“I always said that the gay community had really great taste”
In the world of musical theater, Bernadette Peters is the epitome of an icon. She has easily morphed into roles like the Witch in “Into The Woods” to the iconic Mama Rose in “Gypsy,” finding time to let a new generation fall in love with her on the critically lauded NBC musical drama “Smash” playing Leigh Conroy, the mother to Broadway darling Megan Hilty’s “Ivy.”
Most recently, she can be seen playing the role of “Gloria” on the Amazon series “Mozart In The Jungle.” We sat down with this legend of the Great White Way to talk all things Broadway, her charity work with “Broadway Barks” and why she thinks the LGBT community adores her so much.
Do you think that the crowd in the metropolitan area is vastly different from the crowd in the Midwest, where you also recently performed? I would think the juxtaposition would be pretty large.
You know, it’s funny, they love when you come to their town! Like in Cedar Rapids, IA for example, they’re usually a wonderful audience. As for here, it’s usually people that love the theatre and are fans, which is also great.
When you do performances all over the place, you must get to sing some classic and amazing songs many times over. Are there any songs that you sometimes could actually get tired of singing?
The thing that is great about doing my own show is that I actually get to choose the songs that I want to sing. My show also has somewhat of an arc, I understand how it works, and I’m there to entertain; a funny way, a dramatic way, in any way really. I do understand the arc of my show though, and it really works. I start the show, we start by saying hello, and then we go on a journey, we’re in this place together to have an experience, and that’s what it is. It’s a musical and dramatic journey. Different things happen, but at the end, I want people to be satisfied, and that’s what I think happens.
So many people adore when you tap into the beloved Sondheim songbook and perform so many of his classics. What is it like to be able to connect with music that is so beloved by so many people?
I really think I choose songs that I respond to, there are certain songs with sentiments that he has written that I love being reminded about. Songs like “Children Will Listen” and “With So Little To Be Sure Of,” they are important and uplifting to hear.
Sometimes a line will pop out and make me think of a certain time, like the line in “No One Is Alone” that says “no one acts alone, careful.” That would be such a bigger thing if I remembered it all the time, you know? You really have to be careful about what you say and how you say it because the things you may be saying may be bring up something from someone’s past, or maybe reverberating something in that person’s memory. I think we as people just need to be thoughtful.
The recent documentary on Sondheim was spectacular, did you get a chance to see it?
I did, wasn’t it amazing? The thing is, I’m so happy he did it, because he teaches how to write doing it. I really think it’s invaluable that he shared his life with us.
Speaking of amazing, I don’t need to tell you that to the men of the LGBT community, you are an absolute icon. What do you think it is about you that draws us to you so?
I’ve always said they have great taste! (laughs). You know what it is, when a person is born and sensitive and when a gay person is born, they start to notice that they’re different after a while. They become very in tune to things that have meaning and importance. I’ve learned that I’m a sensitive person too, and I may gravitate towards songs or lyrics that might relate to those types of people.
You love to give back to the community that adores you so much. You sit on the board of Broadway Cares, you’ve worked with GMHC, and you were one of the main organizers of what has become one of the biggest charity events, Broadway Barks!
They are so much fun! They’re really getting better and better now too. We open with a number and we started that about three years ago. We had Celia Bolger sing “The Boy I Love” and I got to chat with her, and she let me know that her great grandfather is Ed Wynn, the legendary actor; I was like “can I touch you.”
What is it like seeing something like “Broadway Barks” which you were such a part of creating, become somewhat of it’s own experience?
It’s really so wonderful. It belongs to the Broadway community and it really makes me so happy. I want to take it further and raise even more money so I can give it away. It’s a rescue group that works so hard. There are my heroes who pull the dogs out of the city shelters and get them help, get them adopted, and I really want to get New York to be a “no kill” state. It’s great because now they do “Beltway Barks” in Washington, and other people across the country, other actors, they’ve asked to do it also. Many more people are becoming more away of rescues and it’s absolutely wonderful. It thrills me that it’s becoming much more mainstream.
This is one of the best season’s for Broadway in so long! What shows out there are you absolutely have you loved or are dying to see?
I saw “Downtown,” which was absolutely amazing; groundbreaking! I want to see “On Your Feet” the one based on Gloria and Emilio Estefan. It’s written by the same guy that wrote “Birdman,” so that’s sure to be great. I heard the revival of “Spring Awakening” has a great version of this show, and I hear that the teachers can sometimes hear and the students don’t at times, so you actually can understand the miscommunications that they’re having.
You’re also starring in “Mozart In The Jungle” as “Gloria,” with such an ensemble and wonderful cast. It’s an Amazon series, so you are essentially part of a movement. What is it like being part of such an amazing project?
This show, I just love the writing! I don’t find things put in just to be arbitrary; I find the writing to be unique, and original. Gael Garcia Bernal is amazing, and the symphony is Los Angeles loved us so much, because the woman who runs that symphony used to run the New York Symphony and said that she “knew” that my character Loria is based on her. Did you also know that Gael actually conducted the Los Angeles Phil Harmonic in front of the audience! We have wonderful actors like Malcom McDowell, a really great group of people.
In closing, between the amazing live concert performances and “Mozart In The Jungle” this question may be tough, but if you had to choose one word that could describe your life right now, what would it be?