Bernadette Peters – Opera House, Manchester

Bernadette PetersBernadette Peters performed in concert at the Opera House, Manchester.

Rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

Beloved is a much-used word when it comes to describing our top-ranking musical theatre stars. But in the form of the multi-Tony winning, preternaturally youthful Bernadette Peters, whose career spans five decades and rubs shoulders with some of musical theatre’s greatest exponents, the description is an apt one.

In this one stop on her all-too-brief and long-awaited UK tour, she holds the Opera House’s 1,900-odd capacity audience in the palm of her hand and rides the waves of love that greet every note, every gesture and every flick of her trademark curls like the consummate professional she is rightly regarded as.

In truth, at just over 90 minutes long, the show feels more like a brisk blast of pure entertainment than the luxuriant, evening’s-long, career-straddling wallow many would have hoped for. And, with a set list that doesn’t stray too far from the obvious – leaning heavily on the songs of Stephen Sondheim that Peters is so associated with – the show doesn’t provide too much in the way of surprises. But in what she does provide, Peters brings to the table everything that you would hope for.

At one moment girlish and the next vampish – a dichotomy demonstrated perfectly in her amusingly playful rendition of ‘There is Nothing Like a Dame’ and a spine-tingly sensual ‘Fever’ – no one belts out a showstopper like Peters. And, resplendent in a figure-hugging oyster pink sequined gown and sprawling across musical director Marvin Laird’s piano, she can sex kitten it up in a way that belies her 68 years.

But there is subtlety too, and in a section dedicated to the soundtrack albums of Rodgers and Hammerstein that she loved as a child, Peters displays her considerable acting chops, totally inhabiting the love-stuck dames that sing Carousel’s ‘Mister Snow’ and State Fair’s ‘It Might As Well Be Spring’.

But what they came here for was the Sondheim. And Peters doesn’t disappoint. We get not one but two songs from Into the Woods – ‘No One is Alone’ and ‘Children Will Listen’. And Peters later rings the requisite emotion from Sweeney Todd’s ‘Johanna’ and A Little Night Music’s ‘Send in the Clowns’ and, in the show’s highlight, raising the roof in scintillating fashion with that mother of all torch songs, ‘Losing My Mind’ from Follies.

After all of that, the too-short encore – a lullaby for children written by Peters in honour of her dog Kramer to raise money for her animal charity Broadway Barks – is pure indulgence. But by that point Peters has earned our indulgence in spades.

Chris Bartlett

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