She looks far too young to be one of Broadway’s most legendary performers, but in a very special concert at the Minskoff Theatre on Monday, November 9th, the incomparable Bernadette Peters showed why she’s been a Broadway star for four decades, beautifully performing a selection of songs familiar and some brand new to her repertoire.
Entitled A Benefit for Broadway Barks Because Broadway Cares, the two-act concert raised an astounding $615,000 in support of two organizations beloved to Miss Peters – Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and Broadway Barks – which she founded over a decade ago with friend Mary Tyler Moore. Barks, perhaps best known for its annual star-studded adopt-a-thon featuring over 25 animal rescue groups and produced each July by BC/EFA in Shubert Alley, raises money for New York area animal shelters and supports rescue and shelter pet adoptions while advocating for spaying and neutering.
Rising to the stage aboard an underground elevator, Moore opened the evening to tremendous applause, serving as narrator for the concert’s special “prologue” from Into the Woods. “Once upon a time in a far off land… called Queens,”she read, “there was a young girl who wanted to help people and the animals who heal them!”
“I wish!” sang Ms. Peters, rising next to her to a thunderous ovation to play both Cinderella and the Witch. There she was joined by original cast members Joy Franz, Merle Louise, Kay McClelland, Lauren Mitchell and four new, handsome princes – Kyle Barisich, Michael Halling, Greg Mills and Matthew Tweardy-Torres. “I want to go to the festival, the Broadway Cares festival!” And so they did!
As the applause for the evening’s special cast of Into the Woods subsided, Bernadette paid tribute to her good friend, surprising America’s sweetheart when she lead the audience in a sing-a-long to the beloved theme song from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The full orchestra joined in, and before it was done, Bernadette magically produced a beret, handing it off to a somewhat startled Mary, who joyfully tossed it in the air to the cheers of more than 1,700 strong as they sang in unison: “You’re gonna make it after all!”
Dazzling in a lavender Bob Mackie gown that shimmered with over 15,000 crystals (“I have another 1,000 in my purse, just in case I lose a few,” she quipped), Peters reclined on the grand piano oozing voluptuous sex appeal tempered by a simmering, sly wit, and delighted the audience with her sultry rendition of the pop standard, “Fever.”
The songs of Rodgers & Hammerstein received their due as she sang both “There is Nothing Like a Dame” and “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific, and “Mr. Snow” from Carousel, which the star singled out as one of her favorite albums as a child growing up in Queens.
A Steady Rain’s Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig were in the audience, as were many of Peters’ friends and co-stars including Martin Short, Andrea Martin, Michael Urie, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Phyllis Newman, Joel Grey, Patrick Page, Paige Davis, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Chip Zien, John Cameron Mitchell and Barbara Walters. Bernadette brought the first half to a stirring conclusion when, after introducing audience members Sondheim, Arthur Laurents, and Margaret Styne (widow of composer Jule Styne), the three creative geniuses behind 1959’s Gypsy, she launched into a rousing rendition of “Some People,” that both stopped the show and closed the first act.
March of the Precious Pups
Resplendent in the second of two Bob Mackie creations, Peters opened the second act by bringing to the stage some of her equally handsome four-legged friends from BARC Shelter (Dylan, Jennie, Biggie, Sammy, Rosie, Cody, Nina and Mimi) and The Humane Society (Hazel, Puffie, Snoopy and Mimi), as well as Chico and Minnie who came with theatrical animal trainer Bill Berloni, famed trainer of the animals in Gypsy, who has been turning rescue animals into Broadway stars since “Sandy” in 1977’s Annie.
After Promenading across the stage to “March of the Siamese Children” from The King and I, the amazingly well-behaved canine crew was serenaded by Peters with playful verses written to the tune of Allan Sherman’s novelty hit, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh:”
All of the on-stage pups had been on hand to greet the audience outside the lobby of the Minskoff Theatre prior to curtain. And indeed all have since been adopted and found new, “forever homes.” Joining Bernadette onstage as VIP dog-handlers, were two online auction winners and friends of Broadway Cares, June Simpson and Lucille Sullivan.
As these 14 adorable dogs, who just weeks before had been abandoned to a cruel fate, left the stage, Bernadette returned center stage to sing Frank Loesser’s “Somebody, Somewhere” (The Most Happy Fella) and then, in a moving change of pace, the traditional folk ballad “Shenandoah,” accompanied by special guest Rob Paparozzi on harmonica.
After more than two hours of spectacular bravura, Peters donned a dowdy, black sweater to face her admirers in an encore of Gypsy’s “Rose’s Turn,” met with an instantaneous standing ovation. She then quickly reappeared for a second encore of her own composition, “Kramer’s Song,” a lullaby inspired by and named for one of her beloved rescue dogs. A CD featuring “Kramer’s Song” accompanies every edition of Broadway Barks, the New York Times bestselling children’s book that Peters wrote to promote and support her organization.
Kramer, a big, frisky mixed breed who clearly loves an audience, joined Bernadette onstage and even belted out a few “woofs” of his own as his best pal took her final bows before leaving to mingle with friends and fans at the star-studded reception held at Times Square’s Blue Fin, topping off an extraordinary evening.
For more information about Broadway Barks visit www.broadwaybarks.com
There are so many more wonderful dogs of every variety – like the 15 that appeared in Bernadette’s concert – still hoping to find a new home. If you’d would like to adopt one of their many canine friends visit: www.barcshelter.org andwww.humanesociety.org
Broadway Barks 12 will take place in Shubert Alley on Saturday, July 10, 2010.
All Photographs by: Peter James Zielinski
Photograph by Kurt Sneddon