Bernadette Peters is at that point in her career where she's seeing a theme in the roles she's playing on stage, film and TV.
In the 2011 independent movie Coming Up Roses, she played a former actress rebuilding a relationship with her daughter. In the first season of TV's Smash, she played the famous actress mother of one of the lead characters, Ivy (Megan Hilty), hoping to mend their bond, which they'll continue to explore in the upcoming second season.
In the 2003 revival of Gypsy on Broadway, Peters played the most famous of stage mothers, Mama Rose, struggling to hold onto her daughters. And in her two most recent Broadway roles, the revivals of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music (2010) and Follies (2011), she played a former actress and former showgirl, respectively.
And why not? As one of the great musical-theater performers in the history of Broadway, is there anyone more apt to play an actress, former or otherwise? Those roles all have big differences, though.
"Diane [the mother in Coming Up Roses] has the most mental problems, [is] what you would now call bipolar," says Peters, who is performing at Bass Hall on Saturday with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. "It's loosely based on the director's [Lisa Albright] life when she was a little girl.
"Mama Rose has a drive and a passion and a thirst in her life, desperately wants approval and to be liked," Peters continues. "Leigh, Ivy's mother, she's probably the most balanced of them. She's a performer who probably didn't have a lot of time for her Ivy when growing up, and she has a strong ego. She's hard on herself and is therefore hard on Ivy."
So far, Peters has filmed five episodes in the second season, and is looking forward to seeing where the show goes. Smash deals with the development of a new Broadway musical (a fictional one called Bombshell, about Marilyn Monroe) and the relationships and cutthroat antics of its performers and creative and producing team. Peters says it's great fun to work on, if not quite representative of what really happens in developing a Broadway musical.
"It basically takes every demonic thing that could happen [on Broadway] and puts it into one TV show," she says. "That was the first season. This year it may be different. I thought it was heightened reality, but entertaining."
The show is also part of a group of TV programs, including Glee and reality shows like So You Think You Can Dance, that are encouraging younger generations to take roles in the performing arts.
"I grew up watching Ed Sullivan," Peters says. "I first saw these Broadway shows on [The Ed Sullivan Show]. I saw Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, all these people. There were no TV shows with music for a long time. Now you have Glee and Smash. People are starving for good music."
In the second season of Smash, she'll sing two new songs written for her by songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman ( Hairspray). She also had a song written for her in Coming Up Roses, called Someone You Care For.
Sticking to standards
Don't count on hearing those when she performs in concert in Fort Worth, though, although she admits she'll have to think about trying out Someone You Care For in concert.
"It's a night of entertainment. It's serious, it's funny, it's all those things I connect with, things I know that work in concert," Peters says. "The show is a musical journey. I do Rodgers and Hammerstein's Some Enchanted Evening, Peggy Lee's Fever, some Sondheim, two songs from Follies."
Next on the big screen, she'll voice the role of Glinda in the animated film Dorothy of Oz, a sequel to The Wizard of Oz in which Dorothy (Lea Michele) returns to Oz to save the land from the Wicked Witch of the West's brother, voiced by Martin Short.
As for Broadway, there's nothing pinned down, despite those rumors a few years ago about a revival of the Harvey Schmidt/Tom Jones musical I Do! I Do!, again pairing Peters with Short.
"Broadway is a big undertaking; it's a big commitment," Peters says. "I always wait until it's irresistible and then I have to do it. The show has to be something that appeals to me, something that helps me emotionally grow, the way Follies did. It took me to interesting places and I grew as a creative artist."