A New York summer tradition returns in person for the first time since 2018—Broadway Barkingthe dog and cat adoption and fundraising show co-founded by Bernadette Peters and Mary Tyler Moore, returns to Shubert Alley this Saturday.
The adoption event, celebrating its 24th anniversary, was canceled in 2019 due to construction renovations in Shubert Alley, which is the pedestrian walkway between Broadway and Eighth Avenue and connects 44th and 45th streets. Over the past two years, Broadway Barks has been held virtually and featured dozens of animal shelters across the country in addition to the one in New York City.
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Peters, who recently starred in Hello Dolly! on Broadway has been busy in recent months filming a new series called High Desert with Patricia Arquette for AppleTV+. Last month, she also paid tribute to the late composer Stephen Sondheim at the Tony Awards.
But perhaps his biggest and most important role over the past two decades has been helping place 2,000 rescue dogs and cats into loving homes. This year Peters is co-hosting with The Music Man star Sutton Foster. The afternoon kicks off at 3 p.m. with the big adoption event featuring adoptable animals from 21 New York-area adoption agencies and rescue groups, as well as the biggest names on Broadway who use their star power to help them find loving homes. Hugh Jackman, Jane Lynch, Donna Murphy and Randy Rainbow are among the celebrities who will make an appearance.
Time Out New York spoke with Peters who teased a thrilling Broadway performance during Broadway Barks and one of his last conversations with the late composer Stephen Sondheim.
How excited or anxious are you to do it in person for the first time in four years?
I am delighted. I’m so excited. I am so happy. When these animals enter [Shubert] Alley, they are so pure in heart. You can feel it. The entire driveway is elevated. It’s just the most beautiful feeling. So everyone will experience it when it comes.
What can people who come to the 5 o’clock show expect this year? I saw some of Hello Dolly! the dancers post that they are part of the show.
We have many back. We will open with the opening number that we did [for Broadway Barks in 2018] when i was in Hello Dolly!: “Put on your Sunday clothes.” [That performance is] on Youtube. It’s so exciting. And really kind of a movement in a way. We’re going to do this number again because now we always seem to start with a musical number. And we are Broadway!
Why is it moving?
The number starts and they come out with the dogs and the umbrellas. If you like animals, it becomes very moving. I just think animals have that effect.
You co-founded Broadway Barks with Mary Tyler Moore in 1999 because you wanted to do something for animals. But what exactly happened at the time that prompted you to launch this organization?
[My late husband Michael Wittenberg and my] dog had died and we went to the ASPCA. We thought at the time that it was a refuge for killing. We didn’t know much. And they said, “Oh no, we’re not a kill haven.” So we brought Kramer home.
The city shelter has evolved so much over the past 24 years. At the time, euthanasia happened a lot every day and now it doesn’t. It’s such a good thing. Now they call themselves Animal Care and Control because they care and they do a really wonderful job. They were so crowded back then. They had cages stacked on top of each other in the hallways with small dogs. They had a lot of purebred dogs, which they still have. They had poodles. They had Italian Mastiffs. They had Cocker Spaniels. I thought they needed help. So I went to see Mary who was a big animal lover. If you remember, she was saving Pale Male the red-tailed hawk atop her building on Fifth Avenue. I went to see our managers and they told me it was a great idea. I had to call the Shuberts – Jerry Schoenfeld. All he wanted to know was what was going to happen to the poo. I said don’t worry, there will be people who will take care of it. Then Broadway Cares said, let us help you. So Tom Viola stepped up to help us produce this every year.
What do you think has been the lasting impact you’ve seen from Broadway Barks since 1999, especially in New York City shelters?
Back then we only had six shelters [be part of Broadway Barks]. I called all the rescue groups who were doing it themselves. These were local rescue groups who took it upon themselves to raise these dogs. At the time people thought there was something wrong with rescues – that they were disposable – which is so out of line I can’t even believe I heard that come out of someone’s mouth. No, they were just homeless animals. I always thought that these animals weren’t there by accident. They serve a bigger purpose. I think they showed what the need was when the pandemic happened – how many lives they saved, people who were stuck at home on their own, people living alone, who needed that loving presence in their life.
I’ve heard you mention during the Broadway Virtual Barks for the past two years that you talked to your dogs during the pandemic. Do you think they saved your life during the pandemic?
Absolutely. And I had nature. It was summer, thank God, so I could go out on my roof.
How did you feel paying tribute to Stephen Sondheim at the Tony Awards?
I felt privileged to be able to honor Steve in this way. All I really wanted to do was present the song with as much intention as what he wrote. Because these are important lyrics with an important message. He never, ever, ever wanted his words to preach to an audience. He hated it. And they don’t preach. They just lay it out there for you to think about. And I was really honored to be there to be able to sing it.
Do you think that gave you a sense of closure at all?
Oh no. It just keeps things open. There is never closure with his music. I want to bring it forever.
What do you remember from your last conversation with him?
He had trouble seeing and he was going to have to learn to write on a computer. I think in a way he was asking the question. He was writing that last show [Square One].
That you did a workshop with Nathan Lane.
I did, yeah. It was wonderful to be able to do that. I’m glad I did that. We basically chat. I would ask him for advice on something, so I would always call him just to see how he was doing and that sort of thing.
Do you think that the public will be able to see this show with which you made the workshop?
I really do not know. I hope so.
Speaking of shows, is there a composer you would love to work with if you had the chance?
Linen [Manuel Miranda.] Hip-hop ain’t my thing, but I loved what he was doing with it tick, tick… Boom!
It must have been so amazing to go back to that time in your life.
I called Steve because to me the original song is sacred, so to speak. I said, “You know that and it’s a parody?” But he said he knew exactly what it was and he gave me his blessing to do it. I had to relearn the song because the melody is a bit different. But I have to tell you something, doing that one too has become very special also because Jonathan Larson is no longer with us. Seeing his dream come true on screen with all those Broadway celebrities – all those people he longed to have on his shows was a very emotional moment. How do you get two moments like that from this song and [the movie] version of the song?
But I thought only moments happened in the woods?
[laughs] It’s true.
What was your retrospective when you saw all this finished?
I thought the number was large. I loved working with Andrew [Garfield]. He’s a wonderful actor. There is another person I would like to work with. We were also happy to be there. Instead of cramming us in, [Lin] shot two at a time. We were very careful. There was a COVID cop that wouldn’t let us talk to each other. We had to have conversations yelling at each other while standing 6 feet apart.
My last question is funny. If there’s a better theater-themed name for an adopted pet, what would you call it?
I always call my pets names like Gladys or Joanne. But Blackout or Shubert!