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Linda Lavin 

Broadway Baby Heads Upriver

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Hash slinging at Mel's Diner wasn't a career choice for the title character of the TV series "Alice"; it was a side job for aspiring singer Alice Hyatt. Linda Lavin, who played the iconic waitress for nine years, brought to the role a pair of pipes groomed in Manhattan cabarets and Broadway musicals. When "Alice" ended in 1985, Lavin moved on with a vengeance, producing TV movies and then returning to Broadway to win a Tony for "Broadway Bound" and to grab further accolades for "Gypsy," "The Diary of Anne Frank," "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife" and last year's "The Lyons."

But Lavin had never strayed far from singing, as proven by her 2011 CD Possibilities, as well as her cabaret show, which has toured for the past decade. The act showcases jazz, swing, Bossa Nova, and American Songbook with tart reminiscences of her early days on The Great White Way.

The show arrives at Helsinki Hudson on February 10. "It's meant to be an easy, fun, friendly, exciting, hot, sophisticated, romantic evening," says Lavin. "And it is all of that." $50 reserved seating, $30 barstool.

Where did the idea for this cabaret show come from?
Linda Lavin: I've been doing it about 10 years, and this show has evolved. I've been working all over the country with this act. The first time I did the act, I called it "The Song Remembers When," and that was the centerpiece of the act, a wonderful Trisha Yearwood song that's on the CD Possibilities.

You're working again with Billy Stritch, a longtime collaborator. How do you two bring out the best in each other?
Linda Lavin: We've been friends since 1993, when we met. I don't know how we bring out the best in each other. But I do know that I love working with him. I love singing with him because he's an extraordinary musician with great passion for the music—and clarity. And delicacy and firmness. He's a great accompanist. Because he is a singer himself, he knows where the support needs to be. He knows where to comfort the singer and elevate the singer. And so, in all those ways, he brings out and supports and enhances the best in me. I don't know what I do for him, but I know we have a wonderful time together.

Let's talk about another important onstage collaborator, Steve Bakunas. You share both work and life together. How are you able to make that succeed?
Linda Lavin: Easily. Really, that's just another one of our ways of connecting. Steve and I have a very full and creative life. We have a very simple life. We love to travel. We like to cook and we like to go out to restaurants. We like to be with ourselves and each other and with friends. We're very comfortable with each other and on our own. And so we just extend those parts of ourselves into the music. It's another way of being who we are. We are a couple of individuals who also support each other and enhance each other. It's another way of loving, to make music together. And so, it's not anything except total joy to me when we get together to do these shows.

You said that the show has evolved over a period of time. Could you give examples?
Linda Lavin: As I evolve, the songs tell the story of me. There are songs that I've either known all my life or songs that I wish I had sung and I want to sing now. So, I'm not the same person I was when I started this act 10 years ago. I started with a bunch of different songs 10 years ago and many of them have been discarded. I am who I am now. And the songs reflect me now, which is why I call the show "Now."

What is your preference for your next project?
Linda Lavin: Oh, it's really always about the material. If the material is wonderful, that's where I'll be, whether it's television, theater, film. I have a film coming out in the spring called A Short History of Decay, and it's the story of a woman with early Alzheimer's. It's an independent movie by writer-director Michael Marin and it will hopefully be in some festivals. And as far as the small screen is concerned, I'm looking into the possibility of some television pilots this season. This act I will continue to do until nobody wants me to do it anymore.

For five years you and Steve Bakunas have operated and performed at the Red Barn Theatre in Wilmington, North Carolina. Now, you're relocating?
Linda Lavin: Yes, we have donated the Red Barn Theatre to the Cape Fear Community College theater department, which desperately needs a theater. We are ready for a new adventure, so we're making our home in New York City and we've bought a weekend place in Upstate New York, which Steve is rebuilding.

In your varied career, you seem to keep challenging yourself. Do you like moving outside of your comfort zone?
Linda Lavin: I don't think anybody likes moving out of their comfort zone. It's always scary. But I think it's essential for an artist and I think it's essential for a human being who believes that they can grow and change to step into zones that are challenging and uncomfortable and scary. I think growth comes from the willingness to change and the courage to change, that we become the people, the persons, the human beings that we really want to be—if we will only get out of our way and be hopeful and explore all the possibilities of ourselves, all the potential of ourselves. That is why I call the CD Possibilities. Without possibilities, we stay stagnant, and that's a kind of death for me.

  • Jay Blotcher interviews Tony award-winning singer and actress Linda Lavin.

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