The term “Broadway royalty” has been used for a number of well known performers, but there is one clear and undisputed queen of them all: Bernadette Peters. Peters, Queen of Broadway, is in a league of her own. Frank Rich, of The New York Times, went so far as to say, “As an actress, singer, comedienne and all-around warming presence, Bernadette Peters has no peer in the musical theatre right now.”
It's not something that happened overnight. Indeed, Peters has been performing for over 60 years … a number which, if you are like me, makes you take a double look at the photo and check you read that correctly. Yes – Bernadette Peters is in her 60's. Just turned 67, actually. And then you check that photo again, do a quick a google to confirm and realise, this woman looks amazing! If you look that good and live in New York, the assumption is that you must have had some sort of "work" done. Indeed a host of top plastic surgeons have been carefully scrutinising Peters for sometime now, but can't find any evidence of cosmetic surgery. Peters puts it down to a healthy lifestyle, exercise, not having children and avoiding the sun (working in the theatre clearly has its advantages!) … but mostly it's simply good genes.
Born in Queens, New York, in 1948 as Bernadette Lazzarra, her performing career began at the tender age of 3, appearing on children's television. At the time it just seemed, quite literally, like child's play to this little girl with the fiery red hair. She thought she was just playing a game of make-believe like any other young child would do at this age. Since most television was aired live in the 1950's she never returned home from her make believe games to see herself on the screen. It wasn't any sort of work to her – it was a whole lot of fun.
At the age of 9 and at a time when the US had not really embraced its immigrant population, her surname was changed to the more American-friendly Peters; the name being taken from her father, Peter. This was also a deliberate aim to avoid any ethnic stereotyping when being cast in roles.
By the time she was 13, Peters had embarked on her first US tour, accompanied by her mother, understudying the role of Dainty June in a production of Gypsy. Peters appeared in Gypsy again – in the 2003 Broadway revival – which earned her critical acclaim and a seventh Tony Award nomination as Mama Rose.
Her first theatrical role was in The Most Happy Fella, before debuting on Broadway at age 19 in Johnny No-Trump in 1967. Just one year later she won a Theatre World Award for her role as Josie Cohan in George M! and a Drama Desk Award for Dames at Sea. By the end of 1968, at just 20 years of age, Bernadette Peters was suddenly one of the most sought after stars of musical theatre.
Peters' career continued to soar, not only in the theatre world, but also in television and movies. She has appeared in 17 movies on the big screen, receiving a Golden Globe Award for her role in Pennies From Heaven. She played opposite Steve Martin in The Jerk and with Mel Brooks in Silent Movie.
Television credits include such well loved shows as Smash, Grey's Anatomy and Ugly Betty, to name just a few. But for those who remember the 70's there was one show that anyone who had “made it” simply had to appear on: The Muppets. Peters not only appeared on the show on more than one occasion, she was nominated for an Emmy for one such episode in 1977, singing the inspiring song Just One Person.
Peters' biography would easily fill the page, with an equally long and impressive list of awards and nominations across every genre, including the highly coveted star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She has been on Grammy Award winning Broadway cast albums, as well as recording her own albums. Her voice teacher, Adrienne Angel, says she is an absolute delight to work with – incredibly humble, charming and appreciative. Not at all the diva.
She has performed for the best of them. Peters won a Tony Award, Drama Desk Award and Drama League Award for her performance in Andrew Lloyd Webber's hit Song and Dance. Peters is still considered to be the best interpreter of the works of Stephen Sondheim.
Beyond her work in theatre, television, movies, album recordings and concerts, Peters has also authored some children's books based on Broadway Barks! – an event and organisation she founded with Mary Tyler Moore to help New York animal shelters find permanent homes for homeless cats and dogs. She also supports the work of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids.
Yes, it has indeed been a diverse and stellar career that unequivocally establishes Bernadette Peters as the Queen of Broadway. Australian audiences will have the unique opportunity to hear Peters in concert when she tours Australia next month.
Theatre Royal – Sydney
Wednesday 2 – Friday 4 April 2014
A Res $149, B Res $109
Conrad Jupiters – Gold Coast
Saturday 5 April 2014
A Res $119 only
Her Majesty’s Theatre – Melbourne
Monday 7 – Tuesday 8 April 2014
A Res $149, B Res $109, C Res $99
For tickets go to www.bernadettepeters.com.au