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As entertainers go, Peters has it all

Bernadette Peters was back at Kleinhans Music Hall on Saturday night, her first time performing with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra since 2008. The beautiful Broadway diva threw herself immediately into her performance.

She sashayed out in a drop-dead sparkling lavender gown, with spaghetti straps and a slit up the front. The big crowd cheered, and Peters responded with her signature bow. It’s really more like a curtsy. The effect is charming.

She began with “Let Me Entertain You,” from “Gypsy.” As well she might.

Who could imagine a better entertainer?

It is hard to put your finger on Peters’ greatness. Glorious as her voice is, there are singers with better and more powerful voices. There are other women with great figures. There are other comediennes and other stage actresses who are at least as good as she is in those departments.

But consider the entire person, and there is just no topping her. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. And the sum of the parts, as my husband put it, is pretty good.

It was surprising, but all right with me, that Peters repeated a lot of her show from five years ago. I remembered her uniquely zany, taunting take on “There Is Nothing Like a Dame.” You couldn’t forget it. Saturday’s performance lived up to my memories, right down to the hilarious finale when Peters goes into the audience and asks a blushing gentleman if he agrees that there is nothing like the frame of a dame.

And again she did that show-stopping “Fever,” lying on top of the grand piano. If anything she was even more lithe and sultry than she was last time.

We also got the range of songs by Stephen Sondheim that are always part of the package when Peters comes to town.

A lot of Sondheim’s appeal, frankly, escapes me. But she did one of the few Sondheim songs I love, “I Think About You,” and she sang it with such convincing, teary expression that it was hard not to worry about her.

After that raucous start, Saturday’s show grew very emotional. Singing “Send in the Clowns,” Peters brought out the song’s pathetic nature, and again your heart went out to her, standing alone in the spotlight, hugging herself.

A Disney tribute – “When You Wish Upon a Star,” intertwined with “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” – also tugged at the heart. It was set off by mournful, muted solos by Alex Jokipii, the BPO’s principal trumpet.

I did not remember Peters plumbing the depths so much the last time she was here. I also had a new appreciation for her way of shaping words, for pronouncing them in a way that suits the song. “When you wishhhhhhh ... ,” followed by a pause, sounded like something floating off into space.

We should hope she comes back in another five years, if not before then. I think she is continuing to polish her craft and is getting better and better.

Saturday’s show got the BPO’s Pops season off to an unusually elegant start. Bravo to Peters’ able conductor and pianist, Marvin Laird, for wearing traditional tie and tails. From behind, with his white hair, he looked like Leonard Bernstein. Brava to Peters for drinking out of a glass of water instead of a water bottle.

Finally, a bravo to Associate Conductor Matthew Kraemer for a terrific first set. It included a handful of songs from “Gypsy” as well as from one of my favorite musicals, “Oliver!” Even a medley from “Riverdance,” with its pounding and clattering rhythms, was fun.