Three-time Tony Award winner, actress, singer and author Bernadette Peters has not stopped entertaining audiences since she was 5 years old. A veteran of stage and screen, she is instantly recognizable by her curly mane and unique voice. Among her Broadway triumphs were "Sunday in the Park With George," "Annie Get Your Gun" and "Gypsy." At 65, she continues to tour the world, performing in concerts. She will be in Pittsburgh at Carnegie Music Hall on Feb. 22 for Equality Gayla's premier event to benefit the LGBT community. For tickets, call 1-888-71-TICKETS or visit Deltafoundation.us/gayla.
Have you ever had the experience of singing a song that completely relates to something going on in your life at the moment?
Very much, very often, actually. I try to make the songs as personal as possible, and I relate them to things that I am familiar with. I know what a song means to me. Hopefully, I get surprised. That's what I live for.
When you say you get surprised, what do you mean?
Like I sometimes say, I know what country I am going to go to, but I don't know what's going to happen when I get there. I know where in my emotionality I might think about something, but I don't know where it's going to bring me.
Was there ever a time you became discouraged about the way your career was going?
Oh, sure. You know, we all have our highs and our lows and our ups and downs. After I had made a big splash off Broadway in a show called "Dames at Sea" and then I did my Broadway lead debut, the show lasted one night [laughs]. So after that I really wasn't the go-to girl, and I wasn't getting a lot of work. My dear friend Carol Burnett was a great supporter, and she just hired me and kept hiring me to be on her show many times for the next couple of years. So that was wonderful of her.
At what point does a character come into full bloom for you when you are doing a long-running show?
It was interesting when I was in "Gypsy" and the cast was so great, and we did it for over a year on Broadway. I explored a lot of emotions in that role. One day, I just said to myself: "I just stopped acting." You know? I just stopped acting. The strangest thing happened the next night. There was a scene with Tammy Blanchard -- she's actually a fabulous actress. She played the young Judy Garland on that television biopic. I said, "Gee, that scene went really well, and she said, "I just stopped acting." It's a weird thing that happens between people on stage when you are connected. It was without me saying anything to her. She just like got it. I don't have to act anymore.
Have any of the characters you've done stayed with you long after the run is over or the camera stops rolling?
Not after the show closes but during they are just with me all the time. Sometimes I can't even read anything because it would take me out of the character. At 8 o'clock at night I'm the character and you finish at 11 and I come home and I go to bed and the next day, you know, I'm just thinking about the character and different things that I could bring into the show that night.
So are you thinking in character and reading in character?
I'm more exploring things that relate to the character.
You have been doing this since you were 5 and been through the transitions of child to teen to young adult and mother characters. What was that like?
I mean, I just go with what I understand. If I say I don't understand anything about this character than I am not going to do it. You know, I'm not a mother but I understand the love you have for your mother and the mother/daughter relationship. I can understand that and explore it. But, yeah, I kind of just go with the flow.
Have you become a collector over the years, or do you just cherish the memories?
I try not to collect [laughs]. I try not to have rows and rows and rows and shelves and shelves of things. So I think, basically, it is in my mind. All of a sudden I will remember something and think, "Wow! That's incredible. I should start jotting them down" -- which I haven't done yet. I plan to.
What's it like to belt out a great Broadway song and have the audience just go crazy?
What happens usually when they go crazy is because you hit something, some kind of nerve within yourself. So you are like flying and they get it. That is thrilling. They are feeling it and flying with you. I feel like a concert is: You are all in this one room together to try to make something happen, to have this experience. I know I'm there to entertain. It could be in a dramatic way. It could be in a funny way. But I know I'm there to hit it, to try to get somewhere. When I do then the audience does, too, and so it becomes enjoyable for them.
So you are getting that same thrill the audience is feeling.
Yeah, I mean if you are doing it just to lift them it's probably not going to work as well. But if you are doing it because for the song and what is happening to the character, then they are going to feel it and you are going to feel it. That's what you want to happen. So I have the experience, and they have the experience.
Do you feel like you have ever had to sacrifice anything for this great career?
Not really, not really. No, I mean I really, really appreciate it. You know, I never became a mother, but I never really planned on being a mother. But now women go out and adopt children, so that doesn't hold you back. Um, you have to have the time for it. But, no, I don't think I sacrificed anything.
You have always been a supporter of the LGBT community.
I love that same-sex marriage became legal because that means everyone has the right to be who they are and love who they want. Also, what I think is the best thing about that is for young people when they are growing up, and also for parents, that it has become, for lack of a better term, more mainstream. So basically, it becomes a lot easier for a young person to think they can have a future, and it is not as limiting as they would have thought it would be.
Nobody has to go sneaking around, and I think that is a very bad place to be in when you have to do that, if you feel not accepted. It is hard enough when you are growing up and you always feel different. So, I think that is such a great thing [acceptance of LGBT people].
Patricia Sheridan: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2613. Follow her on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/pasheridan.