Bernadette. Bernadette Peters.
For decades, that name has conjured up a picture of Kewpie-doll cuteness, corkscrew-curl hair, fishtail dresses, an eye-catching bosom (indeed!), and that peculiar but persuasive voice.
And last night, for the third time in my life, that conjuring was made real.
I’d seen Bernadette in Broadway in A Little Night Music and in Follies. This is the first of her live cabaret-style shows I’ve witnessed.
Her 90-minute set, heavy on Sondheim and with Rodgers & Hammerstein thrown in for good reason was a nigh-onto-perfect antidote to a rough week at the office.
Bernadette performed in Saint Charles . . . she almost slipped and said Saint Louis at one point early on. The folks at the college where she performed lit the show beautifully, which means that Bernadette’s famous pose — head back, arms thrust to the side — was an especially delicious visual button at the end of a star-turn song. The Steve Schenkman Band, a local pick-up group that included two Webster University professors and three of our adjunct faculty members, played with sass and verve if not always perfectly tightly. Bernadette’s own trio (music director at piano, with bass and drums, the latter being played by Cubby from the Mickey Mouse Club) were spot on.
The Lady herself is still a vision in her mid-60s. The voice is intact and clear, although a bit frayed at the top. But when she summons the pipes, asks the vocal gods for power, and puts on the punch, her ending notes remind us of why she has been one of the great Broadway royals for more years than I care to count. And Bernadette is a master of standing still and letting the face do the work, as she memorably demonstrated in a trio of Sondheim songs, including “No one is alone” and “Losing my mind.”
Her encore (following close on Sondheim’s “Being Alive”) was a self-written song to support her pet cause about pets. The song, a lullaby to her pet dog, reduced me to tears within the first three short phrases.
More about Bernadette and this same show that has performed ’round the country: http://www.post-gazette.com/ae/2009/03/19/Bernadette-Peters-brings-a-lifetime-of-musical-theater-to-an-enchanted-evening-with-the-PSO/stories/200903190476