What’s not to like about Bernadette Peters’ show?

By Ben Nyberg

Broadway musical icon, celebrity diva Bernadette Peters brought her cabaret-style revue to entertain the troops—a well-filled (downstairs level) house assembled in McCain Auditorium Friday evening, January 31—and it’s safe to say they got what they came for.

It’s also pretty clear that at age 65, Ms. Peters is remarkably well preserved. For all the Internet buzz about her use of cosmetic surgery to give her abundant genetic gifts a lift, and despite some suggestions that it’s time she faced her years and packed it in, I suspect that as long as she’s up to being—or playing—the sexy darling redhead her public wants her to be, she’s likely more than ready to do so.

Meaning it’s a win-win: she gets to keep savoring the performer’s satisfaction in delivering her goods and savoring the appreciation of her fans, and we get to keep reveling in the pleasure of her forever bright and zesty company. What’s not to like about that?

Besides, her entire show—a non-stop eighty minutes—is a class act top to bottom. Her own lovely self and voice constitute its centerpiece gem, but she’s surrounded and enhanced by a high-end infrastructure. The riser set with dark drapery backdrop was itself no makeshift road-worn apparatus, and the mostly local supporting musicians it brought together—a string quartet, string bass, assorted “double-duty” winds and percussion—were all obviously professional calibre, well-rehearsed and deftly led from the piano by composer/conductor Marvin Laird.

Making her entry in a sparkling, front-slit gown of a hue bound to warm the hearts of most Manhattanites, Ms. Peters had the crowd with her before singing even a single note. After a few moments of quips, comic mugging, and slinky gyrations to establish her savvy, sassy stage persona and set the presentational tone, she launched into a set program of songs, several of them familiar from well-known musicals (e.g., “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific), others less so (e.g., “I’m Losing My Mind” from Sondheim’s Follies).

At no point did Ms. Peters venture any excuses for what must have been a very dry or raw throat that needed tending after every number. Instead, being the true-blue showbiz trouper she is, she simply pressed ahead without fuss, honoring her audience for their loyalty in turning up by putting her own full energy into making them the best show she could.

Her voice may have lost some of the silvery sheen of thirty years ago, but it has gained in interpretive weight, in the refinement of shaping and shading that probes the full emotional sense of a lyric. Without losing the artistic detachment necessary to manage the physical demands of musical technique, she so identifies with the view from each number as to bring its inner truth out into the open.

Performing artists capable of sustaining long careers are almost always the real McCoy. Pete Seeger just passed at 94, singing and advocating to the end. The late Peter O’Toole’s acting career spanned six decades. Placido Domingo has undertaken 185 opera roles during the past half century and is still going strong (as a baritone!). I have no doubt that Bernadette Peters will continue to discover performance strategies that will serve her to the end of her days.

Live long and prosper, say I.

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