Golden Globe- and Tony award-winning performer Bernadette Peters held the Meyerson in the palm of her hand this Saturday night, and all you needed to see it was your Dallas library card.
That’s all thanks to Culture Pass, a new partnership between the Dallas Library and the Office of Cultural Affairs that’s intended to broaden access to Dallas’ cultural institutions.
The program is a copycat of successful programs already being run in other cities like New York and Minneapolis. The program has come to Dallas thanks in part to local artist and arts advocate Erica Felicella, who brought it to the Dallas Festival of Ideas.
Thirty-four organizations are participating, including big guns such as the Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas Museum of Art (DMA), Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas Symphony Orchestra (DSO) and Dallas Theater Center. However, Culture Pass also offers the chance to visit Second Thought Theatre, Cara Mía Theatre Co. and other smaller arts purveyors.
We logged on last week to see what was available and take the program for a spin.
When you visit the Culture Pass website you are asked to provide the number on the back of your library card as well as your “PIN,” which is just the last four digits of the number you already entered.
After that, you’ll be taken to a page showing all of the offers running — not all of the organizations have offers available at all times.
Last week, you had your choice of general admission to the Nasher, the Sixth Floor Museum or Dallas Heritage Village; Bernadette Peters' performance with the DSO; the current Concentrations exhibition at the DMA; Alabaster at Kitchen Dog Theater; the Lone Star Wind Orchestra performing the music of John Williams; or the New Texas Symphony Orchestra performing works by women composers.
The DMA offer was a bit misleading, as that exhibition is already free, but altogether it was an attractive collection of offers that represented huge savings at some of the best theaters, auditoriums and museums in the city. You can have up to five reservations active at the same time, and there’s no limit on how many you can claim.
In the FAQ section of the Culture Pass site, pass holders are encouraged to attend something they’ve never seen before, to spread the word to their friends and to return as paying customers. The idea is not just to make cultural institutions more affordable, but also to generate more support for the arts by giving people with the ability to pay a chance to try before they buy.
In the spirit of these suggestions, we decided to reserve tickets to Bernadette Peters at the Meyerson this past Saturday night. We love the DSO and Peters is a big name, so it seemed likely to be good, though not something we would ordinarily have rushed out to see.
Once you select the Culture Pass offer you want, you’ll receive a confirmation of your reservation to print out. Read it thoroughly to make sure there aren’t any additional steps required; we were asked to call the DSO to complete the process.
Since the whole program is new, we expected to encounter a few kinks when we placed the call. To our surprise we received a ticket salesperson who clearly already knew the drill.
They asked how many tickets — most of the offers are good for at least two, so you don’t have to go alone — and said ours would be waiting at will call. The conversation took just a couple minutes.
Our experience Saturday evening was indistinguishable from past visits when we’ve been paying customers. In some ways it was actually better, as the tickets were best available and we were seated front and center in the Dress Circle, with a direct line of sight to the stage.
Peters took the stage with her longtime collaborator Marvin Laird (Gypsy, Hello, Dolly), who served as conductor for the evening. She opened the show with “Let Me Entertain You,” which was a perfect setup for what Peters proceeded to do for the next hour and a half.
She revisited some of her most famous Broadway performances, such as those in Hello, Dolly, Into the Woods, Gypsy and Follies. Unsurprisingly, most of the set list comprised songs by musical theater composer Stephen Sondheim, who has helped to make her a star.
Closing numbers “Send In the Clowns” and “Being Alive,” in particular — the latter most recently made famous by Adam Driver in A Marriage Story — brought down the house.
When she wasn’t bringing familiar characters to life, Peters took the concert as an opportunity to step into new roles, treating a full but not packed Meyerson to favorites from State Fair and South Pacific.
Her vast experience commanding Broadway stages showed. Peters effortlessly worked the stage as if it were nothing more than her own living room, wearing a shimmering, lavender ballgown that had a just-slipped-on quality and simple nude heels that made her appear to be barefoot. In between songs she paused to tell seemingly unrehearsed stories about everything from the numbers she’d chosen to a conversation she recently had at a party.
During “There Is Nothin’ Like A Dame,” Peters walked into the crowd and knelt in front of a man who bravely helped her sing the song. For the Peggy Lee classic “Fever,” she posed dramatically on top of the piano, enlisting the help of the DSO, who snapped behind her.
The DSO has a history of inviting pop singers to the stage — Sarah Jaffe is up next on Feb. 3 — but this was our first time to witness one of these nontraditional performances, and we were thoroughly charmed.
By cultivating an intimate atmosphere, Peters managed to draw uncharacteristic hoops and hollers from the attendees, transforming a formal space into something new and fascinating.
When we received an email survey the next morning, we knew exactly what to say. Bernadette Peters was fabulous. And we would have missed it all without Culture Pass.
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