Broadway To Vegas


Copyright April 25, 1998
By: Laura Deni



Jack Klugman
I found myself standing on the corner of 5th Avenue and 55th Street yelling "FREE SHOW! JACK KLUGMAN OF THE ODD COUPLE. FREE SHOW!" I'm not usually a street corner hustler and the multi-talented Jack Klugman never goes begging for an audience. The unusual situation was supposedly because the N.Y. Times failed to advertise the free reading being given by three time Emmy winner Klugman and Tony Award winner Marian Seldes, as part of The International Project to Promote Peace and Unity Through the Arts (TIPA), held Friday, April 24th, at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.

When I arrived at the church nobody was there, except for the distraught TIPA producer, Stanley Tannen, and his two assistants. "The New York Times let us down. They didn't run the ad. For the first time they failed us. I am so embarrassed," bemoaned the dignified Tannen. The anguished look on his face, as he gazed around the empty church, emphasized the enormity of the snafu. "I don't know what to do."

If nobody knows about an event it's impossible to fill the hall and the performance was to begin in fifteen minutes. With majestic dark woods, a huge pipe organ, glorious blue stained glass windows and red carpeting, the stately church reverberated emptiness.

Presbyterian churches don't have statues, eliminating the possibility of dimming the lights, swiping Klugman's glasses and trying to convince him that there were people standing in the back of the church. Without a saint to fall back on, we hit the streets. One of Tannen's associates stood in front of the church, the other headed to 56th Street, while I picked the corner of 55th.

In 1959 Jack Klugman starred with Ethel Merman and Sandra Church in Gypsy
With flyers in hand I stood on the corner encouraging passers-by to come on in. If free show or Jack Klugman didn't get them I offered a final incentive for the foot weary - "The seats inside are extremely comfortable," I pleaded.

Within 10 minutes we had roped in a couple hundred surprised people who sat enthralled as Marian Seldes, a member of the Theatre Hall of Fame, read The Kerchief, from Nobel Prize laureate S.Y. Agnon.

Then prominent celebrity attorney Dudley Griffin introduced Klugman, speaking warmly of his respect for the man who battled back from throat cancer.

Klugman, a man who nine years ago turned his life around, Griffin told the crowd. Indeed he has. Always a horse lover, Klugman was a fixture of Las Vegas sports books. More than once I interviewed him between bets. He was an easy celebrity to locate. He'd come to Vegas from L.A. and take root at a sports book. If you wanted to talk to him, all you had to do was head to the book - only don't talk to him while he is betting.

Then cancer almost nosed out Klugman's career. He lost his right vocal cord. His raspy voice was muffled and weak. In a long shot win, his career flourishes.

Currently, he co-stars with his best buddy, Tony Randall, in The Sunshine Boys at the Lyceum Theatre.

Wearing a gray suit and glasses Klugman ascended the pulpit and began a powerful Philip Roth reading.

I was astonished at the strength, intonation and vibrance of Klugman's voice. The raspiness was barely noticeable. Most actors with both vocal cords couldn't have delivered such a powerful reading.

Seventeen minutes into his reading, without warning, Klugman grabbed at his throat, his knees almost buckling as his skin color suddenly blended into the hue of his gray suit. "I can't go on. Marian will finish," he whispered as he almost stumbled from the pulpit, returning to his pew.

The audience gasped.

Marian Seldes
Demonstrating what makes a thoroughbred, Marian Seldes instantly controlled her surprise, returned to the pulpit.

"I'll go back a few lines, so you can get used to my voice," she explained not missing a beat.

Then she established the gold standard for a cold reading. The pity was that it wasn't captured on video, so it could be required viewing for every aspiring actor.

As she brilliantly continued the Roth reading, the stranger next to me started praying for Jack Klugman's health.

At the end of the performance the audience, who had never intended to be there, stood to give Marian Seldes and Jack Klugman a standing ovation.

As Klugman left the church he hugged Marian.

The stranger next to me was still praying.

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Prayers were answered when High Society opened at the St. James Theatre on Monday, April 27th, giving critics a lesson to be cautious in judging a show before it opens.

The new Cole Porter musical underwent more changes in previews than a chameleon, causing many critics to cancel it out before it opened. Well, open it did and it's a production not to be missed!

Originally the Philip Barry comedy The Philadelphia Story, turned into the classic 1956 movie High Society, starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Celeste Holm, the current production respects the previous versions while establishing it's own immortality.

All of the talents sparkle. There isn't a weak member of the cast. Steven Bogardus does bear a certain Sinatra resemblance. While never imitating Sinatra, he is perfect as writer Mike Connor. Randy Graff, as Liz Imbrie, also shows her flair for the style and comedy timing displayed by Celeste Holm. Dark haired Melissa Errico, in the role of Tracy Lord, makes the part her own, while John McMartin as the woman chasing, inebriated Uncle Willie is a magnificent delight.

If not stealing the show, then at least the wonder glue that keeps it together, is a young lady named Anna Kendrick, who has given notice that she is on her way toward major stardom.

Playing Diana Lord, this is Anna's first, but not last, Broadway production. It is also, astonishingly, her first role outside of her home state of Maine. Her handlers will soon be able to write her a ticket to anywhere. May they never become so blinded, basking in her spotlight, that they forget to allow Anna her right to a childhood and adolescence. She has phenomenal potential that will need to be protected even more than promoted.

The music, of course, is a timeless delight. Cole Porter at his best with a score of show stoppers, with extra songs from the Porter songbook and additional lyrics from Susan Birkenhead. That is what has been missing for several years from Broadway musicals. How many times have you walked out of a theater humming a tune from the production and found yourself a week later still singing the lyrics? On the fingers of one hand with digits to spare.

The costumes, staging, choreography, lighting and casting deserve standing ovations. This is the production that will make you happy you bought a ticket. Go see it once and you'll want to see it again.


LIVE MUSICIANS who are rapidly becoming an endangered species, have Frankie Laine headlining a benefit for the Las Vegas musician's union. The 85 year old singer's recording of Wheels of a Dream from Ragtime receiving radio airplay.

DAVID CASSIDY who starred on Broadway and now stars in EFX at the MGM-Grand Hotel, Las Vegas, extremely active in Las Vegas charities, donating both time and money.

Copyright: April 25, 1998. All Rights Reserved. Reviews, Interviews, Commentary, Photographs or Graphics from any Broadway To Vegas (TM) columns may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, utilized as leads, or used in any manner without permission, compensation and/or credit.
Next issue Monday May 11, 1998
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Laura Deni

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