Tuesday, June 12, 2012

concert review BERNADETTE PETERS, NJPAC, June 2

We had the pleasure of seeing two time Tony winner Bernadette Peters perform with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra at NJPAC in Newark a week ago.

The concert was split into two acts, with the first act featuring the NJSO conducted by Gerald Steichen playing various orchestral selections associated with Peters.  We saw the NJSO last year with Steichen conducting an evening of John Williams music and his conducting and comments between the songs was just as good here as it was for the Williams concert.  He added personal insight into the selections as well as interesting comments about Peters' career.  A rousing Mack and Mabel Overture started off the act followed by Selections from Annie Get Your Gun.  A lovely Suite of selections from A Little Night Music was followed by two songs associated with Bernadette from her movie days.  “Tonight You Belong to Me,” which Bernadette sang with Steve Martin in the film The Jerk was followed by “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” from Monte Carlo Ballet which Peters and Martin sang in the movie Pennies from Heaven.  The playing by the Symphony throughout both acts was as excellent as it has always been with lovely solos and stirring group work, especially by the violin and violas. 
The second act began with a lovely Overture comprised of songs associated with Peters.  An abbreviated and fast version of "Let Me Entertain You" from Gypsy had Peters sashaying around the stage and set up the point of the evening- Peters was here to entertain us.  Her between song banter was humorous, though the running joke about the real estate market being flat and her need to sell her vacation house was a little strange especially when she sometimes talked too fast or too far from the mic for the punch lines to land.  Fortunately her voice was in perfect shape.

Peters has a long association with composer Stephen Sondheim and the majority of the selections Peters sang were Sondheim songs, including her opening number which Sondheim wrote the lyrics for.  Her second selection was a slowed down "No One is Alone" from Into The Woods that focused on the lyrics and found Peters in fine form. "Nothing like a Dame" from South Pacific had a rousing orchestration that also slowed down the song and made it into a humorous event that included Peters coming out into the orchestra and singing to a make audience member. 

Bernadette's take on the Peggy Lee classic "Fever" was the highlight of the evening, maybe because I was impressed on she was able to fully deliver this song not just in her vocal delivery but also in her body movements as well.   She began the song sitting on top of the piano and the entire song included choreographed movement with at one point Bernadette lying on the piano.  The accompaniment for the song was simple and stylish.  "Some Enchanted Evening" also from South Pacific was almost spine tingling.  For a song that is usually delivered by a deep voiced man, Bernadette had no problem making the song her own and again, making sure the meaning of the lyrics wasn't lost. 

Peters association with Sondheim was highlighted with two songs she sang in the recent Broadway revival of Follies.   "In Buddy's Eyes" and "Losing My Mind" actually sounded better in concert than when she sang them on Broadway.  I'm not sure if this was because Bernadette was just more rested and her voice wasn't strained from having to perform eight shows a week or if it is due to the incredibly lush orchestrations played by an orchestra that is many times larger than on Broadway. No matter what, both songs and Bernadette sounded amazing.  Marvin Laird, Bernadette's long time conductor and friend, who not only conducted the second act but also several of Peters' Broadway shows expertly handled the orchestra.

Another Sondheim selection, “Johanna,” from Sweeney Todd, followed and while Peters delivery of the song was good the orchestrations were loud and somewhat overpowering.  Bernadette mentioned that she performed at Disney Hall in L.A. a few years ago where she premiered a medley of "dream" songs from Disney films.  That medley included “When You Wish Upon a Star from Pinocchio and  "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” from Cinderella.  It was a lovely medley with Bernadette in fine form.

Sondheim's “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” from Company was a little too forced and fast but the coupling of two more Sondheim songs “With So Little to Be Sure Of” from Anyone Can Whistle and “Children Will Listen” from Into the Woods was lovely.  Peters ended the concert with another Sondheim song from Company, “Being Alive,” which she nailed.

Bernadette did come back for an encore.  After speaking about her work for shelter animals with her "Broadway Barks" organization, she mentioned the book she wrote of the same name and then sang the song she wrote that is included on a cd with that book. “Kramer’s Song” is a lovely lullaby for a pet and was a perfect way to end a perfect evening.

Bernadette's Official Web Site

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