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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Bernadette Peters Takes
San Francisco by Storm

Also see Richard's recent review of The Crumple Zone


Bernadette Peters came roaring into the San Francisco Orpheum Theater to a near capacity audience on opening night. It was love at first site and the fans went wild as she came out onto the stage in a simmering silver-sequined gown that she told the audience she was wearing for the very first time. The diva is backed by 28 splendid musicians from our fair city led by Marvin Laird. She also has four local singers who appear with her on several numbers. She holds the audience in her hands for two and a half hours with a 20 minute intermission.

I first Ms. Petersas Josie Cohan in George M at the New York Palace. Over the years I have seen most of the Broadway musicals that she has appeared in including the recent revival of Annie Get Your Gun. She has also appeared here with the San Francisco Symphony. In her two prior concerts here, I felt that she maintained a cold distance between herself and the audience. I thought then that her show was all glitz and no feeling. My thoughts of her were that she was a cute little singer with a kewpie doll face and a nice voice with a nasal quality.

This time, it's a different Bernadette. She is more natural, more open with the audience and no glitz. It is a wonderful diva standing up there singing her heart out to appreciative fans. She is warm, affectionate, sassy, sentimental and, yes, very sexy. Her voice has matured and she is in top form. She effortlessly brings out the poignancy and laughter from all of the songs she sings. She has said in an interview "I don't sing a song the same way twice. It depends on how I feel that evening." Well she was feeling great on Tuesday night and she gave one of the great performances of her career.

Ms. Peters' concert is mostly songs that she has sung in her Broadway shows. It is a sparkling array of songs from the writings of Rodgers and Hart, Irving Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and of course Stephen Sondheim. She intersperses stories about these shows between the songs. Starting with a short version of "There's No Business Like Show Business," she goes immediately into the stories and songs. There is a constant change of pace from soft song to upbeat rhythms, and I was never bored.

Ms. Peters has a large helping of Sondheim in this concert. She goes from the playfully seductive "Sooner or Later" to the thoughtfully cautionary "Children Will Listen" and a fantastic version of "Not a Day Goes By." She also does a marvelous and heartfelt "Being Alive" that brings down the house. Ms. Peters' voice goes from a soft fragility to a full force belting on most of these songs. Outstanding is "Moving On" from Sunday in the Park with George. The diva uses the four local lads to great effect in the song "Raining in My Heart" from Dames at Sea. The boys come up on the stage during the second stanza dressed in London Fog raincoats and umbrellas and do a camp version of the number in dance and song. Later they appear with her in "Moonshine Lullaby" from Annie Get Your Gun. She also does "You Can't Get a Man with Gun" from the same show. She uses props in that number, including the Annie Oakley rifle, the hat and she even takes off her shoes. She comes into the audience twice, first to sing "There is Nothing Like a Dame" to a fan and later she gives out one of her Christmas ornaments to a lucky audience member.

Ms. Peters informed the audience that she would be singing two songs for the very first time. They are the lovely "Mr. Snow" from Carousel and "It Might as Well be Spring" from State Fair, both by Rodgers and Hammerstein. We also got an idea on how she will be as Rose when she sang "Some People" from Gypsy. That showstopper ends the first act. Other songs are "I'm Flying", "Time Heals Everything", "I Never Thought Like This", "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" and "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."

When she left the stage, there was thunderous applause and the audience would not let her go without encores. She obliged and sang "We'll Catch Up Some Other Time" from On the Town. As her final song she does a Judy Garland trick. She sits on the top steps and brings forth two ruby red slippers just like Dorothy wore in Wizard of Oz. I thought she was going to sing "Over the Rainbow" but she fooled us. She sings the lovely "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas". She asks the audience to sing with her and the four local lads come out in Santa Clause hats to sing also. A wonderful ending to a wonderful evening.




Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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