By Brian Scott Lipton
Linda Lavin has been the consummate entertainer for nearly 50 years, triumphing on stage in numerous shows such as Gypsy, Broadway Bound, and The Lyons – earning one Tony Award and six nominations in the process — as well as starring as the title character of the beloved 1970s TV sitcom Alice and delighting audiences around the country with her nightclub acts.
On March 27, Lavin’s long-awaited second CD, “Love Notes,” was released on Club 44 Records. She recently spoke to TheaterPizzazz about the CD; her personal and professional history, including her dealings with Hal Prince, John Kander and Sarah Silverman; and how the COVID-19 outbreak has affected her life and career.
Q: How did this CD come about?
LL: The president of Club 44, Wayne Haun, asked me to do this CD for his new label, and I was ready to do one. It comes out of years of evolving my concert act, and much of this album derives from the show my musical director Billy Stritch and I performed last summer. The CD is called “Love Notes” because these are the stories that I want to tell. Some are autobiographical; some are other people’s stories, and I believe many of our stories are alike even if we don’t realize it. It’s my way of writing a book – which is something I would never want to do; who needs that kind of agony and torture?
Q: Are you pleased with the finished product?
LL: Absolutely! I really love the variety of tone, styles and arrangements we were able to put together for this record. I have to tell you that when they sent me the hard copy of the CD, I immediately sat in the bathtub with candles lit and listened to every single song, and I felt so much happiness.
Q: There are so many great standards on this CD, from “I Wish I Was in Love Again” to “You Must Believe in Spring.” But I have to ask you: What made you cover Steely Dan’s “Black Cow?”
LL: I credit my husband Steve Bakunas for this one. We were on a road trip and their song “Between the Raindrops,” came on, and we started talking about how much I love Steely Dan. I was in Alabama visiting someone when I first heard the album “Aja,” which this song is from. I am always fascinated by the stories their songs tell, even when I don’t know exactly what they’re talking out. Who does, really? Still, I love going to their concerts and hearing Donald Fagen sing; I really hope he hears this CD.
Q: Is singing as important to you as acting?
LL: It’s a lot of my history, both personally and professionally. My mother had a brief and dazzling career as an opera singer, but there was no support system for women in the 1930s. After she got married, she had a radio show in Portland. When I was growing up there, she and my sister and I never washed a dish without singing three-part harmony.
Q: Speaking of your history, tell me about your first Broadway show, the 1963 musical A Family Affair?
LL: Originally, I was just in the chorus, and at some point, Hal Prince came in to direct the show. He had been a successful producer; but this was his first show as a director and he transformed it. Anyway, he saw me backstage one day — I think I was on the pay phone — and he pointed to me and said, “you’re terrific.” Then, he pulled me out of the chorus and gave me four speaking parts — and I got $5 extra a week for each part. Hal was really my first mentor and it’s so hard to believe he’s not here with us anymore. You know that John Kander wrote the music for the show, and whenever I see him, he still sings something from the score to me. I am so grateful for that experience!
Q: We were just about to get you back on stage in the Atlantic Theater Company’s production of The Bedwetter, a musical based on Sarah Silverman’s autobiography. What attracted you to the show?
LL: I read the script and it made me laugh and cry. That’s the litmus test for any part I take. I was going to play Sarah’s grandmother, and I really felt the connection between these people in this story. I was always a big fan of Sarah’s work, and after I met her, I became a bigger fan of her personality and her solid reality. We had this one meeting about the show and she was so warm and welcoming and treated me with so much affection and respect. In fact, I came back from L.A. to New York to start rehearsals, and just as I landed, I found out all theater was being closed. We can’t do the show right now, but hopefully we can in the future.
Q: So, you’re back in New York during this COVID-19 outbreak? How are you coping?
LL: I am delving into gratitude, even though my husband Steve is in Costa Rica at our house there and can’t get back right now. So I am here with my dog, doing some Facebook Live concerts with Billy, and focusing on the CD for now. And I know another bunch of songs will come out of this situation!
Photos: Bill Westmoreland
To listen to Linda Lavin’s “Facebook Live” concerts, use these links: