The term “performer” doesn’t do Bernadette Peters justice.
Shape-shifter is more like it.
It’s hard to imagine anyone else gliding from Betty Boop-Kewpie doll to show-stopping belter to red-hot torch singer, as Bernadette did on Friday to open the 75th season of the Community Theatre, at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown.
Red hot is no exaggeration. When Bernadette draped herself on a piano and sang Peggy Lee’s Fever, I was afraid the ink on my notepad would catch fire.
Which is pretty impressive, when you consider her show biz career spans six decades. Born Bernadette Lazzara in Queens, she made her first TV appearance at the age of 3. Seventeen movies, one Golden Globe award, three Tonys and a bunch of Grammys later, she continues to mesmerize.
Her 90-minute Mayo show bordered on a Stephen Sondheim tribute; Bernadette Peters has appeared in Sunday in the Park With George, Into the Woods, Gypsy, A Little Night Music and Follies. Sondheim selections included Let Me Entertain You (Gypsy); No One Is Alone and Children Will Listen (Into the Woods); Losing My Mind (Follies); Johanna (Sweeney Todd); and Not a Day Goes By (Merrily We Roll Along).
Bernadette’s passion for musicals started with her parents’ collection of Rodgers and Hammerstein albums. She dipped into that catalog for a bewitching rendition of Some Enchanted Evening from South Pacific and a playful (When I Marry) Mr. Snow from Carousel.
A gentleman in the front row, meanwhile, can confirm that There is Nothing Like a Dame, after Bernadette serenaded him with a rollicking finale to that South Pacific favorite. The humorous moment underscored another talent of this actress-songstress-comedienne: Besides wringing gigantic sound from a tiny instrument and never missing a note, she scampers in and out of the audience, climbs onto pianos and cavorts across the stage in high heels without a misstep. Ladies, how is this possible?
Bernadette also knows how to turn down the volume. Her prayerful Shenandoah inspired rapt silence. In a downtown notorious for blaring sirens and rumbling trucks, there was not even a cough or sniffle in the 1,300-seat theater.
The star of Pennies from Heaven (1981) missed a chance for a memorable duet on the Disney theme When You Wish Upon a Star. She had an original Mouseketeer, Cubby O’Brien, on drums. The snappy 10-piece Marvin Laird Band also included a string section from the Marine Corps Band.
Known for interpreting songs by others, Bernadette saved an original composition for the encore.
Kramer’s Song, a lullaby about one of her dogs, was composed for her best-selling children’s book, Broadway Barks. She co-founded a pet adoption charity of the same name with Mary Tyler Moore.
If a pair of enthusiastic standing ovations are accurate indicators, the opening night crowd enjoyed this shape-shifting tour de force. Bernadette Peters set the bar high for Season 75 at the Community Theatre.