I had the distinct pleasure and honor to talk to Tony and Golden Globe winner Linda Lavin who is another one of my favorite performers I grew up watching on television ("Alice") and in my adult life have had the pleasure of seeing light up the theatrical stage ("Tale of the Allergists Wife" and "Hollywood Arms")! Now, I've had the chance to hear her sing with the release of her debut CD, "Possibilities." With enthusiasm, frankness, humor, and kindness, Linda and I discussed her illustrious life and career from her days on "Alice" to her theatrical endeavors, to her cabaret shows, to the release of her debut CD "Possibilities," on Sh-K-Boom Records' Ghostlight label, produced by John Brown with musical direction by Billy Stritch, and upcoming concert and CD signing at Barnes and Noble on January 18 in New York City.
Linda Lavin most recently appeared in Nicky Silver's play "The Lyons" at the Vineyard Theatre Off-Broadway. She also appeared at the Kennedy Center in "Follies;" at Lincoln Center Theatre in "Other Desert Cities," "The Sisters Rosensweig" and "The New Century" (Drama Desk Award). Her other theatrical credits include Broadway's "Collected Stories" (Tony nomination), "Hollywood Arms," "The Tale of the Allergists Wife" (Tony nom.), "The Diary of Anne Frank" (Tony nom., Drama Desk Award), "Gypsy," "Broadway Bound" (Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Helen Hayes awards), "The Last of the Red Hot Lovers" (Tony nom.), "Cop Out," "Story Theatre," "Something Different," "It's A Bird…It's A Plane…It's Superman," and "A Family Affair." Off-Broadway, Linda has delighted audiences in "Cakewalk," "Death Defying Acts," "The Mad Show," "Oh, Kay!" (Theatre World Award), and "Little Murders" (Outer Critics Circle Award). Regionally, Linda has been seen in Arthur Miller's last play, "Finishing The Picture" at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and in "Collected Stories," "Doubt," "Rabbit Hole," and "Driving Miss Daisy" at the Red Barn Studio Theatre in Wilmington, NC which was founded by Linda and her husband Steve Bakunas, after they took an old auto garage and turned it into this wonderful intimate theatre. They both run the theatre, Steve designs the sets, Linda the costumes. They both act, direct, and produce the plays for the 50 seat house. It's provides the community with top-notch productions and performers.
Linda has also lit up the screen in such films as "The Backup Plan," "The Muppets Take Manhattan," "See You in the Morning," and "I Want to Go Home," and her upcoming film "Wanderlust." She has shined in such hit television series as "Alice," "Barney Miller," "Room for Two," and "Conrad Bloom." her TV films include "The $5.20 an Hour Dream," "A Matter of Life and Death," "A Place to Call Home," "Lena: My 100 Children," "Best Friends for Life," "The Ring," and "Collected Stories."
As a singer, Linda has had numerous cabaret shows throughout her career including "Songs and Confessions of a One-Time Waitress" and "The Song Remembers When" with national appearances at Birdland, The Metropolitan Room, and Wilmington, NC Symphony.
Linda just released her debut CD "Possibilities" on Sh-K-Boom Records Ghoslight Label. Linda is celebrating the release with a performance and signing on January 18 at 6pm at Barnes and Noble in New York City (150 East 86th Street, 86th & Lexington Avenue).
1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? Well, I didn't really choose it, it chose me. When I was child my mother told the story that, I stood up in my crib and sang "God Bless America" before I could speak. I don't know if that story is entirely true, but I've done a lot with that story and so has my mother. My mother was an opera singer and she had a very brief, but dazzling career in NY. She was an extraordinarily gifted singer. So, music was always around. Performing was perhaps inspired by mother and her mother and all the music that came out of them. I always say "My mother, sister, and I never washed a dish without doing three-part harmony." Singing was something I always did as a child and I just loved performing.
In addition, the culture I grew up in was inspiring. I went to the movies and saw musicals on the big screen as well as going to theatre and the opera. There was nothing more satisfying to me than music or performing. I loved doing it. Whether it be live or in film or on television, it's extremely rewarding and always challenging to be able to share myself as a performer.
2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? Oh, that's a very good question. I went to see Alan Rickman in "Seminar" on Broadway about a week or so ago and I told him right then and there that I would treasure the chance the work with him. There are people in the theatre I've just come to admire...Chita Rivera, Frank Langella, Christine Ebersole, and so many others. I go to the theatre and I think, "Wow, I want to be doing that and I want to work with that person." I've been fortunate to work with a lot of people I've wanted to whose work I've seen on the stage." Doing "Follies," I got to work with Bernadette Peters for the first time and that was a treat! I also got to work with Danny Burstein. I remembered seeing him in "The Drowsy Chaperone" and just being inspired by him. That happens a lot to me, I see a show and think "I'd love to work with that person. I'd love to be on stage with them." Sometimes it happens for me, but one thing is for sure, a lot my dreams are coming true.
3. What made you want to release a CD? How did you come up with the idea/concept for "Possibilities"? How did you assemble your band? Well, I've been doing this particular act for about seven years and I get to work with my dear friends Billy Stritch and Jim Caruso (who runs "Broadway at Birdland" and "Cast Party" on Mondays). We've done a lot of stuff together, the three of us. But I actually started an act when I first came to NY in the village when I was I looking for parts on Broadway. When I couldn't get work in the theatre, because I could sing, I could go to auditions for musicals for chorus parts and at the same time I could work in the little clubs in village, which all had the name Downstairs in them, and I worked in all those sub-basement rooms, so I've been doing an act for hundreds of years (haha), but this particular act that "Possibilities" comes from was inspired by Jim Caruso who got me a job and he said, "Now you have to do it." I would say it was about seven or eight years ago and he came down to Wilmington, NC with a music director and an offer for a job in the Poconos and we put an act together in five days. So, I started this act and got a couple of agents and have been traveling around the country with it. I've played Birdland and The Metropolitan Room, which I'm going to be playing again in May 2012. I've played all over: the East, the West, the North, and the South. Billy Stritch became my musical director about five years ago, which is a great gift, he's exceptional. My husband, Steve Bakunas, who had been a rock drummer all his life, decided to be a jazz drummer, and took lessons, and worked harder than anybody, and auditioned for, and became my drummer. My bass player is a man named John Brown, who's the head of the jazz department at Duke University and about a year ago, John said to me, "You have to make an album. I've got the facilities to do it this." He had the studio and the equipment and I said, "Good, let's do it." We went to Durham, NC and John had this brilliant engineer, John Plymale, in this little studio and we added a horn player, Ray Codrington, who's from the Big Band days, and Baron Tymas, who played a great guitar for us, and Billy Stritch did the arrangements for us and we laid 15 tracks in a day and a half and then I just sang. Billy and John are the forces behind this album. Billy is the musical force and John just got it all done.
Many of the songs are from the American Songbook, but we also do a Steely Dan song "Between The Raindrops" and I do "You've Got Possibilities" which is the name of a song I sang on Broadway in the Hal Prince production of "It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's Superman." That was the hit song from the show and Peggy Lee did a recording of it as well, but it was time for me to do it. Recording "Possibilities" was just one of those magical events. I was in good shape, I was in good voice, I was so happy, and the arrangements are so wonderful! Then I took the album to Kurt Deutsch, president of Sh-K-Boom/Ghostlight Records, and they said, "Yes, we want to release it!" We found the best possible company to release "Possibilities." They have been very supportive in promoting us and I'm extremely grateful they took us on.
The album is so good and there are many times when I can't believe it's me and that it's so smooth and sweet and sexy. It's a very romantic album. It's an album you take on vacation with you and you just stick it in the CD player of the car and it makes you so happy. I'm very, very proud of it and very excited by it. I'm looking forward to doing more albums.
4. What excites you about your upcoming performance and CD signing at Barnes and Noble on January 18? I'm really looking forward to the Barnes and Noble performance/CD signing on January 18 at 6pm. This is a real dream come true for me. Living in the Lincoln Center area of the city where Barnes and Noble has just gone out of business, I used to walk by those windows and see people making appearances with book and CD signings and I'd go to appearances of friends who were promoting their work. I would just think to myself, "I would really love to do this someday." When the album came out, we went over to Steve Sorrentino at Barnes and Noble, and he said "Absolutely." I couldn't believe it. I was like, "Now I can die. I'm doing a Barnes and Noble gig." (hopefully I won't die before the Barnes and Noble gig...hahaha).
My husband and I went over to see the venue last week and I was so surprised, it's a real little concert hall. It's a room behind soundproof glass doors and there were pictures and posters of me and Billy all over the place. I felt like a kid in a candy store. It was really very exciting to go up the escalators and see a poster of me promoting this concert hanging in the store. I'm very gratified. The reviews are coming in and my publicist, who you may know, Sam Rudy, Me: Oh, I love Sam, I've worked with him many times. Linda Lavin: Yes, he's just the salt of the earth. He sends me all these reviews and I'm absolutely blown away.
I did a concert at Birdland last week and now I'm doing this one at Barnes and Noble on January 18 and then I'll do another one in Wilmington, NC with the Wilmington Symphony which is a 60-piece orchestra on March 17 and then I'm going to Asheville, NC in April and then The Metropolitan Room in NYC in May and I'm in negotiations with a brand new club opening this fall, Below 54, in NYC.
I just love doing this. I love doing the act. It's not only fun, it's very satisfying for me to sing songs I grew up with, sing songs I love, learn new songs, throw them in, do them spontaneously, and connect with the audience. It's the connection that means so much. I just love it and it keeps me out of trouble.
5. What do you like about interacting with your fans in this manner, after your performance, they come up to you to have their CD signed? I love that personal contact. I did a concert in White Plains a few weeks ago, a Christmas/Holiday concert, and went out into the lobby to sell a few CDs, and when you meet people who have been sitting in the dark all evening looking at you, you get a sense of exactly who that is and what they felt about what you were doing. What I love about it is getting that verbal and emotional feedback right there in the moment. A lot of people, and why I have to go around promoting my singing and CD, is because a lot of people don't know that I sing. I find that enormously surprising since I've been singing my whole life. I started in musicals on Broadway then I went and did "Alice" for 9 years on television and "Alice" was a singer and I sang several times on the show, but they weren't sure that was me. They thought I was lip-syncing or something. I have to get the word out about it. I love the surprise of it all and I really love meeting people and hearing exactly what moved them about the material, what they liked about it, why they liked it, why they came, and what it did for them. You don't always get to meet your audience. It makes me feel good to do it.
6. What have you learned about yourself from being a performer? Oh, that will take about an hour and another half of the year....hahaha. I constantly learn about myself through the roles that I choose to play. I just finished doing Nicky Silver's newest play "The Lyons" and what appealed to me about that character was the things that are like me in that character and the things that are not. What I think I learn about myself varies with the people I work with and the material that speaks to me. One thing I've learned about myself is that I'm a different person today than I was when I did "Alice." I remember myself as "Alice" and certainly when I see movies or pieces of work that I've done many years ago, I think, "Wow, that's somebody that's had nine lives." I've also learned to be patient, to be accepting, and I don't know that I've learned that from being a performer as I have from the work that I do in my life as I trod the path so to speak. The bottom line of what I learned, and this is a very recent lesson, is in working with other people who have their own issues, as I have mine, the collaboration, the coming together, the working on a piece of material, whether it be a play or a nightclub act or a concert or a recording, is that I am not alone. I have other people there with me, on the stage, in the room, in the studio. Everybody's attention to details and the weaving of the personalities and the principals of what it takes to create a piece of art, a piece of work, are more important than the individual's needs. That's what I feel I have to hold on to and work on. In that way, I become a part of and a participant in the project and that is extremely satisfying because it's a lot more fun; the ability to sit back and let other people participate in their opinions and in how it can work. I've come a long way from the frightened kid I was, when I first began, who feared criticism. Now I hear the critical input as a possibility to change and make things better.
That brings me back to the album because you asked me why I chose the title, "Possibilities," for my album. It came to me as I listened in the control booth after we made the album and I thought, "Wow, this is what I want to say." That this whole experience is about the possibilities in life. My life is a constantly changing landscape of possibilities. They have been numerous and I haven't made a lot of them happen. They've fallen in my lap or they've been around the corner and if I just shut up, take notice, stay hopeful, participate and show up, the possibilites are there, and remember to say yes to those possibilites. I think that's what I've learned as a woman and as a performer. That what happens in the moment is valid and valuable and exciting. That is a metaphor for life and for performance. I see what I have learned as a person to the parallel of what I've learned as a performer. Being in the moment, being real, being connected, being hopeful, and going out there and saying in words or music, "This is my talent. This is what I have to give you. I hope you enjoy it." Rather than worry what I'm going to get from it. You know what I mean? Me: I think that makes a better performance too, to just give your talent and not worry about what you're going to get, because you are just doing it for the love of it and not worrying about what the reaction is going to be, whether positive or negative. If you're doing it because you love it, I feel, that is what will bring out the positive reaction from the audience. Linda: Well, I think you're right. I see that with myself and in watching other people.
7. Looking back, what was the best part about starring on "Alice" and in Charles Busch's "Tale of the Allergists Wife"? The best part about working on "Alice" was that it was the biggest job I've ever had. It was the longest too. I got so much joy from the show and a lot of financial freedom and creative power. I was on that show for nine years and that just doesn't happen very often. I was able to become a producer and director because I got the power to make deals with the network that were then allowing me to choose material to make fabulous movies for television about women who walk through fire and come out still standing, I got to direct two episodes of "Alice" per year, and work with wonderful people on funny material. I connected with millions of women in this country who are "Alice," who are the blue and pink collar women who represent 80% of all the women who work in this country, who felt validated by "Alice" and her struggle. I went out and talked to people and raised awareness for working women's issues. I met single mothers who came up to me and said, "I had so little and I would watch reruns of 'Alice' while my kid was in a high chair, and I was going back to school or looking for work and 'Alice' gave me the courage to go on with my life." I mean that kind of thing is life changing stuff.
The "Tale of the Allergists Wife," my God, that piece of material amounts to the best material ever written for a woman in the American Theatre and to watch and listen to people laugh the way they laughed in that theatre, night after night, was very rewarding. One night I saw a guy fall out of his seat and rock back and forth on the floor with laughter and his friends literally had to put him back in his seat.
That kind of laughter also happened for me with the Nicky Silver play, "The Lyons," and Neil Simon was that kind of laughter too for me. To hear that kind of laughter: unabashed, relaxed, and uproarious does not happen that often. The satisfaction of touching people that way, feeling like a stand-up, in the middle of a situation in play about a woman who's really seeking happiness is just extremely satisfying.