With her curly red mane and Kewpie doll face, Bernadette Peters is one of the world’s most distinctive, instantly recognizable stars. But don’t let appearances distract you from what’s really outstanding about this Broadway legend, which is her consummate artistry as a singing actress. Peters is second to none at delivering the most complex, demanding, and emotionally powerful musical numbers in the repertoire. Everyone is entitled to their own favorite — Mama Rose in Gypsy, for example — and while Patty Lupone has her partisans, in many qualified opinions it is Peters who takes the prize as the best lead in the greatest American musical. If this is the kind of distinction that interests you, get onto YouTube and decide for yourself by screening clips of Peters in concert — “Some People” in London, for instance, or “Rose’s Turn” in Adelaide.
Better yet, do the really smart thing and join the crowd of Peters fanatics who will be gathering at the Granada on Saturday, May 4, to catch her in the act. She’ll be singing plenty of Stephen Sondheim, along with some Rodgers and Hammerstein, “Shenandoah,” and even Peggy Lee’s hit “Fever,” which she likes to belt out while reclining on the lid of a piano.
When I spoke with Peters by phone last week, she was at home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, spending quality time with her beloved dogs. She told me that her approach to these recitals is a deliberately intimate one. “There’s no fourth wall when I’m singing in concert,” she said. “I reflect on my experiences with this wonderful music, and the audience and I go on that journey together.” As the foremost interpreter of Sondheim’s music, she’s predictably partial to his work, which she revels in because “it’s so various. You can’t pin him down to one thing — he does it all.” The same could be said of Peters — she can take you from laughter to tears in the space of a single song.
Bernadette Peters appears in concert at the Granada Theatre (1214 State St.) on Saturday, May 4, at 8 p.m. Call (805) 899-2222 or visit granadasb.org for tickets and info.