Bernadette Peters and R.I. Philharmonic Raise the Roof

By: Mar. 17, 2008
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March 14, 2008 - Grand Opening Night Gala at The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts in Worcester featured a catered Black Tie Soirée and a concert worthy of a Broadway stage

Bernadette Peters and the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra made beautiful music to top off the Grand Opening Night Gala of the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts in Worcester on Friday night. Outside there were searchlights casting their beams high into the Central Massachusetts sky, life-size ice sculptures of the Oscar statue, and greeters costumed as flappers, Dapper Dans, and Keystone cops reminiscent of the Gatsby era. The red carpet featured dignitaries and arts patrons being interviewed by the media, while the lobby was filled with formally clad throngs happily munching on hors d'oeuvres and toasting this magnificent achievement with champagne.

Once inside the 2300-seat auditorium, several principals made welcoming remarks, shared the history of the restoration project, and thanked key donors. At 8:55 p.m., the audience buzzed in anticipation with the sound of the orchestra tuning up behind the crimson and gold curtain. After an overture of Ms. Peters' familiar songs conducted by her Musical Director Marvin Laird, the performer took the stage dressed in a shimmering gold, sequined gown with a tantalizing slit up the front, her trademark curly auburn locks framing her youthful face. Forecasting her mission for the evening, she opened with "Let Me Entertain You" from Gypsy, the show for which she received her seventh Tony nomination in 2003 for her portrayal of Momma Rose.

Ms. Peters quickly connected with the hometown crowd when she complimented areas of Worcester (or, as she pronounced it, "Wooster"), specifically the whitewashed deco Union Station, and made a brief foray into the audience during her torchy rendition of "There is Nothing Like a Dame" from South Pacific, followed by her telling of a not-so-dirty dirty joke. It was a great segue into her interpretation of "Fever" which she said she was performing for the first time. She languidly draped herself atop the baby grand piano (à la Michelle Pfeiffer in "The Fabulous Baker Boys") and delivered the steamy tune in a voice that was mellow, but hinting at something more. She proceeded to cut the heat with humorous posturing and gestures in sync with every drumbeat, and somehow it all worked.

"An Unexpected Song" from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Song and Dance shed light on why Ms. Peters won her first Tony award in 1986 as Best Actress in that musical. She followed it with two Rodgers and Hammerstein compositions, a lighthearted "When I Marry Mr. Snow" (Carousel) and a dramatic "Some Enchanted Evening" (South Pacific) which was enhanced by her exquisite breath control. She imbued the American folk song "Shenandoah" with a haunting quality as she was accompanied by a solo piano. She then took a moment to introduce her pianist/Musical Director Laird and her touring drummer, one of the original Mouseketeers, Cubby O'Brien. He received a warm reception from the crowd that included many Baby Boomers and it set up a two-song Disney medley.

As a renowned interpreter of Stephen Sondheim's music, Ms. Peters dedicated the rest of the concert to "one of my favorite composers in the world." The orchestra played the familiar strains of the overture to Sweeney Todd against a devilishly red-lit backdrop before going into "Johanna." After singing a few lines, Ms. Peters stopped the music because she "goofed up" the lyrics and wanted to start over. She got it right with an ethereal tone the second time. "Not a Day Goes By" (Merrily We Roll Along) was a showcase for her acting chops as all the pain and frustration of someone unable to let go of a love washed over us. In a welcome change of pace, she gave us a bubbly "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" (Company) and sidestepped jauntily across the stage. Slowing things down again, she sang "With So Little to Be Sure Of" (Anyone Can Whistle) and two of her signature songs, "Children Will Listen" (Into the Woods) and "Move On" (Sunday In the Park With George).

It should be noted that Ms. Peters seemed to have a cold on this night, but she is such a consummate professional that her performance was scarcely affected. She may have held back a little, but let loose with all of her remaining energy in her final number, the powerful and moving "Being Alive" from Sondheim's Company. After tumultuous applause, Ms. Peters returned for an encore and sang her own composition "Kramer's Song." Written to accompany a children's book she penned to raise money for her Broadway Barks charity, it was a sweet, lyrical lullaby that highlighted the range of the singer's talent.

This was an important and historic night for the city of Worcester and they did it up right by presenting the Broadway diva Bernadette Peters and backing her with the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra. They set the bar high, but it bodes well for the future of theatre and the arts in the region. If they could achieve this altitude in their first show, then follow the beam of the searchlights to see how high they can fly. The sky's the limit.




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