The singer and actress will perform songs from musicals in which she has starred.
Actress and singer Bernadette Peters isn’t one to sit at home, though her dogs Stella and Charlie certainly wouldn’t mind if she was. And so with “Smash,” the NBC series on which she’d appeared canceled a few months ago, and no current stage performances in the work, Peters booked a short run of concerts this month including Friday in Costa Mesa.
“I love it,” Peters says of the ability to take her voice on the road whenever the mood strikes her. “If I’m not in a show on Broadway I love doing these concerts.”
At home on any stage, from TV studios and movie locations to concert halls and Broadway theaters, it’s the many musicals in which the 65-year-old performer has starred that provide a deep catalogue of songs from which to pick a set list.
“As you choose the songs you have to know what’s a good song to begin with,” Peters says. “There’s an arc, an opening song, and where to go from there, and where to go from there.
“I love people to hear ‘With So Little To Be Sure Of,’” she says of the song from the musical “Anyone Can Whistle” she often uses to start the show. “It sort of thanks the audience and I like that.
“And I’ve added in songs from the last shows I’ve been in,” Peters says mentioning “Send In The Clowns” from “A Little Night Music” in which she appeared on Broadway in 2010 and “Losing My Mind” from “Follies” which she’d done in late 2011.
If you know your musical theater you’ll recognize all three shows she’s mentioned so far as the work of Steven Sondheim. It’s a deep connection that’s been fruitful for both singer and composer.
“I sing a lot of Steve Sondheim because he writes the music and the words,” Peters says of why so many Sondheim songs appear in her concerts. “I find composers who write the music and the lyrics, it’s more cohesive for what the song is trying to say. He knows why he picks that note, why it’s a quarter note, why he picks that word.
“He writes about something, really something,” she says of the emotional depth to Sondheim’s lyrics. “So it’s fulfilling to be able to sing songs like that.”
As for their long-running collaboration, Peters modestly chalks it up to good luck.
“First of all he hired me to do ‘Sunday In The Park With George,’ the workshop, which was a wonderful experience,” she says of the show with which in 1984 she opened on Broadway. “Then I went off to do ‘Song and Dance’ (the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical which earned her first Tony Award). And then (Sondheim) needed a Witch for ‘Into The Woods’ so I went into that.
“It just kept growing, and as far as my concerts, I just connect to his music so strongly, and what he writes about.”
It’s a connection that continues next month when Peters is set to appear in “A Bed and a Chair: A New York Love Affair,” a short run of performances of Sondheim’s songs with new arrangements and performances by jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
“It’s going to be fly by the seat of your pants a little bit,” Peters says of the short amount of time left before those shows. “You’re going to have solid musicianship with solid songs from a great composer.”
One upcoming Sondheim project she’s not part of is the movie adaptation of “Into the Woods,” in which Meryl Streep plays the role Peters created on Broadway.
“I think it’s going to translate (to film) divinely,” she says. “Nowadays people love dark fairy tales. It’s really exciting.”
As for whether some little part of her wished she’d played the Witch again in the movie?
“I don’t even think about it,” Peters says. “That’s what’s happening. I think Meryl will be great – she is great. I think they cast the whole thing very well.”
A few years ago, Debbie Reynolds told us she didn’t see as many all-around entertainers – people who sing and dance and act, who do drama and comedy equally well – as there had been in years past, but she thought Peters was part of that tradition.
“I think there’s a lot of people who are multi-talented, like Sutton Foster,” Peters says when we mentioned this to her. “Claire Danes is a dancer – she goes out and she does concerts, modern dance, it’s remarkable. Even on ‘American Horror Story,’ Jessica Lange did a (musical) number and it was great.”
Peters’ second Tony Award came for her work in the 1999 revival of “Annie Get Your Gun.” That show also won Gypsy of the Year, an honor for out-fundraising other shows on behalf of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, which sparked Peters’ interest in doing more non-profit work and indirectly led to her founding Broadway Barks with longtime friend Mary Tyler Moore. In 2012, after 15 years of work promoting animal adoptions in New York City, Peters received a third Tony, the Isabelle Stevenson Award for humanitarian or charitable work.
“It was a little embarrassing,” she says. “But the important thing is what I was doing, my issues, helping shelter animals. The more people know about it the more important it is and we will be able to do more. I was thrilled to be able to stand up and talk about it.”
Her pit bull Stella is 16, roughly the same age as Broadway Barks, and it’s tough to leave Stella and Charlie, her younger, shaggier sidekick behind when she goes out on short concert tours, Peters says.
“I really don’t like it,” she says. “And (Stella’s) like, ‘Don’t go-oh-oh-oh!’ They’re attached to me and I’m attached to them.”
Beyond her performances this fall there’s nothing definite to talk about she says. She’s shot a TV pilot but doesn’t know yet whether it will get picked up. Regardless, though, she intends to keep singing and acting and entertaining for as long as she can.
“It’s a lifelong thing,” Peters says. “I don’t see myself stopping.
“I remember when I was in my 30s I saw Lena Horne and I said that’s what I’m going to be doing when I’m 65 like her. Guess what? I am!”