Tony, Drama Desk and Golden Globe Award winner Bernadette Peters – the original Broadway star of Sondheim’s Into the Woods and Sunday in the Park with George – returned to the Royal Festival Hall tonight for the first time since her much revered concert at the same venue in 1998. Eighteen years later, Peters looks and sounds much the same as she does on the recording of that previous London concert, and brings a rare touch of Broadway superstardom to the South Bank for the first of three UK concerts which continue in Manchester and Edinburgh over the next few days. Unlike fellow Broadway star Audra McDonald, who made a similar return to London earlier this year at the intimate Leicester Square Theatre, Peters opts for a larger-scale approach, with an eleven-piece band under the musical direction of her long-time musical collaborator Marvin Laird, with whom she has great professional rapport and shared experience.

Opening with ‘Let Me Entertain You’ from Gypsy – a show she starred in on Broadway in 2003 – Peters certainly did that in a 90-minute set during which she writhed on top of a grand piano in a spirited version of ‘Fever’, and delivered several Rodgers and Hammerstein favourites including a humorous interpretation of South Pacific’s ‘There is nothing like a dame’. Whatever one thinks of Peters’ unique vocal quality and style, she certainly does things her way and is surely one of the finest exponents of the art of acting through song. Indeed, it was her dramatic interpretation of the works of Stephen Sondheim that were the biggest hit of the night. Peters gives the full emotional impact – and then some – to Sally’s two big numbers from Follies, ‘In Buddy’s Eyes’ and ‘Losing My Mind’, breaking down in front of the audience as we watch in almost disbelief. Another relatively recent Sondheim role – in A Little Night Music – is recalled in an equally dramatic ‘Send in the Clowns’.

Over the years, Peters has juggled a Broadway career with numerous film and small screen appearances – her latest role, in Amazon Prime’s Mozart in the Jungle, is reference with a cabaret number from that show – and her charity work for Broadway Barks provides a moving final encore. Despite several Mack and Mabel numbers being referenced in the opening overture, Peters (the original Mabel) omits Jerry Herman’s classic score in her concert programme, along with her Tony Award winning performance in Lloyd Webber’s Song & Dance. But the original Witch in Sondheim’s Into the Woods and the original Dot from his Sunday in the Park with George does recall those shows, and one is taken in an instant to various dramatic moments with her focussed, intimate renderings of ‘Children will listen’ and ‘No one is alone’, and a pleading ‘Move on’. And the finale from Company, ‘Being Alive’ made one truly glad to be so – and to be there at a rare opportunity of seeing a true Broadway star back in London after far too long.