Linda Lavin, TV's Alice, Sings Barbara Cook at Kennedy Center
Linda Lavin is a Broadway baby.
Oh, sure, she had a huge hit television series as the harried, funny, wise waitress “Alice” for nine years beginning in 1976, and she’s done films and television. But her heart, her core, her voice, if you will, belongs to Broadway.
We caught up with Lavin, who’s performing at the Kennedy Center in the Barbara Cook's Spotlight cabaret series at the Terrace Theater, Friday, Nov. 16, on the telephone just as she was moving.
“You’ll have to excuse me, the movers are here,” she said. She and husband Steve Bakunas are moving to New York after 17 years in Wilmington, N.C., where they ran the Red Barn Studio, a community theater art studio and school, happily, and left quite a stamp. She founded the Linda Lavin Arts Foundation there “to promote and foster the advancement of the performing and visual arts, with special emphasis on arts in education.” She also acted and directed in many of the plays there, including a memorable production of “Driving Miss Daisy” and “As You Like It.”
“It was time, but it’s a little hectic,” she said. “I ordered Chinese, and they’re here. We have to move the piano.”
Something in her voice sounds a little like Alice on a hectic day in the diner. She’ll be in DC –back again after a triumphant turn in the Broadway-bound “Follies” at the Kennedy Center last year—singing. “The songs are sort of a reflection of me," she said. "There’s a lot of variety there, not just Broadway show tunes, but different kind of songs, different moods, a little story-telling, love songs.”
She sings the way she acts—honestly, fiercely, tenderly in a way that’s unforgettable. Her gig was a hit at 54 Below, a snazzy club in New York. And she has a certain comfort zone here: Bakunas is on drums, and jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein is also in the band.
And the reason she’s a Broadway baby? That’s where she started, for one thing, going back to “It’s a Bird … It’s a Plane … It’s Superman,” when she sang “You’ve Got Possibilities.” It's where she did “Broadway Bound (Tony Award)," the last part of Neil Simon’s autobiographical trilogy. It’s where she followed Tyne Daly in “Gypsy” and belted out Mama Rose’s laments and anthems. It’s where she was in a revival of “Collected Stories” and collected three other Tony nominations. More recently, she starred opposite Stacey Keach in “Other Desert Cities” and the acclaimed family drama “The Lyons” by hot playwright Nicky Silver.
And of course—she sang “Broadway Baby”—in a powerful outburst of feeling and defiance in “Follies.”
“Yes, I think you can safely say that theater, Broadway, that’s my home, my place, where I thrive,” she said. She explains the variety of characters—united by eccentricity passion and strength—by noting that there’s “a lot of different women inside of me. I don’t think I’ve heard all of them yet.”
“Alice,” of course, identifies her, marks her with familiarity to millions of people still. She’s not complaining. “What ‘Alice’ did, it freed me," she said. "It made me very rich, which is not a bad thing. But I think, too, that so many women immediately recognized themselves in the role, in who she was. It was about women who struggled, the women they talked about in the election this year, who don’t get paid the same as men, who get through the day. That part is always a part of me.”
“It’s a big deal, this move, we created something here in Wilmington, and it was all very special,” she said.
Lavin, who was married twice before, has been with Bakunas, an actor, artist and musician, for a long time. They married in 2005. When it was a suggested that he might be “a keeper,” she laughed an Alice laugh. “He better be,” she said. “No, he’s a wonderful man, a great guy.”
That would be the guy playing the drums as Lavin takes the stage at the Kennedy Center.