By Laura Latzko. Photos by Andrew Eccles
Tony Award-winning actress and singer Bernadette Peters is known for her iconic voice and look. A star of Broadway, film and TV, the actress has been performing since she was a young child.
Peters will visit the Chandler Center for the Arts on March 7 to sing music by Stephen Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Jerry Herman. She’ll also throw in classics like Peggy Lee’s “Fever” and “When You Wish Upon a Star.”
Peters has appeared on stage in shows such as Annie Get Your Gun, On the Town, Mack and Mabel, Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park with George, Gypsy, and Follies.
As a TV and film actress, she has appeared in Annie, The Jerk, The Longest Yard, Smash, Pennies from Heaven, Grey’s Anatomy and Ugly Betty. She was also the voice of Rita, the stray gray and white cat, on Animaniacs.
Peters has released solo albums and singles throughout her career and has written New York Times bestselling children’s books.
Her work has earned her Tony and Drama Desk awards and nominations, as well as Grammy Award nominations.
In 1998, she and fellow actress and friend Mary Tyler Moore founded Broadway Barks, an organization dedicated to helping rescued dogs find homes.
Recently, Peters played Dolly Gallagher Levi in the musical Hello Dolly! and appeared on the TV shows Mozart in the Jungle, The Good Fight, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, and Katy Keene.
Throughout her career, she has shown herself to be a triple threat as a singer, dancer and actress.
Over the years, she has noticed the most growth in herself as an actress. She said TV and movie roles have helped her to hone her skills.
Playing different types of characters has allowed her to continue to keep developing as a performer.
“My career is about how much can I learn? How much better can I get? What can I learn? How can I grow?” Peters said.
When working with composers such as Stephen Sondheim, she has found that it isn’t hard to immerse herself in the roles.
“If you really just follow what he’s writing and why he’s writing it for the character, it makes so much sense. Certain shows like Sunday in the Park with George, where there were certain songs that are different time-wise, you have to learn the rhythms and timing, especially for the duet with George. But otherwise, he writes a really good character,” Peters said.
Peters said that for her, it is important to play roles with which she has a connection.
“When you are doing a show eight times a week, you really have to love it. That’s all you do is you involve yourself in the show because you can’t be going out. You can’t be wrecking your voice. So, it all has to be about the show. So, you have to choose carefully,” Peters said.
Being a performer has meant continually working on her craft and developing different skills.
She has worked with experts on different aspects of performance, such as speaking with an accent.
For one role when she was younger, she had to learn jump rope, a skill that was new to her.
Peters said it has been important for her to keep her body in shape to be able to keep playing high-energy roles such as Dolly Gallagher Levi.
“If you are in a musical, you have to really exercise your body and get your body in shape to be able to move around and dance,” Peters said.
She was typecast more often early in her career but has been able to forge her own path by proving herself as a multitalented entertainer.
Peters has resisted singing in one genre. That’s due to having an eclectic taste in music. She likes to lend her voice to different styles.
“What I always try to do is just free my voice so that I can emotionally get to where I want to get to. The emotion of the song is the most important thing for me,” Peters said.
Playing challenging roles has meant the actress has had to know how to use her voice correctly.
“You have to protect your voice, not strain yourself while you are learning the music, not strain yourself while you’re in the show. You have to learn how to breath. You’ve got to learn how to say the dialogue so that you’re not straining yourself,” Peters said.
Bernadette Peters is scheduled to perform at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 7 at Chandler Center for the Arts. Tickets start at $68. Visit chandlercenter.org for details.