by Bob Thomas
She’s done almost everything in a career laden with honors. Now Peggy Lee is preparing to make her debut in a Broadway musical. It’s called “Peg.”
No mere “and then I sang” concert, it will be fully staged with a cast of 22 and a multimillion dollar budget.
“Peg” traces Miss Lee’s saga from her birth as Norma Deloris Egstrom in Jamestown, N.D., through her upbringing in foster homes, her discovery by Benny Goodman when she was 16, her stormy marriage to guitarist Dave Barbour, her triumphs and tragedies.
Her autobiography is told through lyrics of 23 new songs. She will do the singing, and also will be portrayed by a child actress and another in her 20s.
Zev Bufman and Irv Cowan will produce the show with book and lyrics by Peggy Lee and music by Paul Horner.
The enterprise was announced last week with a luncheon at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Knowing the singer’s shyness about making non-singing appearances, some of the media wondered if she would show up.
“Oh, she’ll be here,” assured Bufman, the Israeli-born, Florida-based impresario. “Everyone told me Peggy would be difficult to deal with. In fact, she has been an absolute dream.
“I was told the same thing about Elizabeth Taylor. Impossible, they said. Well, we did have our moments, but she played ‘The Little Foxes’ for a year and a half and was a huge success. Now we’re going to
‘Sweet Bird of Youth’ together.”
Miss Lee did appear, a striking figure completely in a black, flowing chiffon pajama suit and broad-brimmed hat that covered her blond hair. She seemed serene amid all the attention, and her sometimes ample figure appeared trimmer than in the recent past.
Following lunch, Bufman told the gathering that he had first heard the Lee-Horner songs eight weeks ago and discovered “a side of Peggy Lee no one has seen before — so private, so womanly, so intimate, so open to us.” Miss Lee could easily go to Broadway “with two suitcases of her hits and sing for two hours and a half,” he remarked; “instead, she’ll appear in a brand new American musical.”
Cowan, a Florida hotel owner and longtime Lee friend, said he and his wife had long encouraged Peggy to interpret her life through lyrics. She found a partner in Paul Horner, a young Englishman who was her
accompanist in a production of “Side by Side by Sondheim.”
Miss Lee took the microphone and remarked, “This is one of the happiest days of my life.” She admitted that in the past she wouldn’t have been able to speak more than a few words to such as gathering, “but now my shyness has sort of left me. I want to get out and live life to the fullest.” Reviewing her life to create “Peg” may have been therapy, she conceded.
Then she performed three of the songs, with Horner playing piano. The room was silent as she sang about a player piano she had known as a child, about how she learned to sing the blues, about her love for Dave Barbour. The voice was sultry and insinuating as ever, but songs seemed to emerge from deep within her.
Asked if there would be a road company of “Peg,” Bufman replied: “I can’t conceive of anyone filling those shoes.”