NEW YORK -- Everything's coming up Sondheim again for Bernadette Peters. In the past 26 years, the Broadway vet has headlined three popular Stephen Sondheim musicals: "Sunday in the Park With George," "Into the Woods" and the 2003 revival of "Gypsy," in which she played Mama Rose.
So when Tony winner Catherine Zeta-Jones was about to finish her run in the current revival of Sondheim's "A Little Night Music," it seemed fitting that Peters would get a call to take on the role of glamorous actress Desiree Armfeldt. (And just last week it was announced she'll star next spring in Sondheim's "Follies" at the Kennedy Center in Washington.)
Peters, 62, spoke recently about her first Broadway role in seven years; writing children's books to benefit her pet project, Broadway Barks, which finds homes for abandoned animals, and being on live television. Her latest kids' book is "Stella is a Star."
Q. How did this show come about for you?
A. People had been saying it's a great role for me, but I wasn't familiar with it until I saw this show with Catherine and Angela (Lansbury), and I thought it was wonderful. And Steve said, "Did anyone ever call you about replacing Catherine?" and I said, "No," and here we are.
Q. How did you want to make the role different from the way Catherine Zeta-Jones played it?
A. I called her, and she was nothing but encouraging. She said, "Come take it over. It's a great cast." Basically, I make it different just because I'm a different person. I never said, "I'm going to make it different this way." I didn't even think that. I just said, "Let me see the script. What is she saying? What's going on here?" And basically that's how I approach a role.
Q. What is it about Sondheim that has that great appeal for you?
A. When a composer writes the music and the lyrics, there's a cohesiveness that happens. And with him, he writes about important things. You can always say this song is about something, and you go and you do it, and you go, "No, this song is about SOMETHING!" It surprises you. There are so many layers in there.
Q. Looking at your website, I didn't realize how young you were when you started in this business. You were even one of the kids on "Juvenile Jury."
A. I wasn't on the jury, I was a contestant that had a problem. I was 5, and I remember thinking my problem isn't important enough.
Q. What was your problem?
A. I didn't like getting needles. I was also on the pilot when I was even younger. And in that one, my problem was I didn't like to take buses. They asked why, and I said because I like to take taxicabs.
Q. Do you remember what advice they gave?
A. No, I don't. After that, I was on the "Horn and Hardart Children's Hour," I think I was also about 5. In those days, TV was live, so you didn't come home and watch it. I was up there sort of playing, fantasizing. They'd say, "Sing," and I'd be singing away. Machines, which were the cameras, would be crossing right in front of me, and then I was done. And I was paid in Hoffman soda.
Q. How did you become a children's author?
A. I was approached by an editor, who asked if I would like to write a children's book to benefit Broadway Barks and the shelter animals. I had never thought about writing a children's book because I don't have children, though I love children. It appealed to me, and then she said we're going to need a song for the (CD at the) back of the book. And I thought, "Oh, my God, who's going to write this song?" I never wrote a song in my life, and I have too much respect for composers.