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Bernadette Peters Sings from the Heart

Orange County is getting something red and hot and as sweet as can be, just in time for Valentine’s Day: Bernadette Peters, who’s not your usual box of chocolates.

The dazzling, 5-foot-nothing diva — who has won three Tony awards in a Broadway career that began in the ’60s — joins Pacific Symphony February 12-13. She’ll be singing from her extensive repertoire, which includes hits from Rodgers and Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim, among others. To open the show, the Pacific Symphony will set the mood for romance, performing love-themed compositions: “Wedding March” from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Three Dances” from “Gone with the Wind” and “Tango” from “Addams Family Values.”

Even if you’re not a Broadway musical fan, Peters’ face is no doubt familiar. An accomplished actress with a range that stretches from drama to comedy (she co-starred with Steve Martin in the movies “Pennies from Heaven” and “The Jerk”), Peters has more than 17 film credits. Equally at home on the small screen, her televisions credits are almost too numerous to list, from “Ugly Betty” to “Boston Legal,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Will & Grace,” just to name a few. Currently Peters portrays symphony chairwoman Gloria Windsor on Amazon’s Golden Globe-winning series “Mozart in the Jungle.” As if that weren’t enough, Peters is also a mighty advocate for animal charities and has penned a couple of children’s books inspired by her real-life rescue critters.

We reached the curly-haired songstress at home in her native New York — three hours behind our originally scheduled phone interview, having forgotten about that pesky thing called Eastern Standard Time. Peters, true to form, was nothing but gracious:

Coast: I’m a total dope. Duh, time difference.
BP: Don’t worry. It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day – you should be off anyway.

Coast: Right? Tell my boss. My first question is totally unrelated to anything: I have a son who has curly hair like yours. What’s the secret to dealing with those curls?
BP:  Listen, you need a leave-in conditioner and smoother. How old is he? Young? If he doesn’t mind, there’s a leave-in called Mixed Chicks. It’s important!

Coast: OK, back to business. You have been here before, right?
BP: It’s been a while since I performed with the symphony. I was there last year with “Into the Woods.” My God, it was so exciting. I love that score. I must say, I just love listening to everyone else’s songs. But I love “No One is Alone” – in fact I even do it in my show, I love it so much. It wasn’t my character’s song, but I love it. I will be performing it.

Coast: With such a vast repertoire, how do you select your songs?
BP: Because it’s my show, I get to pick whatever I want to pick! Usually, when I am in a stage show, I am backstage listening to everyone else’s songs. I usually sing songs other people have sung rather than my own – although I do sing “Children will Listen” and I love that. I sing the songs that I connect to, and that’s how
I pick it.

Coast: Gut instinct then? Emotion?
BP: Yeah, it’s emotion, connection. I figure if I connect to it, the audience will connect to it.

Coast: Years ago, on television, I saw you do “Fever,” and for me yours is still the quintessential rendition of that song.
BP: I do “Fever” in this show!  Thank you. Now, in “Mozart in the Jungle” – which, we won two Golden Globes – this season I sang, and I sang “Come On-A My House,” but slow, like the Julie London version.  I tried that out before I filmed it. I had been keeping it in, but I have to see if I am going to have time to do it in this show.

Coast: Since we are on the subject of “Mozart”…  Let’s talk about your character on the show, Gloria Windsor. What attracted you to the part?
BP: First of all, a show that was written and produced with Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola and Paul Weitz intrigued me very much, and Gael Garcia Bernal … ! And the writing is good. I mean, it’s really good. [Gael] is amazing; we won the award for that. Gloria is becoming more and more interesting as you find out more about her. Not only is she running a big corporation, the thing about her is she loves the creative part. In this season you find out that in her past life she was a cabaret singer. She is sneaking off to do open mic night.

Coast: What is the joy, and what is the challenge, for you in performing with a symphony?
BP:  Well, there is no challenge, just joy.  You are there surrounded by fabulous musicians. It’s just a thrill. I have beautiful charts, so to hear a violin solo played in a gorgeous way, and a cello solo played in a gorgeous way, just to hear everybody play as one, is wonderful. And we are all breathing together. All those people, breathing
as one.

Coast: What do you do to keep that voice in shape? It seems unchanged since forever.
BP: You do have to keep it up and vocalize every day. I still take singing lessons, because my teacher will find things – “Why are you doing that?” It is always good to check in and get some new tips.

Coast: One Orange County question: Once upon an eon ago you dated an Orange County native (Steve Martin). Did you have any favorite spots around here?
BP: [Laughs] I stay in LA. I don’t know Orange County that much, except that it is very pretty.

Coast: Oh, we gotta change that. Next time stay at the Montage, or the Ritz, or Pelican Hill — beautiful resorts on the beach.
BP: Ooohhh … All right! You’ve convinced me.

February 12-13, 8 p.m., Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, 615 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, 714.755.5799 :: pacificsymphony.org

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