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Peters at Hollywood Bowl: Solid Pro With Coy Smile

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Experiencing a Bernadette Peters performance is like watching a character actor at work. There’s never much doubt about what to expect, but it’s often fun to see the process taking place.

Peters’ appearance at the Hollywood Bowl Saturday night with the Los Angeles Philharmonic had no particularly unusual breakthroughs. But it was, as her programs nearly always are, a carefully planned, generally well-executed concert experience.

Peters was cute, she was coy, she was sexy, she was funny. At one point, singing Stephen Sondheim’s “I’m Breathless” (from the film “Dick Tracy”), she wriggled on top of a grand piano in seductive, Michelle Pfeiffer style; at another point, singing “Pennies From Heaven,” she strolled the audience, tossing shimmering plastic coins to the crowd. Occasionally forced to pause to adjust the program to a live television feed that was simultaneously being broadcast, Peters spontaneously filled the gaps with humorous asides.

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It was a solid, professional performance by an artist with impeccable musical theater credentials. But it also underscored the fact that Peters is at her best in the structured environment of a theatrical show. Too often, especially in the last third of her set, her timing became sluggish and self-indulgent. By relying on one long-toned ballad after another, she focused attention on the emotional limitations of her sometimes child-like voice rather than her far broader interpretive skills as a dramatic performer.

The Philharmonic, conducted by William Eddins (assistant conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra), opened the evening with a brief, very light-classical program of Gershwin, Rodgers, Gould and Copland. Aside from Copland’s “El Salon Mexico,” which was delivered with briskly efficient bravura, the readings--especially Rodgers’ “Carousel Waltz” and Gould’s “Pavane”--were a bit out of sorts, even uncertain in spots.

Performing behind Peters (conducted by the singer’s musical director, Marvin Laird), the Philharmonic’s extraordinary resources were largely buried within orchestrations that never rose above the level of unobtrusive, uninspired accompaniment.

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