Archive | February, 2015

Bernadette @ the Symphony

15 Feb

bernadette

By STEPHANIE MIDDLETON CANNON 

What a treat it is to have such an extraordinary talent as Bernadette Peters come to Houston to dazzle us with her amazing voice and keen comedic nuances.

The Jones Hall seats were filled.  The stage lights were bright purple shining up the walls and bright blue shining down on the orchestra.  The warm up began and everyone was ready in their seats and anticipating the start of the show.  Marvin Laird, the conductor, came on stage, the music began with a powerful impact, and the stage lights turned to bright orange.  They played several bars of music and then, WOW, Bernadette Peters took the stage wearing a long shimmering lilac sequined gown, her long tight ringlet hair bouncing to and fro.  “Let Me Entertain You” from Gypsy was the opening number, a very apropos start to the show.

A program was not printed for this concert, so the audience had no idea what number was coming next or how many would be performed.  The kaleidoscope of stage lights throughout the concert was beautiful and gave you a glimmer of being on Broadway.  Peters spellbound the audience by singing many favorites:  “No One Is Alone” and “Children Will Listen” from Into the Woods, “You’re a Queer One, Julie Jordan” from Carousel, “In Buddy’s Eyes” and “Losing My Mind” from Follies, “There’s Nothing Like a Dame” from South Pacific, “Johanna” from Sweeney Todd, “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” and “Being Alive” from Company, “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music, “When You Wish Upon a Star” from the movie Pinocchio, “Fever” written by Eddie Cooley and John Davenport (Otis Blackwell), as well as “My Funny Valentine” in honor of Valentine’s Day.  She also gave an encore to cap off the night, beautifully singing a short lullaby that she wrote called, “Kramer’s Song.”

Bernadette Peters charmed the audience with her humor, storytelling, and comedic subtleties within some of the numbers she performed.  For instance, when she performed “There’s Nothing Like a Dame,” Peters walked down the House Left stairs right up to a gentlemen in the audience, sang right to him, and played with him a bit, making a few jokes.  He was a great sport, enjoying the attention.  Peters also told a little joke to the audience at late friend Eli Wallach’s expense.  When he was in his 90s, his family took him to celebrate his birthday at a hotel resort.  He was in his room, when his family thought it would be a good idea to hire a call girl and send her up to surprise him.  Eli answered the door and the call girl said, “I’m here to give you super sex.”  To which Eli replied, “In that case, I’ll take the soup.”

Peters has been one of the most sought-after stars in musical theatre for decades.  She began her performing career at the ripe old age of 3 with appearances in a handful of shows, her theatrical debut in This is Goggle (1958), and her Broadway debut in Johnny No-Trump (1967).  She has received numerous accolades throughout her illustrious career.  Tony Awards, Drama Desk Awards, Outer Critics Circle Awards, Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe Award to a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, just to name a few.  Peters also boasts a notable list of television credits and has appeared in 17 films.

Bernadette Peters devotes herself to numerous charitable events and causes.  Her third Tony Award, The Isabelle Stevenson Award, acknowledges an individual from the theatre community who has made a substantial contribution of volunteerism on behalf of one or more charitable, humanitarian, or social service organizations.  Peters co-founded Broadway Barks! with good friend Mary Tyler Moore.  This organization promotes the adoption of shelter animals.

You can also add author/songwriter to Bernadette Peters’ roster of achievements.  Her debut children’s book, “Broadway Barks” is a New York Times Bestseller and also includes a CD of an original song, written and sung by Peters.  Her second children’s book, “Stella is a Star” also features another of her original songs with all of the proceeds from her book sales going to various charities such as, Broadway Barks!.

Thanks to the sponsorship of United Airlines, partners Mr. and Mrs. U. J. LeGrange along with Judy and Rodney Margolis, and the support of Danielle and Josh Batchelor, Bank of Texas, and Allen and Almira Gelwich – Lockton Companies for making the Bernadette Peters Concert possible.  If you would like to experience the delight of the many concerts and performances the Houston Symphony has to offer, please visit http://www.houstonsymphony.org/ for more information, the schedule, and ticket prices, or call the Houston Symphony at 713-224-4240.

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Brochu’s ‘Character Man’

1 Feb

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By JOHN DeMERS

A “character man,” as described by Broadway veteran Jim Brochu, is an actor who probably won’t play the lead in any show but plays the second- or third-fiddle in virtually every show, usually with quirky and delightful touches that make the audience remember everything except his name. Brochu should know. Like the stage heroes in the engaging one-man show he’s currently performing at Stages, he has been a “character man” for decades.

This under-90-minute, no-intermission encounter is movingly autobiographical, especially in those sections dealing with his childhood in Brooklyn, his apparently alcoholic but beloved father who always had a bit of frustrated actor in him, and his earliest work (selling orange drinks) in a theater in that magic land called Broadway. Yet Character Man is also a tribute, to the actors who either inspired Brochu or (like David Burns) specifically helped him at each point in his career. Happily, a handful of these did manage to become household names, like Zero Mostel, Jack Albertson and Jack Klugman (usually thanks to movies and TV, more than theater,) or at least household faces, like Jack Gilford. Despite a long and honored career, Gilford’s face is most familiar from a series of TV commercials for Cracker Jacks.

The show is simple enough: Brochu speaking from the heart directly to his audience, an activity made even more natural by the fact he wrote the show. What keeps things moving, in addition to near-constant laughs, are songs sung to spirited piano accompaniment by Adam Stout – loosely strung together from the shows of John Kander and Fred Ebb, Meredith Willson, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, Stephen Sondheim and even a final, touching flourish of Stephen Schwartz. In some cases, Brochu makes clever effort to fit these songs into his storyline, but he is also a persuasive and endearing enough cabaret performer that we welcome each new song and sigh with delight the moment we recognize the strains of something familiar.

One of the most impressive aspects of Brochu’s performance in Character Man is how he easily channels the long-dead men he’s talking about. He seldom promises (or delivers) a fully developed impression or impersonation, but with each guy Brochu’s voice and physical presence change before our eyes. This is particularly noteworthy with Bert Lahr (yes, he of Cowardly Lion fame), since in Brochu’s anecdote he utters only one word. But it’s one word of totally Bert Lahr.

The one (and oh-so-welcome) exception to the no-impression rule is Zero Mostel. Since Brochu has created a cottage industry with his one-man show called Zero Hour about the star of The Producers on film plus onstage classics like A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (with Jack Gilford, no less) and Fiddler on the Roof, he nails Mostel every time the guy’s name is even mentioned. It’s uncanny, until you realize – well, of course he can. Brochu’s near-complete rendition of “If I Were a Rich Man” places this marvelous performer before our eyes once again. It, like the show that surrounds it, is a grace note worthy of a true character man.