There is a very small, select group of performers who can be classed as musical theatre royalty, whose voices are instantly recognisable, and Miss Bernadette Peters is one of them. Right from the moment she stepped onto the stage it was clear we were in the presence of a Broadway legend… a diva in the original and truest sense of the word.
The stage design was very simple, just her and the band. It was all that was needed, we didn’t need, or want, flashy sets and costume changes. When you’ve got a voice and charisma like Miss Peters’ that’s all you need. She had a great rapport with the audience, telling us stories about her night out in Manchester, the friend from Inverness she made, an Eli Wallach joke, her house in Florida that she’s trying to sell (5 beds, 6 baths if anyone fancies it) and lots of name drops – all delivered in her unmistakable, quirky, woman/child, slightly ditzy way!
The evening consisted of 90 minutes of song and chat, thankfully more song than chat as 90 minutes is not a long time when you’ve a back catalogue like this! So to the songs…. we given a nice mix of the Sondheim standards we had hoped for, plus some Rogers and Hammerstein, Disney and even some Peggy Lee. A real highlight was ‘Losing My Mind’ from Follies, which showed off not only her amazing vocal abilities but also her superb acting skills. The silences she used during this number spoke just as much, if not more than the vocals. I found it very moving.
The front row got a real treat when she ventured off the stage and down among them, during her clever and funny rendition of ‘There is Nothing Like A Dame’ from South Pacific.
In true diva fashion, Peggy Lee’s ‘Fever’ was performed while lying on top of the piano. It was easy to forget that this fierce, seductive woman we were watching was 68 years old…. I’m 25 years her junior and a) I’d have never got on top of the piano without the use of heavy machinery and b) I would have ended up flashing my Spanx pants to the entire audience. Bernadette clearly didn’t need Spanx and made it look effortless.
“Effortless” is probably the word I’d use to describe the whole evening. Sondheim songs are notoriously difficult, but not if you’re Bernadette Peters! Her range is impressive and her use of ‘belt’ voice is something to behold… the lady has some pipes on her. ‘Children Will Listen’ from Into The Woods was outstanding as was ‘Send In The Clowns’ from A Little Night Music. I also really enjoyed her version of ‘Johanna’ from Sweeney Todd, not what I was expecting at all.
Her final number ‘Being Alive’ from Company brought the entire audience to its feet for a wholly deserved standing ovation.
I’ve often wondered what the difference between Broadway standard and West End is. I’ve suspected it for many years, but having watched Miss Peters I now know for sure….it’s the ability to act, and act phenomenally well. She doesn’t have the most technically perfect vocal technique but boy can she act, and when you combine these things magic happens.
I am so grateful I had the opportunity to spend an evening with a living legend, I can happily cross it off my bucket list.
Now sadly I have to have a bit of a moan….not about Miss Peters but about the behaviour of some audience members. What has happened to audience etiquette? Why don’t people know how to behave in a theatre? Why do people feel the need to conduct personal conversations, loudly, during the show? I’m 100% sure that the need to tell your friend that you love their outfit could wait 90 minutes. Unless you’re about to give birth or you’re on fire, SHUT UP!! Nor is it acceptable to film the performance, you are not Steven Spielberg, so put the phone away!! Shame on you for tainting a whole audience’s enjoyment.
For more on Bernadette`s tour visit- http://www.bernadettepeters.com/