Actress Sarah Bernhardt takes the stage at Troy Historic Village

By: Terry Oparka, | Troy Times | Published May 29, 2012

She was one of the first movie stars. More than 1,000 men reportedly proposed to her, and she was one of the first actresses to endorse products and be paid for it.

Carol Dunitz will bring “Madame Sarah” Bernhardt to life in a one-woman show titled “Bernhardt on Broadway” at the Troy Historic Village.

Dunitz, who earned a doctorate in speech/communication and theater from Wayne State University, set Bernhardt’s story to music after reading “about 100 books,” both in French, Bernhardt’s native language, and English on her subject.

 Carol Dunitz brings Sarah Bernhardt to the stage in a one-woman show.

Carol Dunitz brings Sarah Bernhardt to the stage in a one-woman show.

Provided photo

“My hope was that I would discover a new nugget combing through stuff I already knew,” she said.

Bernhardt, the daughter of a courtesan, revolutionized the place of women in theater, Dunitz said. Bernhardt was born in Paris in 1844. She studied drama at the Paris Conservatoire and became one of the most famous actresses in the history of theater. She was known as “the Divine Sarah,” and died in 1923.

Dunitz has written music since she was a child, and after running an advertising agency and writing several books, she wanted to write a musical play about a fictitious leading lady, but decided instead to tell Bernhardt’s story.

Dunitz has performed the one-woman show all over the country, including at the Grand Opera House in Dubuque, Iowa, where Bernhardt performed. The show premiered at Maxim’s on Centerstage in Chicago in October 2010. Dunitz said she has been in talks with a Broadway producer to take the show to New York City.

The play features 12 songs, although Bernhardt did not perform songs on stage or film.

In picking a venue to perform the play, Dunitz sought something with a historic bent, and the 110-seat Old Troy Church at the Troy Historic Village filled the bill, she said.

Those who have seen the show have told her it felt like they had spent two hours in Sarah Bernhardt’s dressing room, rather than at a play, Dunitz said.

“We’re delighted to have a community gathering space here and help artists in the region to reach a larger audience,” Loraine Campbell, director of the historic village said. She noted that the event will help to make the Troy Historic Village a destination, as well as a resource.

See “Bernhardt on Broadway” at 2 p.m. June 18 at the Troy Historic Village, 60 W. Wattles. Tickets cost $25 and are available at the Historic Village. Call (248) 524-3570 for information. The cost is $20 per person for groups of 10 or more. Call (734) 864-3244 for group sales.