So it's wonderful that it's there. It's very romantic, and the music is so beautiful. Every day, I have a different song in my head. I mean, it's just gorgeous, and the voices in the show, they are amazing. The cast [has] the most glorious voices."

It's been a completely joyous experience for the beloved actress, who now adds another Sondheim role to her already impressive resume. "The day we got into the theatre, it just felt so right, so comfortable," she says. "The theatre sort of embraces you and it just feels so good, so right."

[For more information, visit nightmusiconbroadway.com.]

Donna McKechnie

DIVA TIDBITS
Tony Award winner Donna McKechnie, who recently performed My Musical Comedy Life at several venues in Australia, will bring that acclaimed solo show to The Laurie Beechman Theatre July 28 at 8 PM. The evening features direction by Richard Jay-Alexander with musical direction by Ian Herman. McKechnie's autobiographical My Musical Comedy Life, according to press notes, "encompasses music from some of Broadway's most celebrated composers, including Stephen Sondheim, Ed Kleban and Marvin Hamlisch, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Cy Coleman, as well as more contemporary artists including Francesca Blumenthal and Ann Hampton Callaway." There is a $35 cover charge, as well as a $15 food/beverage minimum (a full dinner menu is available). The Laurie Beechman Theatre is located within The West Bank Cafe at 407 West 42nd Street. For tickets visit www.smarttix.com or call (212) 868-4444.

Linda Eder, the powerhouse singer seen on Broadway in Jekyll & Hyde, will return to New Jersey's State Theatre in December. Linda Eder's Christmas Show will be presented at the New Brunswick venue Dec. 10 at 8 PM. Eder will offer an evening of popular standards and holiday favorites. New Jersey's State Theatre is located at 15 Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick. For tickets visit www.statetheatrenj.org or call (732) 246-7469.

Three-time Tony nominee Kelli O'Hara, who will return to the Tony-winning revival of South Pacific Aug. 10 for the musical's last few weeks, will play a limited engagement at Feinstein's at Loews Regency Oct. 19-30. Show times are Tuesday-Thursday at 8:30 PM and Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and 10:30 PM. Details about her new show will be announced at a later date. Feinstein's at Loews Regency is located at 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street in New York City. For ticket reservations call (212) 339-4095 or visit feinsteinsatloewsregency.com and TicketWeb.com.

Karen Akers, who has appeared on Broadway in the original productions of Nine and Grand Hotel, will turn her attention to the songs of Rodgers and Hart this fall. Akers will present Dancing on the Ceiling Sept. 14-Oct. 23 in the Algonquin's Oak Room. Cabaretgoers can expect to hear her renditions of "Where or When," "Isn't It Romantic?," "Dancing on the Ceiling," "The Lady is a Tramp," "This Funny World," "Falling in Love with Love," "A Lady Must Live" and "I Could Write a Book," among others. Akers will be accompanied on piano by musical director Don Rebic and Dick Sarpola on bass. Eric Michael Gillett directs. There is a $60-$65 music charge for all shows plus a $30 minimum. The Oak Room is located within the Algonquin Hotel at 59 West 44th Street. For reservations call (212) 419-9331.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.