Becoming Bernhardt: 1-woman musical hits Wyandotte

Photo courtesy of Carol Dunitz

Carol Dunitz channels silent film actress Sarah Bernhardt in “Bernhardt on Broadway,” which will hit the Downriver Council for the Arts stage March 17.

Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE – As the star of a series of popular print ads for her boutique ad agency that ran in Crain’s Detroit Business, Carol Dunitz experienced her own small dose of fame when readers regularly stopped her on the street.

But when she decided to fulfill a lifelong dream to write, produce and star in a one-woman show, she chose to embody one of the most famous stars of her time, French film star Sarah Bernhardt.

“I’ve been writing professionally my whole adult life,” Dunitz, an Ann Arbor-based communication specialist and author, said. “My dream was to produce musicals. Three years ago I said, ‘I don’t want to look back at the end of my life and say, “This is my dream and I never tried.”’”

The result was “Bernhardt on Broadway,” a 12-song retelling of the actress’ on and off-screen life, that will make a stop at the Downriver Council for the Arts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday before heading on to other Michigan locations.

Dunitz said she wanted to write a musical centered on a fictional leading lady and include music from each of her imagined performances, but then decided instead of creating a character she could use Bernhardt, a name her mother would teasingly invoke when Dunitz acted dramatic as a child.

“Many mothers have called their daughters ‘little Sarah Bernhardts,’” Dunitz said. “But all I knew was that she was a great actress. I didn’t know anything more than that.”

So Dunitz exhaustively researched the film siren, poring over more than 100 books on her. She injected much of what she learned into the show.

“It’s in-depth,” Dunitz said. “You understand how she became the person she did, her relationship with her mother and her son, and how all these things helped to form her character.”

As she read, Dunitz said she saw parallels between the star and herself.

“There’s a definite synergy between the two of us,” Dunitz said, recalling traits, like self promotion, determination and drive, she shares with Bernhardt but adding that unlike the star, she made her four daughters, now in their 20s, a priority.

“Now they’re following their dreams,” Dunitz said. “And its time for Mom to start following hers.”

And her dream of taking the show to New York might soon come true. A few Broadway producers recently spoke to her about the possibility at one of her shows.

“I don’t know what will happen,” Dunitz said. “But when people at that level are telling you how extraordinarily talented you are and how good the show is, it’s a good sign.”

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