Bernadette Peters in Morristown: No lozenges, thank you

Bernadette Peters
Bernadette Peters
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Bernadette Peters is many things. A movie star. One of Broadway’s brightest lights. Winner of Tony and Grammy and Golden Globe awards. Champion of abandoned pets. America’s Cutie Pie.

Turns out she’s also a powerful cough suppressant.

Peters proved this Saturday at Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center.

It’s been a nasty pollen season and everyone, it seems, is coughing and sneezing. Yet for 90 minutes, the 1,300-seat theater was so mesmerized that nobody so much as crinkled a lozenge wrapper. Attention was so rapt, you almost could hear the trickle of teardrops during Send In the Clowns.

The last time I saw Peters, she was opening MPAC’s 2012 season. That glitzy, brassy tour de force still ranks among my favorite nights at 100 South St.

We’re all seven years older. The high notes don’t come quite as easily. Peters used to glide atop arranger Marvin Laird’s piano for her vampy version of Fever. At 71, she drapes herself there with greater care.

She’s still sultry as hell. (Sign me up for my AARP card!) But now there is an extra dash of poignancy when Peters sings songs like In Buddy’s Eyes, from Sondheim’s Follies:

In Buddy’s eyes
I’m young, I’m beautiful.
In Buddy’s eyes
I can’t get older.
I’m still the princess,
Still the prize.

Peters also rings true with Before the Parade Passes By (Hello, Dolly!), a widow’s plea to her late husband to let her embrace life again. Peters’ husband died in a helicopter crash in 2005.

Peters still can do cute. On African safari after last year’s starring role in Dolly, she discovered her dowry value to a Masai tribesman. “I’m worth 20 cows,” she revealed. “Maybe more!”

Her encore, Kramer’s Song, a lullaby about her dog that she wrote for Broadway Barks, a pet rescue charity she co-founded with Mary Tyler Moore, remains a delight. When You Wish Upon a Star was luscious and dreamy.

I wished for Tonight You Belong to Me, from her entrancing duet with Steve Martin in the 1979 film The Jerk. Maybe next time, if I bring a ukulele…

Coquette? You bet. She sashayed into the audience in her sparkly, leggy, lavender gown to tease a gentleman during There Is Nothing Like a Dame (South Pacific).

“There is no sub-sti-toot,” she cooed, an observation surely seconded by that patron.

There were exuberant moments, starting with her opener, Let Me Entertain You, from Gypsy.

Propelled by Laird, her collaborator since she was 13 (“14 years ago,” she quipped), and bassist Kevin Axt and drummer Cubby O’Brien of Mousketeers fame, Peters romped through So Long Dearie from Hello, Dolly! She swirled across the stage like a one-woman ensemble.

This was an evening on Broadway, minus the train trip. Peters honored Rodgers & Hammerstein with Mr. Snow (Carousel) and It Might as Well Be Spring (State Fair). Few stage careers can match Peters’ glowing reviews. She has even fewer rivals as an interpreter of Stephen Sondheim’s works.

Peters has appeared in six of his shows. Saturday’s concert featured such Sondheim gems as Losing My Mind (Follies), With So Little to Be Sure Of (Anyone Can Whistle) and Children Will Listen (Into the Woods).

Being Alive (from Sondheim’s Company) was a fitting closer.  Throughout the evening, she sprinkled anecdotes about luminaries who have passed on: Carol Channing, Elaine Stritch, Eli Wallach. Her bass player gigged with Pavarotti and Natalie Cole.

“But he doesn’t just play with dead people,” Peters reassured the crowd. “We’re here. He’s here. I’m here.”

Bravo for that. Bernadette Peters may not be quite so young anymore. But she is very much alive.

And beautiful. Still the princess. Still the prize.

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