Books, `Barks’ and Bernadette

Bernadette Peters’ career is going to the dogs.

No, the two-time Tony Award-winning Broadway diva has not hit the skids. She’s just more interested in dogs at the moment than the stage.

Peters, 57, who performs with the San Francisco Symphony Friday, July 25, as part of the “Summer in the City” series, has been a self-described “dog person” since age 9 when she begged her mother for a canine companion. Then she got Suzie, a small golden lab, who became a beloved family pet.

“My father, who delivered bread, was a man who didn’t talk about his emotions, but when that dog got old and wandered away to die, he took it so personally. `I never thought she’d do this to us,’ he said,” Peters recalls on the phone from her New York home. “We did get another dog, a little poodle, and he carried that animal around under his arm. He was sort of a dog whisperer, which helped when he made deliveries.”

Throughout her life, Peters has had dogs.

“I didn’t know at first you had to actually be in charge, be the alpha,” she says. “I’m good with dogs now. I understand that.”

Years ago she had a poodle named Rocco, a dog she claims was the smartest dog ever.

“I took him on `The Tonight Show’ because there was a guy there rating animal intelligence,” Peters recalls. “Contrary to what people think, poodles are not that smart, he said. Ha ha ha. My dog won. When I was in the movie The Jerk, we had trained dogs, and the trainer, to get them to speak, would use a signal. Sometimes they’d speak, sometimes they wouldn’t. I’d watch them and think, `Rocco could do that.’ I remember telling my father that Rocco was so smart – he was like a little boy in a dog suit. My father came to visit and said, `You’re right!’ I was in such mourning when Rocco died. It was just him and me for so long.”

About 11 years ago, after her golden retriever had died, she found Kramer at the ASPCA. “He’s a Heinz 57 mutt,” Peters says. “He’s a tramp, like in `Lady and the Tramp.’ I should sing that song.”

She’ll probably get around to it, but for now she’s singing “Kramer’s Song,” a song she composed herself to accompany her first-ever children’s book, Broadway Barks (Blue Apple Books) named for the annual Broadway animal-adoption event she and Mary Tyler Moore founded a decade ago.

Peters will be singing “Kramer’s Song,” a tender lullaby that accompanies the book on a CD tucked into the back cover, in concert, and on Saturday, July 26, she’ll do a book signing at Books Inc. on Market Street.

“I had never composed anything before, and at first I didn’t want to sing the song because I wondered if it was good enough,” Peters says. “But then I got comfortable with it because I know it comes from someplace real.”

Her friend Stephen Sondheim, whose songs she sings just about better than anyone, hasn’t heard the song yet. “But he wasn’t surprised when he heard I’d written something,” Peters says. “He says the way to write a song is for it to come out of a situation.”

In addition to discussing her next stage project, Peters is at work on a second children’s book – this one about her pit bull, Stella. As for the real life Kramer, he’s enjoying his moment in the spotlight.

“He loves his song,” Peters says. “It makes him bark. He’s loving being on TV, loves the applause. I think he was an actor in his last life.”

The success of Broadway Barks, the annual New York event that involves the cream of the Broadway theater community, didn’t surprise Peters.

“When you’re an actor, your heart has to be open and available to feelings and emotions,” she says. “Actors are usually very sensitive people, and they fit perfectly with animals. Communication with animals is very good for us – they help us find the quiet in ourselves.”

Peters’ primary causes these days involve animals. She’s working to turn New York into a no-kill island when it comes to abandoned animals, and she’s working to increase funding for groups that spay and neuter animals in cities.

Of course, she’s still very much involved in show business. In addition to her concert work, she’s planning her next album – something she describes as “a small album of standards.” And she’s in meetings about her next stage project. “There’s nothing to talk about yet,” she says.

She recently finished work on a Lifetime movie called Living Proof that costars Harry Connick Jr. and will air in October. She’s also working on another children’s book, this one about her pit bull, Stella.

“People have the wrong idea about pit bulls – they’re so loving. That’s what I want to write about – about how appearances aren’t everything,” Peters says. “I may try to write a song for her, but I’m not ready to get `Kramer’s Song’ out of my consciousness yet.”

Bernadette Peters performs with the San Francisco Symphony at 8 p.m. Friday at Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. Tickets are $30-$35. Call 415-864-6000 or visit

Peters will sign copies of her book, Broadway Barks, at 2 p.m. Saturday at Books Inc., 2275 Market St., San Francisco. Call 415-864-6777 for information.

Here’s Peters performing “Kramer’s Song” on “The View.”

Ramping up to the Tony Awards

This Sunday, the Tony Awards will be handed out.
Here’s what you need to know (and get busy organizing your Tony party — we’ve got to get those dismal ratings out of the basement so CBS will continue broadcasting the darn things).

For the first time, there will be pre-ceremony Tony Concert chock full of juicy musical numbers from all the nominated shows. In the Bay Area the concert will be at 1 p.m. Sunday, June 15 on KPIX-TV. Mario Lopez (currently playing Zach in A Chorus Line) hosts, and we’ll see numbers from 10 musicals: A Catered Affair, Cry-Baby, Grease, Gypsy, In The Heights, Passing Strange, South Pacific, Sunday in the Park with George, The Little Mermaid and Xanadu—on stage at the Allen Room at Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, with its spectacular, floor-to-ceiling views of Central Park South visible to viewers of the telecast.

Nominees who perform on the program include Laura Benanti (Gypsy), Daniel Breaker and Stew (Passing Strange), Kerry Butler (Xanadu), Daniel Evans (Sunday in the Park with George), Faith Prince (A Catered Affair) and Loretta Ables Sayre (South Pacific).

“We’ve tried very hard not to cannibalize anything that will be on the actual Tony telecast, but just to whet people’s appetites for June 15,” says The Broadway League’s Jan Friedlander Svendsen, who is an executive producer of the special. “We purposely didn’t want this in costume, we didn’t want big production numbers. We wanted it to feel very intimate. And we wanted to have those up-close-and-personal profiles.”

Actor nominees who are interviewed during the pre-Tony telecast include Laurence Fishburne, who talks about his role as a Supreme Court justice in Thurgood, and Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood, who reveal a touching story from the casting of their revival of Macbeth. Steppenwolf Theatre Company members Laurie Metcalf (November) and Deanna Dunagan, Amy Morton and Rondi Reed from the Best Play nominee August: Osage County celebrate the success of Steppenwolf-ers on Broadway this season—the roster also includes Martha Plimpton and Kevin Anderson—who all told represent six different Broadway shows.

“One of the issues with the Tonys is, often times, not all of our nominees are as well known as, say, Oscar nominees,” says Svendsen. “It’s great to let audiences be exposed to some of those who aren’t as well known. It’s kind of like the Olympics. Many of those athletes aren’t as famous, and one of my favorite parts of watching the Games is getting to know those athletes from a human interest side. Then I have an emotional connection with them and a more rooting interest in who’s going to win.”

The Awards, hosted by Whoopi Goldberg (thank God someone on “The View” cares about theater since Rosie O’Donnell’s departure) begin at 8 p.m. on TV, but watching the tape delay is so retro. Why not tune into the live Webcast? Past Tony winners Michael Cerveris and Julie White host. Log on to for all the details.

On the broadcast, we’ll get musical numbers from all four of the Best Musical nominees (Cry-Baby, In The Heights, Passing Strange and Xanadu) and the four Best Musical Revival nominees (Grease, Gypsy, Sunday in the Park with George and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific).

Also represented will be three other new Broadway musicals: A Catered Affair, The Little Mermaid and The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein. And just for good measure, Rent and The Lion King will also make appearances.

Video memories from past Tony winners, clips from nominated shows and a whole lot more await you at, your one-stop shop for Tony Award information.

To whet your appetite, here’s Passing Strange on “The View.”

RIP Rosie

I have to admit that last week’s “contretemps,” as Barbara Walters put it, between Rosie O’Donnell and Elisabeth Hasselbeck left me a little sad.

I have TiVo’d “The View” pretty much every day since O’Donnell joined the cast last September, and I grew quite addicted. The conversations were lively (and a shout out to Joy Behar, a consistently funny, opinionated and intelligent woman who never really gets her due) and interesting, and though the guest spots could be tiresome, I thoroughly enjoyed all the Broadway pizzazz O’Donnell brought to the show. I hope the producers (one of whom is Walters) keeps up the Broadway connection forged by O’Donnell.

The saddest part is that O’Donnell’s premature departure (by three weeks) robs us of a proper goodbye for the big-mouthed and even bigger-hearted host who has done the most to make the show watchable on a daily basis (I’ll still probably check in with the show from time to time).

I know it’s wrong, but I’m glad O’Donnell’s producer scribbled a moustache on Hasselbeck’s photo, and I’m even glad guest Alicia Silverstone (who had the misfortune to be the first person onstage after Rosie and Elisabeth’s knock-down-drag-out) snubbed Hasselbeck and gave O’Donnell a big, fat hug.

Of course we’ll be hearing more from O’Donnell (there’s a rumor buzzing that she’s going to be Madame Thenardier in the current Les Miserables revival), but I’ll miss haning out with her everyday.

Everything’s Coming up Rosie!

Watched Rosie O’Donnell’s first week on The View (thank you TiVo, you’re the best spouse anyone could ask for), and I have to say this: I missed her a lot.

I missed the brashness. I missed the in-your-face jokes. I even missed the discussion of her kids. I adore Ellen DeGeneres, but these days I’m enjoying Rosie and company (Barbara Walters, Joy Behar and Elisabeth Hasselbeck are fine, but it’s really Rosie’s show now — in this photo it looks like Walters is pulling out one of O’Donnell’s infamous chin hairs).

Rosie on

At the end of the week, Rosie wished to express some disappointment that four whole shows had gone by and they hadn’t done anything Broadway. Then she proceeded to give the audience tickets to The Wedding Singer. OK, so it’s not exactly a great give-away, but it’s a national plug for a Broadway musical. Go, Rosie!

And I’m sure we can count on Ms. O’Donnell to liven up The View with more Broadway stars and performances.

You’ve probably heard of Rosie’s blog (Walters was supposedly miffed by it, but they squashed those rumors last week). If you haven’t read it, you should check it out. It’s a stream-of-consciousness flow of thoughts that reads sort of like poetry. Sample it here.