Musical theatre buffs are sure to be thrilled by the news that Bernadette Peters will join the Nashville Symphony for a three night engagement, April 9–11, 2015. Audiences are promised “an enchanted evening when this Tony award-winning star of stage, film and television [as she] sings from her extensive songbook, including classics like ‘My Funny Valentine,’ ‘When You Wish Upon a Star,’ ‘Send in the Clowns,’ ‘Fever’ and other gems from Rodgers and Hammerstein, Sondheim and more.”
Peters, whose work—in addition to stage and film—includes writing three children’s books, has been awarded THREE Tony Awards: two Best Leading Actress in a Musical awards for her performances in Song and Dance (1985) and Annie Get Your Gun (1999), and in 2012 The Isabelle Stevenson Special Award for a “substantial contribution of volunteered time and effort on behalf of one or more humanitarian, social service or charitable organizations.” This sort of service has been part and parcel of Peters’ work for decades.
When she was once asked about why she had jumped so whole-heartedly into supporting HIV/AIDS organizations, she is reported to have said, “When there's a terrible illness like AIDS sweeping through, you help people.” Simple as that. In fact, her solo debut at Carnegie Hall was itself a benefit for Gay Men’s Health Crisis, an organization *The Normal Heart* playwright Larry Kramer helped start.
I asked Peters about her current charity work, and she said, “I’m on the board of Broadway Cares, of course. Cares has just been so giving and supportive and loving of everyone. Think of the aid they did for the tsunami, etc.! Thank God … when you have people like Hugh Jackman selling the t-shirt off his own body, they can be generous with their profits!”
Her own organization, Broadway Barks, has a long history with Cares too. Barks was founded in 1999 by Peters, along with her friend with Mary Tyler Moore and others, who decided they wanted to do something to help New York City’s shelter animals. “When I started to put together Broadway Barks,” Peters said, “Tom Viola [of Cares] said, ‘Let us help you, we love our dogs!’ We were all animal lovers, and the city shelter animals needed help.”
“So Broadway Cares got involved,” she said, “and they’ve produced our event or us every year. I just love telling Viola that he started it all. You know those people, when a problem comes up and they just say, ‘I’m going to do it?’ He did it, and now he’s running Cares too. He’s the most caring beautiful person you can imagine….”
To benefit Broadway Barks, Peters has written two children’s books, “Broadway Barks” (a New York Times Bestseller), which includes a CD with an original lullaby written by Peters, and “Stella is a Star.” “I just wrote a third children’s book,” Peters said happily. “The first was about my first dog, the second about my second, and third one is about my third joining us, sibling rivalry, and that sort of thing. It’s called *Stella and Charley: Friends Forever. It’s coming out in July!”
When talking about her career, Peters was much more casually off-hand in a refreshingly non-self-absorbed way. “I did the series for Amazon called *Mozart in the Jungle*, and that got renewed so we’re going to start that in August, I think.” But then she grew animated. “And then I’m going to be the voice of Eloise, you know, from the books. I’ll be reading them, and … which I grew up reading…. The writing was so free and felt so original. It’s very exciting!”
So what can audiences expect from Peters' show with the Symphony? “Basically I know my job is to entertain, in a light way or a dramatic way or an amusing way. We’re going to be together under one roof and have a lovely experience, go on a journey together with Rogers and Hammerstein, and some of the other standards…. It’s a concert, so there’s no fourth wall. I’ve added “Send in the Clowns”: I’ve been singing it recently.”
“I like doing the old standards,” Peters added, “because I get to be reminded of certain sentiments, or songs that Steve [Sondheim] wrote, like ‘No one is alone.’ They’re important things to hold onto in life: I like to hold on to them and remind myself of them.”
“I get letters every so often,” she said. “Somebody will say ‘I was a teen and you helped me get through a bad period’ … but all I can think is that I don’t write these songs, I just get them out there. But if I can change people’s thoughts for one night I think that’s important—if we can uplift, if we can make them think…. That’s why I love Steve [Sondheim]’s songs: they’re about deep thoughtful emotional things, they make you think in a certain way.”
That does sound like a nice evening, doesn’t it? For more information about Peters’ show, or for tickets, visit www.nashvillesymphony.org.