Mention the name Len Cariou and Broadway fans sit up respectfully. The Tony Award winner’s career has spanned more than 50 years and includes playing opposite Lauren Bacall in 1970’s Applause and starring in A Little Night Music and the original title role in Sweeney Todd. But Cariou may have his largest fan base because of his role as Henry Reagan in TV’s Blue Bloods. The series, which was recently renewed for a 10th season, is about a family of New York City cops in which he plays a former NYPD beat cop who rose through the ranks to police commissioner.
Cariou, who turns 80 in September, is once again hitting the boards — and the road — this time to spotlight his Broadway roots and his Shakespearean roles. Cariou, who was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, also starred in some American classics, too — such as Eugene O’Neill’s A Touch of the Poet. That production was presented in 1992 at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre, where he will bring his solo show Broadway & The Bard on July 13.
“I started with Shakespeare but lots of folks only know me from Blue Bloods,” says Cariou, whose show is an 80-minute melding of Shakespearean soliloquies and American musical comedy numbers.
Connecticut audiences may also recall the actor, who in 1969 played in Much Ado About Nothing, The Three Sisters and Henry V at the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford under the artistic direction of Michael Kahn. He’s also starred in other Shakespearean productions of Othello, Measure for Measure and King Lear — the latter role twice. “It was the bear of all time, even when I was 35, when I first did it.”
The thought of bringing his musical theater world and his work with the Bard together had been in mind for years. Cariou calls the show “a kind of musical memoir of my career, but it’s more of a theater piece than a cabaret show.”
And if a producer is inspired to cast him in one more Shakespeare show?
“I wouldn’t mind doing The Tempest again,” he says.
Back to UConn
Forrest McClendon enrolled at UConn as an engineering major. “Bad idea,” he says. “I wasn’t very good at math.” The Norwalk native switched majors to theater and that proved to be a much better fit.
In 2011 he earned a Tony Award nomination for his role in Broadway’s The Scottsboro Boys (a show that is being presented through Aug. 4 at West Hartford’s Playhouse on Park). McClendon, meanwhile, is back in Storrs playing the devilish Emcee in the ’30s Berlin-set musical Cabaret at Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series. The show runs July 4-21 at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre. It’s one of the rare times that an African-American actor has taken on the role made famous by Joel Grey in the original production and film and Alan Cumming in the revivals.
“The Scottsboro Boys is a minstrel show wrapped in a musical wrapped in a memory play,” he says, “and with Cabaret we have a cabaret show wrapped in a musical wrapped in almost what I’d call a stand-up comedy act.”
I ask him about receiving the Tony nomination.
“It didn’t dawn on me at all that a nomination was possible because the show had closed six months earlier,” he says. “I was driving somewhere and Colman Domingo [who also received a nomination for the show] called me to tell me about the nominations. I screamed and I said, ‘You cannot do this to me right now. I am driving!’ And he said, ‘Of course, Forrest, honey. Just pull over and call me back.’ And so I did and it was all just truly, truly unimaginable. My dreams had come true so many times already and so I was just, ‘Really?’ And then the producers later called to say would I like to go to London with the show. That was the one that made me burst out into tears, and even right now I’m moved thinking about it.”
Fosse/Verdon Family Issues
If you were one of the many musical fans who were hooked on the FX miniseries Fosse/Verdon, you would have seen Madison’s Juliet Brett playing the teenage Nicole Fosse.
The real-life daughter of choreographer-director Bob Fosse and actress-dancer Gwen Verdon was executive producer and was on the set and available to help the young actress reflect her life in dramatic terms. But it wasn’t always intense. “We got pedicures together,” Brett says, laughing.
Brett, 26, attended New Haven’s Educational Center for the Arts as well as Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet — training that came in handy during the series, which required her to do a lot of ballet work.
“What was very clear was how much Nicole loves her parents and how much she felt loved by them,” Brett says, “though there were a lot of moments in the series where her parents were so focused on their careers. But I think she still had these moments with them that made her feel special and loved. Of course, it was all mixed in with being a teenager.”
Next up? “I’m playing an Israeli soldier in the upcoming film Listen by director Omri Bezalel,” she says.
No jazz hands needed for that role.
Composing a Legend
Hershey Felder has made a name for himself portraying classical and popular composers — and accompanying himself on the piano. This time out he’s taken on a giant in the first half of the 20th century — Irving Berlin.
But Felder says the prolific composer — whose career spanned his first hit in 1911 with Alexander’s Ragtime Band to a 1966 revival of Annie Get Your Gun for which he added a new song — is largely unfamiliar to young audiences. That’s even though many would recognize Berlin’s White Christmas — “the most popular song of all time,” Felder says — Puttin’ on the Ritz, Blue Skies, Always, God Bless America and scores of other Tin Pan Alley hits.
“It’s a valuable American story of an American immigrant who gave so much to his country and also about how he was a non-musician yet he created all this beautiful music and lyrics,” says Felder, who will be performing his show Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin June 21-30 at Hartford Stage and July 16 to Aug. 3 at Westport Country Playhouse.
“It’s also the story of how he was the popular musical voice of America for half a century until all of a sudden Elvis shows up and the world seems to have passed him by — though he had another 26 years to give. It happens to everyone when we get to a certain point.” (Berlin died in 1989 at the age of 101.)
“His music is so touching and honest and for years people called him corny. He used to say, ‘If that’s corny, I’m corny.’ ”
Have you heard?
… The musical Cyrano, which had a run last August at Goodspeed Musical’s Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, will have an off-Broadway run at the New Group. The production, with music by members of the group The National, again will star Peter Dinklage, hot off the finale of the eight-season Game of Thrones. The show is adapted and staged by Dinklage’s wife, Erica Schmidt.