Bernadette Peters’ Broadway career spans back to 1967, but she has moved beyond her early doll-like appeal to emerge as one of Stephen Sondheim’s leading interpreters. Her ageless face and angelic soprano voice brought her to success. She was particularly notable for her roles in the musicals Mack and Mabel, Song and Dance, Into the Woods, The Goodbye Girl, Annie Get Your Gun, Follies, Gypsy, and Hello Dolly!. She was a revelation each time she performs on stage and even on screen.
A critically acclaimed Broadway performer, Peters received seven Tony Award nominations and won two. She also received nine nominations for Drama Desk Awards and won three. Also, four of the Broadway cast albums on which she has starred on won Grammy Awards.
Bernadette Peters (née Lazzara; February 28, 1948) was born into a Sicilian-American family in Queens, New York City. She is the youngest child of Peter Lazzara, a delivery truck driver, and Marguerite Maltese, who started Bernadette in show business by putting her on a TV show at the age of three and a half. Bernadette became a child actress, appearing on TV shows Name That Tune and The Horn and Hardart Children’s Hour at five years old.
At age nine, she got her Actors Equity Card in the name of Bernadette Peters. Her last name was replaced with a name taken from her father’s first name to avoid ethnic stereotyping. She made a professional stage debut at that age and then appeared in the NBC television show A Boy Called Ciske in 1958.
She first appeared at a New York Stage at age 10 in the revival of The Most Happy Fella (1959). During her teen years, she attended the Quintano’s School for Young Professionals, a now-defunct private school that several famous people of her generation attended.
At the age of 13, she appeared as one of the Hollywood Blondes and an understudy for Dainty June in the national tour of Gypsy. In 1962, he recorded her first single.
After graduating high school, Peters started working steadily. She appeared on off-Broadway musical before being a standby on Broadway in The Girl in the Freudian Slip (1967). She made her Broadway debut in 1967 in Johnny No-Trump, appearing as Bettina. She then appeared at George M! in 1968, where she won a Theatre World Award for Debut Performance.
Peters’ performance in the 1968 off-Broadway production of Dames at Sea brought her first Drama Desk Award. Peters had starred in Broadway plays La Strada (1969) and On the Town (1971), where she received her first nomination for a Tony Award. Playing the role Mabel Normand in Mack and Mabel (1974) got her another Tony Award and Drama Desk Award nomination. The Mack and Mabel album also became popular among musical theatre fans. In the early 1970s, she moved to Los Angeles to focus on working on TV and film.
In 1982, Peters returned to New York to perform on stage again. She appeared on the off-Broadway Manhattan Theatre Club production of Sally and Marsha that year, for which she was nominated for a Drama Desk Award. She performed on Broadway in the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical Sunday in the Park with George (1984) and received a third Tony Award nomination.
Her next performance was in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Song and Dance on Broadway in 1985, where she won her first Tony Award and another Drama Desk Award for being the best actress.
Peters then pioneered the role of the Witch in Sondheim-Lapine’s Into the Woods (1987), and she was considered as the premier interpreter of Sondheim’s work. She continued her association with Sondheim by appearing in a benefit concert of Anyone Can Whistle in 1995, and in several more concerts featuring his work.
In 1993, she starred in the musical The Goodbye Girl. In 1999, she won her second Tony Award for her performance as Annie Oakley in the 1999 Broadway revival of Annie Get Your Gun. Peters starred as Mama Rose in the Broadway revival of Gypsy in 2003, where she earned another Tony nomination. In 2010, she starred in the Broadway revival of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, replacing Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Peters’ next stage performance was in the production of Sondheim-Goldman musical Follies in 2011, where she was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for outstanding actress. She starred in a Sondheim and Wynton Marsalis’ A Bed and a Chair: A New York Love Affair at New York City Center in 2013. She returned to Broadway in 2017 to play the title role of the Hello, Dolly! revival as a replacement for Bette Midler. She played her final performance as Dolly in July 2018.
Peters appeared in 33 feature films or television movies starting in 1973. Including the 1976 Mel Brooks film Silent Movie, where she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. She also starred opposite Steve Martin in The Jerk (1979), in the musical Annie (1982), Woody Allen’s Alice (1990), and Pink Cadillac (1989), where she co-starred with Clint Eastwood. In 1981, she won the Golden Globe Award as Best Motion Picture Actress in a Comedy or Musical after her performance in Pennies from Heaven.
She also appeared with three generations of the Kirk Douglas family in the 2003 film It Runs in the Family, in which she played the wife of Michael Douglas’s character. In 2006, she appeared in the Italian movie Come le formiche. She also starred in a 2012 film Coming Up Roses.
Peters was also cast as a voice talent in animated films such as Dragon and Slippers (1989), Anastasia (1997), Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (1997), Wakko’s Wish (1999), The Land Before Time X: The Great Longneck Migration (2003), Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return (2014), and 10 Little Rubber Ducks (2016).
Peters has co-starred in several television movies throughout her career, such as George M! (1970), Paradise Lost (1971), Once Upon a Mattress (1972), Bing Crosby’s White Christmas Special (1976), The Islander (1978), Sunday in the Park with George (1986), Diana Ross: Red Hot Rhythm & Blues (1987), David (19880, Fall from Grace (1990), The Last Best Year (1990), Into the Woods (1991), Cinderella (1997), What the Deaf Man Heard (1997), Holiday in Your Heart (1997), Bobbie’s Girl (2002), Prince Charming (2003), and Living Proof (2008).
- Outstanding Broadway Debut, Theatre World Award (1968) – George M!
- Outstanding Actress in a Musical, Drama Desk Award (1968) – Dames at Sea
- Best Actress in a Musical, Tony Award (1986) – Song and Dance
- Outstanding Actress in a Musical, Drama Desk Award (1986) – Song and Dance
- Best Actress in a Musical, Tony Award (1999) – Annie Get Your Gun
- Outstanding Actress in a Musical, Drama Desk Award (1999) – Annie Get Your Gun
- Outstanding Actress in a Musical, Outer Critics Circle Award (1999) – Annie Get Your Gun