In the late 1950s in the Ozone Park section of New York City, the family of Peter and Marguerite Lazzara would gather around the TV set on Sunday nights to watch “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
The variety format appealed to the family, especially to the youngest of their three children, Bernadette. She started acting and singing early, and grew up to international acclaim as Bernadette Peters, winning multiple awards and rating a star of her own on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
Peters will be singing some of the most popular songs in the standard repertoire for “One Enchanted Evening” with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra on Thursday.
With her trademark curly brown hair and eternally youthful, pixie-like countenance, who would guess it’s her 65th birthday?
The show takes place at 7:30 p.m. in the theater of the Ernest Morial New Orleans Convention Center, and Marvin Laird guest conducts.
Peters is a three-time Tony Award winner, with roles in dozens of Broadway productions, feature films, TV shows and made-for-TV movies, plus concerts, recordings and even a couple of books to her credit. Shouldn’t she see herself as a Renaissance woman?
“I don’t know,” was her modest reply. “I just do what I do and try to do the best I can. I sing songs that I connect to, and if I connect to them the audience does also. Basically I know my job is to be there to entertain, whether it’s funny or real or dramatic.”
Peters’ New Orleans audience is likely to hear two of the songs she performed live in her most recent Broadway production of “Follies,” plus a sampling of classics from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific,” Stephen Sondheim, Peggy Lee and possibly even the Disney theme song, “When You Wish Upon a Star.”
“I love working with a large orchestra, and I’ve heard such wonderful things about the Louisiana Philharmonic,” Peters said. “I am really looking forward to performing with them.”
Peters is no stranger to the Crescent City, having done shows at the Fairmont (now Roosevelt) Hotel and playing a role in the Lifetime TV movie “Living Proof,” starring Harry Connick Jr. In that 2008 film, based on a true story and shot in New Orleans, she portrayed the first woman saved by a drug developed to treat breast cancer patients.
“I actually got to meet the woman I was cast as and the doctor who developed the drug,” she said.
Peters’ acting career began at the age of 3 with appearances on an early 1950s TV show called “Juvenile Jury,” followed by appearances on “Name That Tune” and “The Horn and Hardart Children’s Hour.”
By the time she was 9, she was a card-carrying member of Actors Equity. Now, after more than six decades in the field, she sees musical theater as once again appealing to younger generations.
“They’re going back to that,” Peters said, citing Justin Timberlake’s recent appearance on the Grammy Awards program sporting a 1940s look.
“The cultural scene is wide open for anything. I’m noticing a lot of young people at my shows, especially when there’s a college nearby and they’re studying musical theater. They are there and are really having fun.”
Peters’ fans will have several opportunities to see her on TV this spring, with the resumption of the NBC show “Smash.”
Portraying the role of a former stage actress whose daughter is a rising musical comedy star, she will be in the April 9 and 16 episodes, singing two original compositions by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman of “Hairspray” fame.
Last season, she was in two episodes of the show and sang “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” The role, centered on the Broadway scene, is something, Peters said, “I can definitely relate to.”
Ticket prices for the Bernadette Peters LPO concert start at $20 and are available online at http://www.LPOmusic.com or by calling (504) 523-6530. The concert is two hours with a 20-minute intermission.