Sept. 10 2014 12:00 AM

Michigan woman brings Bernhardt musical to East Lansing


If television had been around when Sarah Bernhardt was alive, she undoubtedly would have had an envelope-pushing reality show and been a fixture on “TMZ.” The 19th century French actress/artist sent tongues wagging worldwide with her risqué artistic endeavors and unconcealed sexual exploits, paving the way for Elizabeth Taylor, Madonna and Miley Cyrus to inherit her mantle of Most Scandalous Woman Alive. Not bad for a self-trained courtesan’s daughter who died before the 1920s could even get roaring.

“A lot of people know Sarah Bernhardt’s name, but know nothing about her,” said Carol Dunitz, an Ann Arbor woman who created a show based on Bernhardt’s life. “This musical is as much about education as it is entertainment.”

Dunitz 62, brings her one-woman original musical, “Bernhardt on Broadway,” to East Lansing’s Hannah Community Center on Saturday. The two-hour performance features 12 original songs and Dunitz’ French-accented portrayal of Bernhardt, who died in 1923 at 78.

“The show takes palace in 1890s when she’s in her 50s and still quite sexy,” Dunitz said. “I’ve researched her so much that I don ‘t even play her anymore — I become her.”

Although Dunitz is a professional writer, this is her first stage production. Initially she had planned to create a fictional leading lady character similar to Ethel Merman, but she found inspiration when she started reading about Bernhardt.

“If I’d created a character, I wouldn’t have been able to come up with someone this fascinating,” Dunitz said. “She was way ahead of her time for many things, and definitely a leader for female artists.”

Dunitz said she’s a born performer (“My mother used to call me a little Sarah Bernhardt”), but before this show she had never acted on stage. She said “Bernhardt on Broadway,” which she debuted in 2009, fulfilled a longstanding dream.

“I raised four kids on my own, and I (gave up) certain things because I had to be fiscally responsible,” Dunitz said. “But I realized if there’s something special you want to do, if you don’t start working on it at some point, it’s not going to happen. I had the talent and the drive — I just decided it was time.”

“Bernhardt on Broadway”

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 13 Hannah Community Center 819 Abbot Road, East Lansing $28.50/$24.50 seniors and groups (800) 838-3006, bernhardtonbroadway.com

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