Pit bull as pig princess? Bernadette Peters acts out her latest children’s book
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The scene at the Target Children’s Stage early Saturday afternoon was a noisy mix of toddlers, strollers, parents, snow cones, popcorn and large icy cups of lemonade.
Directly following the popular Jade-Lianna Peters, the voice of the animated title character of Nickelodeon’s ‘Ni Hao, Kai Lan,’ Bernadette Peters (no relation) took the stage. The enduring charm of the Tony-winning industry legend famous for her Broadway roles and curly auburn mane soon became apparent. When she picked up her newly minted children’s book, ‘Stella Is a Star,’ she glanced down and at the cover and quipped: “Look, I wrote it!”
Proceeds from ‘Stella’ -- an “accept yourself” tale of a pit bull masquerading as a pig -- benefit Broadway Barks, the charitable organization co-founded by Peters and Mary Tyler Moore. In the book, Stella the dog thinks nobody likes her because her “smile” makes people cross to the other side of the street, so she decides to say she’s a pig princess of the highest regard.
Peters, a true theatrical force, plugged her nose to create funny voices for Stella’s friends, prompting lots of giggles from the full crowd. Stella is clumsy in dance class but still insists on wearing a heavy crown to keep her princess disguise going.
Spoiler alert: When asked at the last minute to perform a series of pirouettes, Stella’s crown falls off -- rendering her more agile, like a puppy! The lost crown reveals that Stella really isn’t a pig princess, but her friends say they knew all along. Ah, the “no need to pretend” message of the book. Peters broke out in song toward the end of her presentation, something the ‘Annie’ actress has much experience with. With a trumpet accompaniment, she sang as a character from the book, Madame, the dance instructor.
Then came the kids’ questions, always fun at the children’s stage. It opened with a little girl telling Peters that she was going to the park afterward. Another asked why the dog wore clothes; Peters attributed the choice to the book’s illustrator, Liz Murphy, noting too that Stella needed a dress to wear before she put on her tutu for the performance.
A mother asked if Peters would write an autobiography, something that didn’t sound like it was in the cards (although it would be great if she did!). Other comments included “I like your hair,” “I remember you” (from a Book Soup event two years ago, the little boy’s mother explained for her son) and a girl’s declaration that she would be performing “The Hard-Knock Life” from ‘Annie’ in an upcoming play.
As kids pushed their way to the front, Peters kneeled down and bent forward to listen to the little voices, characteristically enthusiastic about each comment. It was an appearance that won’t soon be forgotten.
-- Leslie A. Wiggins