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Peters brings depth of talent to Heinz Hall

| Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Those who saw Bernadette Peters' sizzling performance during the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's gala in September 2007 won't be surprised she's back to star at the Pops.

Peters has won many Tony and Drama Desk awards for her theater work and also has had success in films and television. Yet she's anything but blase. "It was a great honor to be part of that gala," she says. "It was terrific. I was thrilled to be asked back for four performances."

Peters, conductor Marvin Laird and the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops will perform Thursday through Sunday at Heinz Hall, Downtown. The first half of the concert will be devoted to symphonic pops repertoire led by resident conductor Daniel Meyer.

Laird, Peters' longtime pianist and conductor, says of Peters, "She's a Sondheim girl." Her signature starring roles include Sondheim's shows "Sunday in the Park with George" and "Into the Woods," as well as "Gypsy," for which Sondheim wrote the lyrics and Jule Stein the music.

In addition to Sondheim songs, Peters' Pops repertoire will include Peggy Lee's "Fever," which lit up the 2007 gala concert, "Shenandoah" and "When You Wish Upon a Star."

"It's great doing your own show, because you get to choose what you sing," she says.

Laird met Peters when both were in a road company performing "Gypsy." He was assistant conductor and, of course, met all the cast.

"I noticed this one young girl, very close with her mother. During breaks, she didn't mix much with the other girls. I heard her sing an odd phrase or two and thought, 'God that's a big voice out of that little girl,'" Laird recalls.

They kept in touch over the years, and when Peters booked her first solo act, she called Laird to be her collaborator.

He has written award-winning shows, such as "Ruthless!," and conducted dozens of major productions, but considers himself fortunate to have spent so much of his career working with Peters.

"She's one of the real deals in this business, and I've been in it since I was 18," says Laird, 70. "Bernadette is one of the most truly generous, completely winning persons I've ever been with."

The advantage of their long association is that Peters, 61, and Laird have learned to breathe together musically, he says. "That builds the trust you place in your fellow artist. No matter where you decide to go, that person will be there for you. It's a unique and extremely rewarding relationship that's possible only because she's the genuine article."

Laird says Peters sometimes spends a year or two working on a song. "She wants to not just master it but put it into a very deep place in her style, where she feels she has something to offer.

"We have material in our show we've been performing for 20 years, but because she wants to make it a new experience, she has in her actress persona a facility for going to a considerably different place each time she does a song. She uses whatever technique actors use to get to a volatile place."

Additional Information:

'The Legendary Bernadette Peters'

With: Pittsburgh Symphony Pops and Bernadette Peters, soloist

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday

Admission: $20-$79

Where: Heinz Hall, Downtown

Details: 412-392-4900

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