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The Book (and Song) of Bernadette

Bernadette Peters becomes an author and songwriter to create Broadway Barks. logo
Bernadette Peters
(© Joseph Marzullo/WENN)
For more than 30 years, Bernadette Peters has been one of the musical theater's greatest stars, having graced Broadway in such shows as Mack & Mabel, Song & Dance, Into the Woods, Annie Get Your Gun, and Gypsy -- earning two Tony Awards among other accolades. Just as noteworthy, for the past decade, she has been one of this country's most ardent animal activists, arguing for no-kill shelters, and co-hosting (with Mary Tyler Moore), the annual adopt-a-thon Broadway Barks in Shubert Alley -- which will take place this year on Saturday, July 12. Now, to add further support to the cause, she's written a children's book called Broadway Barks, about the joy of adopting, with the proceeds to go to charity. In between her many concert dates, Peters will be promoting the book, including an appearance on ABC's The View on Friday, May 16 and a signing at Barnes & Noble Lincoln Triangle on June 12. She recently spoke to TheaterMania about this new development in her life.

THEATERMANIA: What prompted you to write this book?
BERNADETTE PETERS: My love of shelter animals and the fact that the proceeds would go to charity. There was no other reason for me to write a children's book.

TM: Did you have a clear idea of the story from the beginning?
BP: The story was originally going to be about me adopting Kramer, but my editor guided me to change it, so now a young girl adopts him. But when we got to the section about Kramer showing up at Broadway Barks, I was very clear that it had to be about how the right person understands when they meet the right animal. I believe that dogs try hard to talk to us and it takes a special person to listen.

TM: What was your actual writing process like?
BP: Fortunately, there wasn't any real deadline, and children's picture books aren't that long. But I really had to think about what it would look like, because I am very visual. As far as writing, I did a first draft -- I even put down some dummy words --and then went back to revise and revise.

TM: Did you know your illustrator, Liz Murphy , beforehand?
BP: No, our editor thought she would be great person to do Kramer. The one in the book is a little shorter than mine and maybe a little cuter. My dog is a little lanky. We also had to make sure that other people approved of the drawings, like Mary Tyler Moore, who loved it, and the little girl in the book who adopts Kramer, who is actually my goddaughter Isabel. She wants to be a veterinarian.

TM: One of the best reasons to buy the book is that it comes with a CD, which not only includes you reading the book, but has a song called "Kramer's Song," which you also wrote. How did that happen?
BP: We thought a song would be a great addition, but then I thought who's going to write this song? Because I really wanted to make sure as much of the proceeds would go to the animals, I thought maybe could I write the song, even though I never did it before. I was on a plane coming back from one of my concerts -- I always do my best thinking on a plane -- and suddenly the song came out. I came up with the music and lyrics at the same time, which is a small miracle. But I wasn't sure if I could use it -- or even remember it -- so I sang it to assistant, so she could remember it. After we got back home, I sang it for my music director Marvin Laird, and he wrote a lead sheet, so now I can sing it in concerts too. But I really love the fact that parents can sing the song to their kids as a lullaby. And I sang the song to a dog recently -- and the dog went off to sleep right away. So it works!

TM: Did you ask anyone for songwriting advice -- especially your good friend Stephen Sondheim?
BP: No. But Steve always says that the way he teaches people to write is that a song comes out of a situation. And I think "Kramer's Song" comes from my deep feelings about feeling safe and not worrying. But I haven't even played the song for him yet. I'd rather he hear it in concert, or maybe if he wants to watch me when I am on The View. Or maybe I'll just send him a copy of the book.

TM: So what's in your future? Another book? Another Broadway show?
BP: I do have another idea for a book about my other dog, Stella. It's sort of written already. And I really am enjoying concert work and discovering new songs. I don't like doing long trips, though. Stella and Kramer are too big to travel with me -- they're my touchstones, so I usually fly right home. As for Broadway, at this point, I don't miss the eight-shows-a-week grind. There is something nice about having a routine when you do a show, but it's hard on the rest of the people in your life.

TM: What about expanding Broadway Barks?
BP: Maybe. My real quest in life now is to try to help shelter animals in other cities. So maybe Broadway Barks LA will be next.

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