Arts Desk

Wait, Bernadette Peters Is Gonna Be In Follies? OMG, For Reals?!?

Dear Kennedy Center publicists: Do I need to take you out to lunch more? (Erm, I mean, do I need to take you out to lunch, ever?) Because when I get your press release at the exact same moment The Washington Post publishes the story you have seemingly fed it, it makes me feel like I'm not sucking up enough.

But back to the news. On the one hand: Wooooooooo! A singer indelibly identified with Sondheim — viz. Sunday in the Park, Into the Woods — gets a crack at one of his masterworks. (For the longer version of this "Woooo," see Peter Marks' take, with which I have no actual beef.)  And Bernadette Peters isn't just joining Follies; she'll be playing Sally, the tormented sweetheart at the center of the show.

Peters-by-Firooz-ZahediAlso on the first hand: A $6 million budget? Sweet. Follies works best, aficionados argue, when there's money for spectacle. (Caveat: A cast of 41 and a 28-piece orchestra are going to be expensive. And if that second big-name actress the Post hints at is big-name enough to command serious money — come ye now to the comments, and speculate with me about who might be a sufficiently fiery Phyllis — the sets-and-costumes budget may be what gets squeezed.)

On the other hand: Peters certainly has the chops, musical and emotional, to sell Sally's two signature songs — she's been slaying audiences at the Broadway revival of A Little Night Music with a devastating take on one of Sondheim's most poignant numbers. But not everyone will agree with that Post story's assessment, courtesy of the man with the most to gain from making it, that she's a "superstar."

Heresy, I know. (And I cower, anticipating the rain of stones.) But as one of my savvier theater-watching friends noted just now, Night Music has been making roughly $350,000 less each week since Peters stepped in for the departing Catherine Zeta-Jones, who'd pretty consistently kept sales at 95 percent of capacity and higher, with ticket prices averaging $115. With Peters (and Elaine Stritch, who replaced Angela Lansbury), the show is currently managing capacity numbers in the mid-80-percents — and that's at an average price of $81, which suggests pretty steep discounts at the TKTS booth.

Another theater writer I know suggests that Peters, at 62, may be a touch mature to play Sally, described in the stage directions as "blonde, petite, sweet-faced and, at forty-nine, still remarkably like the girl she was thirty years ago." Dorothy Collins would've been 45ish in the show's original production; Light in the Piazza mom Victoria Clark, who's 50, played Sally in the recent Encores staging.

To this concern I say "Piffle." Peters is perennially kewpie — just look at this Sara Krulwich shot from that Times review — and the dark arts of a Broadway hair and makeup team is not to be dismissed lightly. Certainly not in a house as big as the Eisenhower.

Bottom line: I for one don't give a rat's ass whether Peters can sell tickets or not. And I'm not even sure I care whether she comes off as age-appropriate. That voice, saucy and haunting and gorgeous and always on the edge of shorting itself out, is enough to make me think she'll be a fascinating fit for the part of a woman who sings raptly, romantically about losing her mind for love. God knows I've nearly lost my own often enough, listening to her.

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  • Mercutio

    The safe money is on Glen Close. As for Bernadette being too old, please. She does not look her age at 62.

  • Mercutio

    Of course, there is always Anne Hathaway -- who proved she could sing in the Park. Why am I having this discussion with myself?

  • Trey Graham

    Wow, that's a swing, from Close to Hathaway. (The latter of whom is waaaaay too young.) I'm currently noodling on this character description of Phyllis, from a fansite: "Ben's 50-year old society wife, smart, tart, vicious and sleek."

  • Trey Graham

    Oh, and Mondello points out that a better argument that Peters can play young is the photo of her with her dog that ran with the NYT feature a couple of weeks back. She may be 62, but she looks to be roughly 26.

  • Mercutio

    Saw Peters in A Little Night Music - she doesn't look 26 (at least not from the 7th row). But, she can play 40 EASILY. I want Stritchy for "I'm Still Here." Deliver her please. Now. As for Phyllis, who knows, maybe they want to cast Zeta herself. Makeup can do wonders.

  • Brian Martin

    Kim Cattrall. It's already all over the internet.

  • BenStone

    Christine Baranski played Mrs. Lovett at the Kennedy Center, but, as Phyllis, she may not be a big enough star to take the show to Broadway. Ashley Judd ala Delovely? Brian Stokes Mitchell and Greg Jbara would be great as Ben and Buddy. Patti LuPone is the best Carlotta out there, but it may not be a big enough part for her.

  • Brian Martin
  • Trey Graham

    No disrespect, but "all over the internet" seems to be a bunch of pages that have picked up that one report from BroadwayWorld. Which may prove right about Cattrall, even if it now seems to be hedging its own earlier bet on Dossett.

    If it does pan out, though, it's an interesting choice. She got decent notices in Private Lives, I guess. But has she got much of a song-and-dance background? Because The Story of Lucy and Jessie is nothing to trifle with.

  • Justin Randolph

    "But not everyone will agree with that Post story’s assessment, courtesy of the man with the most to gain from making it, that she’s a “superstar.” This statement is one of the biggest problems with theatre, along with HUGE budgets like this. WHY does a show need to cost this much money??
    BUT...Ms. Peters is a LEGEND.

  • Brian Martin

    Because it costs a lot of money to put on a show with the full orchestration and 41 person cast.

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  • Yet another David

    And thank god Michael Kaiser is committed to doing shows that way. Somebody needs to.

  • Lionel Webb

    Dude! You have a serious inferiority complex about The Washington Post. Get over it. The first paragraph in this article is all about you...not the story. You also had a recent hissy-fit about some theater naming a new artistic director (and how you scooped the Post). Report the news...don't tell us about you. That's crossing a line.

  • Will Nifong

    Ok, I adore Elaine Stritch, but if anyone should sing "I'm Still Here" -- and pull in the crowds -- it's the divine Miss Lansbury.

  • Ghost of Hamlet’s Father

    I don't care how old she is... Peters is still HOT!!

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