Indiana, PA - Indiana County

Peters to perform Friday on campus

by BILL ZIMMERMAN billz@indianagazette.net on May 01, 2012 1:15 AM

A presence on the screen and stage since childhood, Bernadette Peters will offer a glimpse of why her decades-long career is full of accolades on Friday at Fisher Auditorium.

A Tony and Golden Globe winner, Peters, 64, will be singing numbers, including hits from Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Stephen Sondheim musicals, when she takes the stage at 8 p.m. in the Indiana University of Pennsylvania concert hall. A few months removed from her latest Broadway gig, Peters is appreciating the change of pace offered by her concert dates.

"It's wonderful," she said, "because when you're in a show you're playing one character. In a concert, I sing all the different songs, so there's many different characters and also mostly, a lot of me, which is no fourth wall. So I can talk to the audience. I can say whatever I want. I can tell a joke, whatever."

Calling last week from New York, Peters said she loves coming to universities, where the crowd includes students studying the performing arts.

"They're just so enthusiastic," she said. "I hope that they can see, just to be yourself, not to copy me, and learn how just to have everything, all the emotions come out of you, the way they come out of you. There's only one of you in the world, and it's important just to express who you are."

Born in Queens, N.Y., Peters made her stage debut in 1959 and landed her first Broadway gig in 1967. She would go on to win Tony Awards for her roles in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Song & Dance" (1985) and Irving Berlin's "Annie Get Your Gun" (1999). She last received a nomination -- her seventh -- in 2003 for "Gypsy," and won three Drama Desk Awards for her stage work. She appeared on several Grammy-winning Broadway cast albums and recorded six solo albums.

On screen she worked with the likes of Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood in such films as "The Jerk," "Silent Movie," "Alice" and "Pink Cadillac." She won a Golden Globe for her role in 1981's "Pennies from Heaven." Her television appearances include "Grey's Anatomy," "Ugly Betty" and "Ally McBeal," for which she received one of her three Emmy nominations.

Peters singled out actor Robert Preston when discussing lessons learned from working with so many notables. Starring together in the 1974 Broadway musical "Mack & Mabel," she took note of how the late actor one night reacted positively to a scene that went a "different way" from previous shows.

"It's good if it happens, fun if it happens that way," she said. "You realize, I see it's a living thing, let's not stamp it in cement, let's let it breathe and live and let it go where it's going to go, other than doing the same exact performance every night."

She'll add to her accolades, which include a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, when the New Dramatists, a New York-based center for playwrights, gives her its 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award later this month.

Peters has made a name for herself as an activist as well.

This summer will mark the 14th year of Broadway Barks, a pet adoption event in New York City that she co-founded with actress Mary Tyler Moore. Held in July on Shubert Alley in the Broadway theater district, Peters said it's easy for performers to pop over and lend some star power to the efforts.

Peters has two dogs: Kramer, a shaggy dog who she said resembles Tramp from Disney's "Lady and the Tramp," and Stella, a pit bull. Both are shelter dogs.

"They know that they had a home," she said, "and now all of sudden they're homeless and now they have a home again, and they love you and they'll be bonded to you forever and they're so grateful."

She penned two children's books to help raise money for her animal rescue efforts. The first, "Broadway Barks," promotes pet adaptation with Kramer as the main character, while the second, "Stella is a Star," tells the story of an unpopular dog who blossoms on stage.

"She finally realizes everyone's seeing her as she really is," she said, "and everyone is loving who she really is."

Both books, published in 2008 and 2010, respectively, come with a CD featuring an original song by Peters, who said it's wonderful to be a part of a "beautiful time for a parent and a child" -- story time.

Peters recently appeared on NBC's Broadway-centered drama "Smash," playing a veteran of the stage and the mother to a budding starlet.

"I come to rehearsal, kind of suck the air out of the room, and there she is living in my shadow again," Peters said. "It's an interesting relationship. I don't think that the mother-daughter had a great relationship because the mother was always working, but the mother certainly loves her and you see that, but also there's different dynamics going on."

Peters sees "Smash" as a fitting advertisement for Broadway.

"I always thought we needed a show like that," she said, "especially after 'Glee.' … People across the country can sort of visit Broadway once a week, people that don't get to see it, and people love Broadway. I think it's just great for the industry."

Peters last appeared on Broadway in the musical "Follies," which wrapped in January, and has no plans for her next Broadway outing.

"Whenever I plan something it never works out," she said, "so I just look to see what the universe is going to bring me next."

Peters comes to Indiana as the 18th Helwig Distinguished Artist, an honor that since 1987 has brought performers to the university, thanks to an endowment created by Florence Lattimer Helwig in honor of her late husband, businessman and philanthropist Wilfred E. Helwig, who founded the Helwig Insurance Agency in Indiana. Past honorees include Marvin Hamlisch, Hal Holbrook, Chita Rivera, Olivia Newton-John and Rosemary Clooney. After the performance, Peters will be given a plaque during a private reception attended by members of the Helwig family.

With so many years of performing, is there any public function that gets her nervous?

"You call it excitement," she said. "That's what you call it, and then you just stay the course and you concentrate on what you're out there to do."

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