Why Bernadette Peters decided the show will go on in Charlotte, despite HB2

Broadway diva Bernadette Peters returns to Charlotte Saturday with the Charlotte Symphony.
Broadway diva Bernadette Peters returns to Charlotte Saturday with the Charlotte Symphony. Andrew Eccles

Broadway star Bernadette Peters nearly canceled her upcoming appearance in Charlotte over House Bill 2.

Booked for a return engagement Saturday with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, Peters said she and her crew were heartsick over the passage of the controversial new law.

In part, it eliminated a Charlotte ordinance that would have allowed transgender people to use a bathroom based on their gender identity. The new law also nullified local ordinances around the state that would have expanded legal protections for the LGBT community.

Performers from Bruce Springsteen to Ringo Starr have canceled shows in North Carolina in protest, while others, like Duran Duran, performed and protested.

I was very torn about coming here, and pretty upset and very heartsick about (HB2.)

Bernadette Peters

“I was going to cancel,” Peters said. “Then (the orchestra leaders) explained to me for the health of the orchestra how important it was that I come.”

So the show will proceed as planned. Peters said it’s her way to display love and support for the orchestra, the LGBT community, the city and her fans.

Peters amplified that sentiment in a tweet Thursday: “Was canceling my concert in NC but decided to speak against HB2 bill and support the Arts which is where the LGBT community is supported.”

She last performed in Charlotte seven years ago during another pops concert with the orchestra.

The three-time Tony winner has played such iconic roles as the Witch from “Into the Woods,” Dot in “Sunday in the Park with George,” the title character in “Annie Get Your Gun,” and Rose in “Gypsy.”

She also has made numerous movie and TV appearances, most recently in Amazon’s “Mozart in the Jungle,” which details the backstage goings-on of a New York symphony. Peters plays Gloria, the head of the orchestra’s board.

“She is part of management, yet she has this great, great, great love of the arts and the creative process, and the music, and the conductor Rodrigo (played by Gael García Barnal),” Peters said. “Her love of orchestras and music is like my love of the orchestras and the music.

“And that’s why it’s so important to keep these orchestras alive all across the country.”

Unlike her character, Peters is not privy to the off-stage drama of the musicians she performs with. “I just see the creative part of it,” she said, “and we basically want them to forget if they have any problems and just play with their hearts.”

For her show, Peters will perform Peggy Lee’s “Fever” while lying on a piano as well as a range of other songs, including some from Rodgers and Hammerstein, and of course, Stephen Sondheim.

“He writes about life and all the things we go through, and the emotions we (all) go through in life. Unless you’re Sweeney Todd and you’re a murderer,” Peters says with a light-as-air laugh.

Peters is unsure when she’ll return to Broadway. Her concerts and “Mozart,” which is returning for a third season, keep her busy.

She’s used to busy. The 68-year-old has been performing since age 3.

I sort of let the universe bring me whatever it’s supposed to bring me.

Bernadette Peters

At age 13, Peters was one of the Hollywood blondes in the second national tour of “Gypsy.” In 1967, she made her Broadway debut in “Johnny No-Trump” and costarred a year later with Joel Grey in “George M!”

After all this time, she’s unconcerned about roles that eluded her. “You know, whenever I try to make something happen, it never happens.

“I always feel like the roles that are brought to me are so wonderful, and so perfect, that I sort of let the universe bring me whatever it’s supposed to bring me.”

Of the many characters she’s played, she is especially fond of Rose and Dot. Peters laughs about how frustrated Dot gets with George Seurat, the painter obsessed with his painting. Peters also mentions her turn as Desirée in “A Little Night Music,” another Sondheim show, opposite the late Elaine Stritch.

(On Peters’ performance of the signature “Send in the Clowns,” the New York Times critic wrote in 2010, “I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced with such palpable force – or such prominent goose bumps – the sense of being present at an indelible moment in the history of musical theater.”)

“My friend Elaine,” Peters said quietly. “I loved her so much.”

Her reverie is broken by her dogs yapping nearby. Peters laughs and tells them, “OK kids, stop playing on the bed. Stop. Find your place ... Awww, now they feel bad.”

Animals play an important part in her life.

Peters and her friend Mary Tyler Moore founded Broadway Barks, which works to get shelter animals adopted. Peters also mentions how proud she is of Braille Tails, where Broadway Barks and a group called Main Line Animal Rescue took books about animal rescue and adoption and converted them to Braille for children.

She is so committed to helping dogs, she said, because it’s a way to give voice to the voiceless, to help animals that are basically, in her words, pure love.

“I think it’s our job in the world to help when help is needed,” she said, “and to take care of people, or animals or situations that need help because they can’t do it for themselves.”

Adam Bell: 704-358-5696, @abell

Bernadette Peters

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday.

WHERE: Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St.

TICKETS: $40.50-$84.50.

DETAILS: 704-972-2000; www.charlottesymphony.org