Entertainment » Music

Bernadette Peters Dazzles at Boston Pops Opener

by Robert Nesti
EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor
Friday May 10, 2019
Bernadette Peters appearing with the Boston Pops on Wednesday, May 9 at Boston's Symphony Hall.
Bernadette Peters appearing with the Boston Pops on Wednesday, May 9 at Boston's Symphony Hall.  (Source:Michael Blanchard)

To paraphrase a famous lyric, there is nothing like Bernadette Peters. As a Broadway superstar of a certain age, she looks amazing and has never sounded better as she did with the Boston Pops and conductor Keith Lockhart on Wednesday night for the opening night concert of the orchestra's 134th season.

It was with that famous song — "There is Nothing Like a Dame" — that Peters began her set with the orchestra, led by Keith Lockhart; to which she sang in her sultry contralto along with enough playful bumps-and-grinds that brought to mind "You Gotta Have a Gimmick" from "Gypsy," (a musical she has starred in twice in her life, first as a child in a national tour, then on Broadway in the 2005 revival).

Decked an iridescent, silver lilac dress that clung to every curve, Peters looks like she hasn't missed a spin class in years; and that unmistakable honey-soaked belt, which has served her well since she first appeared off-Broadway in late 1960s, showed little wear. Her voice, combined with her superb acting skills, made for a remarkable set. (The program is repeated tonight at 8 in Symphony Hall. for more information, visit the Boston Pops website.)


Keith Lockhart leads the Boston Pops on Wednesday, May 9.  (Source:Michael Blanchard)

Nowhere are those skills better seen and heard than with "In Buddy's Eyes," a deeply ironic song by Stephen Sondheim (from "Follies"), delivered with haunting poignancy. Peters is considered one of the best interpreters of Sondheim songs, which were well-represented with her set with the Pops. Never have the lyrics to "No One Is Alone," which Peters sings almost like a lullaby, seemed more pertinent; and her version of "Send in the Clowns" had a heartbreaking edge. And if you think that "Being Alive" has jumped the shark, listen to Peters' breathless version. You may never think of the song the same way again.

Peters touched upon her recent stint replacing Bette Midler in "Hello, Dolly!" on Broadway with a stirring "Before the Parade Passes By" and a hilarious "So Long, Dearie," that gave a taste of her what her performance must have been like. And offered something new — her take on Peggy Lee's iconic "Fever," which she sang while lying down on a makeshift bed on top of the piano. (Along with the Pops, she was accompanied by her music director/pianist Marvin Laird, bassist Kevin Axt, and drummer Cubby O'Brien, whose introduction brought a big laugh when it was revealed he was one of the original Mouseketeers.)

The concert's first half offered a smartly curated program that centered around the year 1969 in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission that brought American astronauts to the moon, most notably with "Luna," a short film by Susan Dangel and Dick Bartlett with photographs by Babak Tafreshi, that offered a breathtaking series of images of heavenly bodies seen from Earth to the accompaniment of "Daybreak" from Maurice Ravel's "Daphnis and Chloe," beautifully played by the orchestra.

Lockhart noted how contentious American life was in 1969, but also how it was a time of great musical innovation, represented here by selections from The Who, Joni Mitchell and David Bowie, the latter represented by an evocative cover of "Space Oddity," which was released just weeks before the Apollo 11 mission.

In honor of that mission, the Orchestra premiered "From Earth to Moon and Beyond," a new work commissioned by the Pops by composer James Beckel accompanied by a film by Brannon Falls and narration. On opening night, the narrator was Astronaut Sunita L. Williams who gave an assured reading of the text in a piece that brought to mind Aaron Copland's "A Lincoln Portrait" in its mixture of text and highly dramatic music, which very much in the style of John Williams. Add to that Falls' film, which offers a 12-minute overview of America's space program, and it was difficult not to be stirred, most notably when President John F. Kennedy is viewed proposing to send a man to the moon before the end of the 1960s. Where is that vision today?

Bernadette Peters and the Boston Pops repeat Wednesday's Opening Night program on Thursday, May 8, 8pm, at Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, MA. For more information, visit the Boston Pops website.


Robert Nesti can be reached at rnesti@edgemedianetwork.com.


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