Those legs. That dress. Those breasts. That hair. That slinky, sultry, seductive voice. This can only be Bernadette Peters In Concert – for, actually, there is no one in the world quite like her. A performer of limitless energy, unifying sexuality, and sheer chutzpah. A legend. A diva. A goddess of the stage. Literally, there is no one like Bernadette Peters.
The Royal Festival Hall is an unforgiving place. Exposed is the word. Everyone who performs there faces the glare, the intensity of stark loneliness. You either have it or you don’t. There are no mid positions.
To be crystal clear, Bernadette Peters has it.
And only a fool would not love those egg-rolls, and everything else about this sensuous, incredibly gifted woman. She will be 70 in February 2018, but in her gorgeous shiny performance frock, with hair that cascades everywhere in red ringlets as profoundly individual as a fingerprint, Bernadette Peters is a superstar. One who barely looks 40.
She has not graced a London stage for 18 years, which is sad for London if not for her. Her stellar turn at the Royal Festival Hall simply engraves her mark in the history books: she is a force of musical theatre nature; actually, just a fierce and remarkable woman, unafraid of being a woman, and using her feminine wiles to augment the lustrous sounds that one of the most versatile and flexible voices of this century or last can make.
There was nothing not to adore about Bernadette Peters In Concert. Au contraire, there was much to hope for.
For instance, that someone, surely the National Theatre, would stage Follies and cast her as Sally. Why should Broadway be the lucky arena? If The Flick and The Motherfucker With A Hat can play the National, why not Peters? Her rendition of Buddy’s Eyes and Losing My Mind here, not as taut as her performance in the show on Broadway and in Washington, was, nevertheless, astonishing and astounding.
Peters has a rare skill. Her husky, throaty voice can leap between octaves with ease. She can belt and float, has the ability to deliver soaring phrases that make sense of the notion of legato, and, at the same time, can play with syncopation, rhythm and tempi to produce surprising, and utterly engaging, results.
Her rendition of the standard, Fever, for instance, was part Eartha Kitt, part Ricky Martin and part Miss Piggy; undeniably sexy, caressing the tune, but punctuating the hard percussive beats with full body moves that surprised and delighted. Watching Peters perform this number was to be reminded of laughter during great sex.
Such is her shimmering beauty that it is easy to forget that she can be very funny. She brought the house down with scattered references to the sale of her Florida house and by recounting a very amusing anecdote told her by the late Eli Wallach. Her unfettered use of her hair, her arms and legs as props to comically punctuate her performance is hilarious.
Her delivery of When I Marry Mr Snow was deliciously funny; and she may be the only person alive who can make the word pomegranate be a euphemism for fellatio, a trick she pulled off seamlessly in her rendition of Come On A My House, a cabaret song she performed in her television series Mozart In The Jungle. There wasn’t anyone, straight, single, married, gay, undecided, who didn’t want to go back to her house after that number.
Her choice of repertoire is fearless too. She is a master of the male ballad. I don’t know that I have ever heard any man sing Johanna from Sweeney Todd with such naked emotion, such tremulous beauty of tone. And in Peters’ hands, Being Alive was a volcanic orgasm of desire and need, every word given exact, precise weight and phrases sewn together with pain and hope. Justifiably, the crowd leapt to its feet.
Partly this was because of the great capacity Peters has to communicate emotion through song; partly it was because of her absolute commitment to every moment, whether comical or serious; partly, it is because Peters is willing to take risks vocally, to sing at the extreme edges of her considerable range and to play with melodies that are well known. Together, this proves an irresistible package – not every note may be flawlessly produced, but every song is flawlessly delivered, engrossing and enthralling.
Peters understands the dynamics of cabaret performance well and peppers the big, torch song standards expected of her, with less dramatic, but just as entertaining, interludes. This performance commenced with an unrestrained, hip swivelling, erotic cha-cha through Let Me Entertain You, thereby instantly setting the tone for the idiosyncratic frolics to follow. State Fair‘s It Might As Well Be Spring and Disney’s Wish Upon A Star were in the same league – bright, joyous, sweet.
Peters has a career defining, very long association with Stephen Sondheim and credibly can claim to be the best exponent of his work in the world.
She understands his writing in a deeply profound way; the words and tunes seem to flow from her very soul and she has a capacity to vary from expected paths with ease and to great effect. No One Is Alone, Send In The Clowns, With So Little To Be Sure Of and Children Will Listen – each was breathtakingly done, in Peter’s unique multi-hued voice, and felt fresh, like one was hearing it for the first time.
Having originated the role of Dot in Sunday In The Park With George, Peters was responsible for Move On becoming one of the Sondheim standards most people have heard and loved. As expected, Peters gave the song everything she had, and it was a moving, full throttle rendition.
It was also the least satisfying of the big Sondheim numbers here, as Peters’ vibrato did not permit the smooth, pure passages Move On requires. But this is the merest quibble, as few performers could or would invest their delivery of this song in cabaret with anything like the passion and commitment Peters gave.
Still, Sondheim might be her muse, but the most extraordinary number Peters performed was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Nothing Like A Dame. It is almost impossible to give a sense of this astonishing turn.
Fast sultry patter, treating the microphone like a useful phallic prop, singing with her whole body, long, gorgeous pianissimo notes and pert, emphatic, low and high notes, a sense of raucous sexual energy – Peters had it all. Who needs a virile male chorus of Seebees to make this number rock with pent up sexual frustration and vocal glory?
Certainly not Bernadette Peters – a diva amongst divas, an acting singer and a singing actor. One of a kind.
An unmissable night with Peters in full Superstar mode.