Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Barbie Award for Acting a Song: Miss Bernadette Peters

Need I gush anymore about my idol Bernadette Peters? Yes, I think I must. I have always been a fan of Miss Peters' work, but it was not until I began to study classical vocal technique and my teacher pointed me toward Sunday in the Park with George as an example of acting a song that I began to truly respect her as an artist. Her portrayal of Dot/Marie in that show was unparalleled, and she was robbed of the Tony that year in my opinion. Those who have heard her in concert or on solo recordings know that she has a stellar voice, but what I admire about her the most is her ability to sacrifice vocal perfection for the sake of acting and character accuracy.
I had the pleasure of seeing her for the first time on Broadway this week in A Little Night Music (my formal review will come later) and from the moment she first stepped onto the Walter Kerr stage in the opening waltz, I felt tears stream down my face. Now maybe this was because I was a little starstruck and a bit enamored, but goodness does this lady have the ability to grip an audience. Now being a singer myself, I've idolized Bernadette for her vocal abilities, but interestingly enough,  I never once thought of her as a "singer" in this performance, but rather as an "actress." She only sings 1 and a 1/2 songs in the show, but even in those moments, the lyrics are about her character, Desiree Armfeldt, and not about notes or phrases. Her range is incredible, from sarcastic and funny, to terribly heartbreaking. Her Send In the Clowns is simply the best I have ever heard and not because of her voice, but because of her interpretation of Stephen Sondheim's lyrics. The pain felt by her character was so raw and on the surface and was evident in the raspy, shaky quality of her voice. Vocally pristine? No. True to the character? Absolutely. I have always loved the song for its lyrical and musical qualities, but I never truly understood the weight of it until I heard it from the mouth of this indelible songstress. I have never in my life cried so many real tears at a performance. This lovely evening of theatre is one that I will have to force myself not to see again, because as much as I would love to experience it again, I never want anything to cloud the memory of my first time. Thank you Bernadette Peters for restoring my faith and respect for the American musical theatre.

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