InDepth InterView Exclusive: Bernadette Peters Talks COMING UP ROSES, SMASH Season Two, Sondheim & More
Today BroadwayWorld is particularly proud to present an exceptionally exciting exclusive byway of this career-spanning chat with two-time Tony Award-winning Broadway legend Bernadette Peters. In this all-encompassing conversation we discuss many aspects of her storied career, with a special focus on her upcoming feature film COMING UP ROSES, which opens this Friday in NYC - a gritty and uncompromising independent film offering Peters a searing central role as a struggling actress with a teenage daughter (Rachel Brosnahan) and following their shared experiences cohabitating in 1980s era New York City. In what very well could be her finest dramatic performance of the new millennium, Peters does it all in COMING UP ROSES; she even gets to sing in it - the soundtrack features a familiar FIDDLER ON THE ROOF tune, a Kander & Ebb gem and even a stirring original song. Additionally, Miss Peters sheds some light on her role in Season 2 of NBC's hit musical drama series SMASH. Over the course of the discussion we also look back at her exceptional career on stages and screens large and small, touching upon her theatre work with Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber and what roles of theirs she would consider in the future, as well as her experiences sharing the small screen with stars like Megan Hilty, Anjelica Huston and Carol Burnett and acting up on the big screen for Woody Allen in ALICE. Plus, Bernadette gives us a tantalizing glimpse of what we can expect from her role in an upcoming animated feature film co-starring SMASH's Hilty and GLEE's Lea Michele, the highly anticipated DOROTHY OF OZ, and shares her satisfaction with her original, Bryan Adams-penned musical material for the forthcoming film. As if all of that were not enough, she also shares candid memories of working with Marvin Hamlisch, Michael Bennett, Whitney Houston and more. Yes, indeed, everything is definitely coming up roses today on BroadwayWorld and it's all thanks to the one and only Bernadette!
COMING UP ROSES opens this Friday, November 9, in New York City at the AMC Village 7 at 66 3rd Avenue. More information is available at the official site here.
SMASH returns on NBC this February. More information on Bernadette Peters - including upcoming concert engagements - is available at her official site here.
This Time For Me
PC: COMING UP ROSES continues the characterlogical theme you began earlier this century with your turn as Rose in GYPSY onstage and then as Ivy's domineering showbiz mom on SMASH on TV. How did you become involved with this film project?
BP: Well, they needed somebody to do this role and they thought I would be good for it so they sent me the script and I read it. When I first read it, I was like, "Wow! This is really wonderful!"
PC: What drew you to the role specifically?
BP: It was loosely based on the director's own life - she was the fifteen-year-old in the movie whose mother had emotional issues; they didn't really name them in those days, though. So, basically, the daughter - the fifteen-year-old - took care of the mother. They love each other desperately and the mother does triumph, ultimately, though. [Pause.] It's very touching - all of the relationships in that movie I find very touching and very interesting. It's a good story.
PC: It's a period piece, as well, is it not?
BP: Yes, it is a period piece. It's set in the 1980s.
PC: A little PINK CADILLAC fashion flashback, perhaps?
BP: [Laughs.] Right! Right. Yeah.
PC: How did you meet Lisa Albright, the director?
BP: Well, the casting director called me up and I met with Lisa and I liked her a lot and we got along great. So, at that meeting, she told me how it was going to be shot and I loved the script and I loved her ideas about it, so I said, "Why not? Let's take a chance."
PC: Were you in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC at this point in time, then?
BP: Not yet. I did that right after I filmed this.
PC: It was a very indie affair then, yes?
BP: Oh, yes - very.
PC: Short shoot, one camera man, minimum takes…
BP: Exactly. Exactly.
PC: Tell me about your co-star in the film.
BP: Oh, now, let me tell you: Rachel Brosnahan is just wonderful in this - just wonderful.
PC: I've heard you two have some knockout scenes together.
BP: Yeah, she was only about nineteen when we did this - she plays fifteen in it - and I can already tell she is going to have a lovely, lovely career, I think. She's a really lovely actress - and beautiful! But, yeah, you're right - it was pretty rough! At one point I actually had to really hit her, which was interesting for me to have to do...
PC: Something bad happens in the bathroom, yes?
BP: Oh, no - well, yes; but in that scene I am just completely falling apart! [Laughs.] In another scene we have an actual confrontation and I actually had to hit her a little bit.
PC: So is there a bit of a Helen Lawson-esque diva on the decline scenario in the film?
BP: You know, it's always up and down - ups and downs; like any career!
PC: There are some songs in the film, as well.
BP: Yes. The song I sing at the end of the trailer and near the end of the film is "[I've Got The] Sun In The Morning" [from ANNIE GET YOUR GUN] and I also sing an original song over the closing credits called "Someone To Care For", which is a really beautiful, beautiful song.
PC: Did you have any influence on the inclusion of an ANNIE GET YOUR GUN tune given your Tony-winning performance in the title role?
BP: [Laughs.] No, no - Lisa picked the songs that she wanted to hear and we did them. That's the song she wanted to hear right before the end of the movie, basically, and I am not going to tell you what happens because that would ruin it, but it is all justified in the film. [Pause.] But, no, I don't think she intentionally chose it because of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, I think she picked it just because of what the song says - you know, [Sings.] "Got no diamond / Got no pearl / Still think I'm a lucky girl / I've got the sun in the morning / And the moon at night." That's all she has, basically, this woman.
PC: You were so sensational in that role, as well - Tom Wopat spoke so glowingly of you when he did this column.
BP: Ugh - another talented guy, huh? Tom's so great. That show was a lot of fun to do.
PC: You also take on a Kander & Ebb song in COMING UP ROSES - "Sing Happy" from FLORA THE RED MENACE.
BP: That's right - that's in the beginning of the movie. You see, my character in COMING UP ROSES was a musical comedy performer also, just like me, but she stops because she gets terrible stage fright - and she actually stops while she is singing that song.
PC: You've never done a Kander & Ebb role onstage, is that correct?
BP: Hmm. I think that you are right.
PC: KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN would be a great part for you someday.
BP: I've never seen that show, actually, so I don't know, but I do like their stuff. I did a workshop of a show that they wrote, though, so I have gotten that far with them, at least! [Laughs.]
PC: What show was that? THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH?
BP: Yes. That's what it was - ALL ABOUT US, based on THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH by Thornton Wilder. I had a lot of fun doing that, actually.
PC: Bock & Harnick is another great Broadway team you have rarely sung, but in COMING UP ROSES you gamefully take on "Sunrise, Sunset" - and how!
BP: Yes, that's true - Lisa wrote that in there from the beginning and she just knew what songs she wanted me to do. That's what we did with that.
PC: Are there any GYPSY songs in the actual film?
BP: Actually, no, there isn't! It's just referred to in the title.
PC: And a little Rose in the character you play, perhaps.
BP: Just a little bit, Pat! A little bit. [Laughs.]
PC: So, the film premieres in New York this week and hopefully there will be more screenings after that, yes?
BP: Definitely. We premiere November 9 in New York and we'll be playing two weeks there, downtown, at the AMC Village 7, and then we'll see where it goes from there - hopefully there won't be another nor'easter!
PC: You can say that again! Since you are a famous New Yorker, I was curious: were you affected at all by Hurricane Sandy?
BP: Oh, it was so terrible, wasn't it? I am so lucky.
PC: The recent SONDHEIM! Celebration is one of the greatest concerts ever filmed. Sondheim himself spoke so favorably of you and Mandy performing "Move On" when he did this column. Was that a night you will never forget?
BP: Yes. Oh, yes. That was such a great night - oh, my God!
PC: What was the atmosphere like backstage with you and the other legendary ladies in red - any diva antics?
BP: Oh, no! No. None. Actually, we were all very united in what we were doing, you know?
PC: Joining together for The Common cause.
BP: Yeah. Plus, to be honest, we were all just busy talking about each other's dresses! [Laughs.]
PC: Of course, the cause closest to your heart is your animal charity patronage - is it true your prized pooch Stella has a brother?
BP: Oh, yes - Charley. Charley loves talking to Stella - a lot. [Laughs.]
PC: Is that Charley named after the MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG character?
BP: Oh, no! That's so funny, though. [Laughs.]
PC: Since you sing "Not A Day Goes By" definitively, I had to ask...
BP: I do love that other tune from that, though, [Sings.] "Charley, why can't it be like it was? / I liked it the way that it was…"
PC: Heaven! Have you considered adding that to your extensive Sondheim concert repertoire?
BP: Well, I haven't yet, but I think I probably will do it at some point, eventually. It's a beautiful song.
PC: I'd personally love to hear you do some of the SINGING OUT LOUD material someday.
BP: Hmm. I am not familiar with that at all, so now I'll have to look into it.
PC: Since you have done so many masterful performances of many of Sondheim's great roles - Rose in GYPSY, Dot in SUNDAY, The Witch in INTO THE WOODS, Sally in FOLLIES - is Mrs. Lovett in SWEENEY TODD the next you'd like to take on?
BP: Well, you see, it wasn't done that long ago, you know?
PC: Of course - with Patti LuPone and Michael Cerveris.
BP: Right. So, I haven't really thought about it. But, you're right - it is a really wonderful role. It really is.
PC: Sondheim recently spoke so favorably to me of that new West End Jonathan Kent production set in the 1930s. Perhaps you could team with Michael Ball if it comes over?
BP: Oh, I know! I've heard it's just fabulous, but I didn't get over there to see it. I'd love to have seen Imelda Staunton in it.
PC: There have been countless individuals who have done this column that cited you as a foremost influences on their work, with your SMASH co-star Megan Hilty being a prime example.
BP: Oh, I love working with her! You know, I just did a SMASH and I am going to be doing another one soon.
PC: What can you tell me about the new Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman song you will be singing on SMASH Season 2?
BP: It's a lovely, beautiful new song. It's just beautiful - it really is.
PC: Can you give us a preview?
BP: The one I sing, it's about how, if she had it all to do over again, that she would hang the moon from her daughter - it's very, very touching.
PC: The scenes with you and Megan last season were absolute dramatic highlights - the big blow-out between you two was tremendous. Do you enjoy going to the darker side as Leigh and developing that complex dynamic between you two?
PC: [Laughs.] Yeah, I do - Megan and I both like exploring, I think. I am always trying to fulfill whatever the specific needs and wants of the character are and I think what they gave us to play was very interesting; their relationship is really interesting. I find it's very interesting and it can be very revealing about yourself to go there - to go to those places - and it also can show you more of the character if you let it. [Pause.] I just think that I find it all very revealing - revealing; that's the right word - to act that.
PC: It's very true to the real emotion behind those scenes when you play it that way.
BP: Yes. Yes. Very.
PC: Many of your past films are on TV all the time. Do you ever watch them if you catch any? PINK CADDILAC, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN and SLAVES OF NEW YORK are on quite often, you know.
BP: Oh, no - I never watch them! [Big Laugh.] I don't like to watch myself. I never have.
PC: Woody Allen is known for giving very little direction. What direction do you remember him giving you working on ALICE, if any?
BP: Oh, you know, he just said, "Look, the writing isn't that great - just say something. Anything," and I said, "Anything?!" and he said, "Say what you want! Go ahead. Just be free - say what you want!" [Laughs.] And I did!
PC: Talk about free reign!
BP: I know, right?! But, yeah, Woody was just terrific.
PC: His new film is partially set in New York, apparently. Would you like to re-team with him someday on another project?
BP: Oh, sure - I just think he's amazing. I would love to.
PC: You also have an animated film coming up soon, as well - DOROTHY OF OZ.
BP: That right. That's an animated film that I recorded for in a studio - there's music in it for me, too; they wrote me a song for it. Bryan Adams wrote the songs and they are really fantastic - you know, he's such a talented and good-looking guy. And, he wrote all the songs for this - and it's a really wonderful song he wrote for me, too. I think they are still trying to figure out a place for it in the finished film, though - it should take place when they come back to Kansas, I think. I really am looking forward to singing the song in concert once the film comes out, as well - I think that would be really fun to do. It's a really good song.
PC: What a great cast in DOROTHY OF OZ - Lea Michele, Megan Hilty…
BP: I know! Megan and I together again - and Marty Short, too!
PC: Your GOODBYE GIRL co-star!
BP: Oh, yeah - I just love working Marty. He's the best. You know, I at least had a lot of fun on that one... [Laughs.]
PC: Given his recent passing, I'd like to know what your memories are of working with Marvin Hamlisch on that show?
BP: Oh, Marvin - he was just a very caring person, you know? Very, very caring. I'll tell you a story: we were in Chicago with THE GOODBYE GIRL and my father had a heart attack and Marvin called me right up and got this famous doctor - like, the head of the heart division of some famous hospital; Dr. Rosen-something, I think - and he got him on the phone with me and we talked about my father's situation and he made sure I was getting the proper treatment and the right medication and everything. Marvin was always like that. And, when I went to the memorial, I heard all these other people talk about him like that - he was always like that; he was always there just to help if you needed him. It's a big loss.
PC: You have some big symphony concerts coming up in the next few months, correct?
BP: Yes. First, I will be doing a concert is Scottsdale, Arizona on December 1 - I've been out there before and it's just lovely there - and I have a date in Fort Worth, Texas in January after that that I am looking forward to, as well.
PC: What is the set-list you are performing these days?
BP: Well, it's basically my main aim to entertain, you know - whether in a dramatic way or a funny way or whatever - so that's the main thing I am concerned with doing in my concerts these days. So, of course, I sing Sondheim and I sing some Rodgers & Hammerstein. I usually do Peggy Lee's "Fever" and I sing "When You Wish Upon A Star" since people seem to like when I do those, too.
PC: And your own "Kramer's Song" at the end, of course.
BP: Of course. Right.
PC: Have you been tinkering with any new self-penned songs recently?
BP: Oh, no - you know, I don't really think of myself as a songwriter. I'm not a craftsman. With the song for Kramer, it just kind came through me - it flowed through me - and I wrote the second one for Stella in the same way. So, I wrote one for both books and I guess if I do a third book I might write another, but I don't really consider myself a songwriter. [Laughs.]
PC: They are both fabulous songs, in any event.
BP: Thank you. I have to say that I keep finding myself saying, you know, "Hmm. Maybe I should change that lyric," or, "Hmm. I should fix that part."
PC: After the CINDERELLA film and the great Rodgers & Hammerstein album, would you consider taking on the Stepmother role in the brand new Broadway iteration of the show?
BP: Well, I never say never, but I think I've done it. I think it could be something interesting onstage, though. We'll have to see.
PC: Did you have any interaction with Whitney Houston the set of that film?
BP: Whitney I met on the set at one point - she was leaving when I was arriving on set or something like that and she was very sweet. [Pause. Sighs.] How sad what happened to her. It's tragic.
PC: Have you worked with others in your career who seemed to be teetering on The Edge like that?
BP: I have - but, thankfully, not many.
PC: Did you happen to ever cross paths with Michael Bennett in your career?
BP: Actually, yes, I did. Let me try to remember... [Pause.] We were doing Kraft Music Hall - I think that's what they were called - and we used to do them out in Brooklyn, but we rehearsed up on the East Side. So, one day, we were rehearsing and Michael Bennett was in another room and they needed someone to stage something for us, so he came over and staged the number for me. It was for a television show.
PC: When was this? The late 1960s, early 1970s?
BP: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
PC: Do you remember the song?
BP: Unfortunately, I really, really don't! [Laughs.] But, he was just so wonderful - I remember that.
PC: Perhaps it is even on YouTube! You have some fabulous TV performances from that era that live on there - your "All That Jazz" from THE Carol Burnett SHOW is unreal.
BP: Oh, thank you! You've seen that?! How funny. That's out there, then? Oh, God. [Pause.] Yeah, so I actually did do a little Kander & Ebb from time to time, you know, Pat! [Laughs.]
PC: Indeed. What do you think of the new wave of movie theater broadcasts of theatrical endeavors such as PHANTOM 25, COMPANY and MEMPHIS?
BP: Oh, I know that they have been doing it for opera for quite a while and I know it's been successful. You know, I find it kind of bizarre in a way - I mean, it's live theater, but, then, you are taking it and filming it, even though it wasn't really written for that. It's sort of strange. So, I don't know how I feel about it, really - I don't know. [Pause.] I think that, certainly, it's good for bringing theatre to more people - it's certainly not unlike what we did with filming SUNDAY IN THE PARK and INTO THE WOODS for PBS; so many more people got to see those shows that way, so maybe it is a good thing. But, you really have to know what you are doing with those camera angles and everything!
PC: You really do. SMASH and GLEE and the performance-based entertainment hits show solid evidence there is an audience for musicals out there. Would you agree?
BP: Oh, yeah. I think people are definitely thirsty for music in their entertainment which I think is really, really great.
PC: The kids coming up have an appreciation for the performing arts.
BP: They do and it's great to see that.
PC: Given your Tony-winning success in SONG & DANCE, would you be open to a role in another Andrew Lloyd Webber musical someday - perhaps even in his PROFUMO AFFAIR coming up?
BP: Oh, sure! You know, if a role is good, a role is good - that's all that really matters to me.
PC: You have quite a busy year-end and early 2013, Bernadette: COMING UP ROSES, DOROTHY OF OZ, concert dates, SMASH Season Two…
BP: Well, when you list it all out like that, Pat... [Laughs.]
PC: And the film of ANNIE has just been released on Blu-ray, as well.
BP: Oh, it has? I didn't know that. That's fabulous.
PC: Have you and Anjelica Huston spoken at all about her famous father and your participation with him on that film onset of SMASH?
BP: Well, we've spoken about a lot of things, but we haven't spoken about that yet. She is just wonderful and I love being onset with her, though - I can tell you that. It's really just such a great cast over there, you know? I am so lucky to be a part of that team. I love working with them all.
PC: Will you be sharing any scenes with new cast member Jennifer Hudson, as far as you now know?
BP: No, I don't think so... but I can't tell you why! I'm sorry. [Laughs.]
PC: Does Leigh play a part in DANGEROUS LIASONS: THE MUSICAL?
BP: No, no - I'm not in LIASONS, either! [Laughs.]
PC: There has been scarcely little released about the new season of the show so far, so the anticipation will only be building until February.
BP: I know! I know. I am sworn to secrecy about everything SMASH, though! I honestly can't even tell you anything more about it than I already have! [Laughs.]
PC: This was surely more than enough - and marvelous. Thank you so very much for this today, Bernadette.
BP: And thank you so much, Pat. This was lovely. Bye bye.