“You’re a little Sarah Bernhardt,” used to be an expression mothers said to their over dramatic little girls. A French actress in the late 19th century, “The Divine Sarah Bernhardt” was a household name for decades following her career. And when Carol Dunitz the creator and star of Bernhardt on Broadway was growing up, it was a name her mother teased her with a lot.
“It’s strange now to think about a stage actress being ubiquitous,” Dunitz says. “But she was a celebrity before the internet or entertainment television. Everyone knew who she was.”
When Dunitz set out to write Bernhardt on Broadway, she’d never done anything like it before. It took her several years of research and writing to craft the one-woman musical that paints a portrait of the star. Currently she is on a “mini-tour,” which stops at the Margo Jones Theatre in the Magnolia Lounge in Fair Park on Tuesday for two performances.
Bernhardt’s life on the stage has fascinated scholars for years. She performed on European stages in the early 1870s, quickly rising to fame throughout the Western world. She toured extensively, returning home to produce, direct and star in shows at Theatre de la Renaissance in Paris. She starred in blockbuster shows, as well as more scandalous productions, but she was notorious for having no fear. At one point she even played Christ’s betrayer, Judas. Although books, essays and plays have been written about her life, it’s never been seen the way Dunitz performs it.
“I sing, I tell stories and I’ve been told I really channel Bernhardt like people imagine her,” Dunitz says. “One man even got down on one knee and proposed to me after my show.”
In Bernhardt’s day that kind of love was not uncommon. Audiences around the world fell in love with her, an opportunity Dunitz believes she is offering modern audiences in a show with its sights set on Broadway.
“The hardest part is getting the audience in the door,” Dunitz says. “Once they’re there the love affair begins.”
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