Bernadette Peters brings Broadway to Burton Chace Park
By Bliss Bowen
“There’s no business like show business,” as a tongue-in-cheek Irving Berlin immortally put it in his classic song for the musical “Annie Get Your Gun.” There’s also no business as demanding in its contradictions — so insistent on experience yet reverential of youth, so ravenous for fresh ideas yet allergic to nonconformity — that simultaneously inspire and grind down artists.
Bernadette Peters, who won her second Tony Award in 1999 for her lead role in “Annie Get Your Gun,” has transcended those contradictions with grit and good humor.
The dynamic New York native has racked up an arm’s-length list of awards and stage, recording, film and TV credits — including a key role in Amazon’s forthcoming Web video series “Mozart in the Jungle” — over the course of a five-decade career that began with stage and TV appearances when she was a child.
She further diversified her resume when she and Mary Tyler Moore co-founded Broadway Barks!, which inspired Peters, 66, to write two children’s books that benefit the animal adoption charity: 2008’s “Broadway Barks” and 2010’s “Stella is a Star.”
An avid music lover who cites Adele, Motown and especially Emmylou Harris as favorites, Peters favors Broadway composers like Stephen Sondheim (she’s had Broadway roles in “Into the Woods,” “Sunday in the Park with George” and a revival of “Gypsy”) and Rodgers & Hammerstein when selecting material for her own concerts — including a free show on Thursday, Aug. 21, at Burton Chace Park in Marina del Rey.
Much of your work has been theatrical, but you frequently act on TV and give concerts too. How often do you travel away from New York?
Oh, a lot. I was just in Vancouver; I did a guest shot on “Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce.” And I’m going to start this show on Amazon, “Mozart in the Jungle,” but that’s in New York. It’s about a symphony orchestra in New York, and [my character does] a lot of fundraising and the hiring and the firing. I think that’s going to be very interesting and kind of a powerful role. The season before I was on “Smash.” I get around.
You’ll be performing with a 10-piece orchestra in Marina del Rey. Are you more comfortable singing with orchestras than smaller bands?
Ten is new for me! I usually perform with a 28-piece orchestra. The 10-piece is something I started about two years ago. But I am going to do a trio for a couple of engagements; that’s new also. Great, great players. To me 10 pieces is not even that many.
How do you keep things creatively fresh and interesting for yourself?
I do a lot of music that I’m interested in. I get to choose when it’s my concert, so I do songs that I like, with lyrics that have depth and meaning, so I become engaged and the audience becomes engaged because of that.
You wrote a song for your children’s book “Broadway Barks.” Do you write or perform any other original material?
No, even that song – I think it’s lovely, it’s a lullaby, and it said what I wanted it to say. But I don’t consider myself really a composer. Those people I have great respect for; they’re great craftsmen. That song just came to me and I do love it. I’ll be performing that probably at the concert.
Any more children’s books planned?
Yes, I have a third coming out next winter, I think it’s called “Friends Forever.” It’s about my dog getting another dog. It’s about sibling rivalry and how you have to share things even when you don’t want to — “Wait, I wanted this dog and now it’s sleeping in my bed and eating all my food and getting all the attention” — and how do you come to terms with that. And the one dog is a dancing dog and the new dog is a singing dog.
What artistic avenues haven’t you tried yet that you’d like to pursue?
Probably act in some [nonmusical] plays eventually. I do love to sing, but it’s something that’s interesting to me and might be great to do.
What, if anything, is more rewarding about being a performing artist at this stage of your career?
Hmm. Well, I get the experience of doing it. I learn as I go [laughs] and I’ve learned a lot. Trusting, just trusting the whole process, really.
Confession time: When I was a kid, I knew I wanted to perform and I wrote you a letter asking for advice — and you wrote me back. Three pages, handwritten, brown ink on tan paper. You gave practical advice about the importance of self-discipline, self-esteem, staying healthy, working hard, and finding good teachers. Whether it was you or an assistant who wrote it, belated thanks for taking time to respond to some kid you’d never met.
Thank you for telling me that. I’m so glad you got it.
If you could somehow go back and talk to your younger self now about the life choices she was making and the road ahead, what advice would you offer her?
To not be afraid. [She pauses.] It’s interesting. I think my choices have been pretty good throughout, but … the important part of life is that you move through it and you learn. I think that’s the whole idea. We’re here to learn, and I would just say: Stay open to learning.
Bernadette Peters performs with a 10-piece orchestra at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 21, at Burton Chace Park, 13650 Mindanao Way, Marina del Rey. Free. (310) 305-9545; bernadettepeters.com