BWW Interview: Linda Lavin And Billy Stritch of NO MORE BLUES! at The Birdland Theater
Linda Lavin started on the New York stage. Television made her world-famous but, thankfully, Linda Lavin has always returned to the New York stage. Whether acting on Broadway or off, Ms. Lavin has made a career of entertaining the people of New York. Lucky for all, there came a day when the renowned singing actor took to the cabaret stage and the luckiest people of all have been reveling in the intimate encounter that happens when Linda Lavin tells her stories in rooms like The Birdland Theater, where her new club act NO MORE BLUES! will play on December 11th. With her unique voice and exciting personality, Linda Lavin has become a sought after nightclub performer, making these two performances a much-anticipated part of the holiday season entertainment being shown in town.
Wishing to check in and see how preparations are going, I was lucky enough to catch Ms. Lavin on holiday and throw out a couple of questions about what her fans can expect at Birdland on the 11th.
This interview has been edited for space and content.
Hi Linda Lavin, Happy holidays!
LL: Hi Stephen! Thank you, you too!
You are bringing a new show to Birdland on December 11th titled No More Blues!
Have you ever sung the blues?
LL: I've sung the blues but not been a " blues singer" -- I've sung sad songs, songs of unrequited love, songs of despair and heartache .. especially as a young person during the time in life when we thrive on self-pity and alone-ness. We've grown up with such beautiful songs that helped us express our sadness. But now, today, I'm calling my new show "No More Blues!" and singing all about the joys and histories and satisfactions of love and living and being loved!
You've performed on stages large and small - what's the appeal to playing a cabaret room?
LL: The appeal to do a club act or a concert, whether a large or small audience venue, is telling my story and connecting with people! My club act is, in many ways, the book I haven't yet written, may never write! I'm not a writer but I have written this act. However, I have these ideas that I send to Billy Stritch, my brilliant and creative music director, to get his feedback. We start looking at songs I want to sing and find out if they say what I had in mind. So writing an act is very much a collaboration, not a singular, isolated exercise.
In recent years you revisited one of your biggest hits, You've Got Possibilities, with a very different take, to great effect. Are there other songs from throughout your career that you'd like to revisit from a different point of view?
LL: We do revisit songs with a current point of view .. Songs I've grown up with, "Long Ago and Far Away" being one of them, a Bobby Short medley Billy and I do together. Songs from my past take on a different meaning because of where I've been and who I am now.
How much do you love working with that sweetie, Billy Stritch?
LL: Billy Stritch is the musical joy of my life! His expertise matches his spirit, his humor, his continuously expanding chops on the piano! He knocks me out when he plays and he makes me feel so cared for as he accompanies, and plays, and sings with me! He does that to everyone he works with. Watch him watch the singer! He's on us every moment... his arrangements, his musicianship, his wonderful singing .. there's no one like him ever!!
And Aaron Weinstein is joining your show, how did that come about?
LL: Aaron Weinstein, that amazing young jazz violinist. How much do I love singing with him? And he's also a wonderful arranger. He has written many of the charts we do in this show. He's brilliant. And so much fun!
Linda Lavin, thanks for chatting with me, and I will see you at Birdland on December 11th!
LL: Thank you so much, Stephen!
In the days after my chat with Linda, I happened to run into Billy Stritch at one of his many New York City gigs and I mentioned the interview to him and he had a few things to say about Ms. Lavin that I felt compelled to share.
Billy, did you know that Linda Lavin calls you the musical joy of her life?
BS: Well, that's quite flattering I must say! I treasure the collaboration I have with Linda and we share a very similar musical and theatrical sensibility. To have someone of her talent and stature value me so highly as a musician and collaborator is the loveliest thing.
How did you and Linda first come to work together?
BS: Linda and I became acquainted with each other around 30 years ago and our friendship grew steadily over those first few years. Our mutual friend Jim Caruso convinced her to do her first club act but I wasn't involved initially. I remember seeing her do her show up in Mamaroneck afterward I caught a ride back to New York with her and her husband Steve. On the ride home I think I said "why am I not playing for you?" and she said she didn't think I'd be interested or maybe she thought I was too busy. I mean I was busy at the time doing shows with Liza Minnelli and a few others but the prospect of working with Linda excited me greatly so we made it happen. I think we've been at it for about 17 years now.
What is does it look like, working with Linda? If a documentarian came in while you were doing a session, what would their camera capture?
BS: Well, first and foremost we laugh a lot. We have such shorthand with each other so communicating an idea or a musical thought is effortless for us. I know her voice so well, she has impeccable taste in her choices of material, and we bring out wonderful things in each other. A documentarian would notice that there is no ego with us and we both are pretty willing to try almost anything. We are completely secure and safe with each other and as I said before, we do laugh a lot!
What's a song you would love for Linda to put into one of her acts?
BS: That's a great question! Linda is such a fine and intuitive actress and is so skilled at creating a character that it would be fun to tackle some of Sondheim's character songs like "Liaisons" from Night Music or "The Ladies Who Lunch" from Follies. We also have been talking about doing "The Little Things You Do Together" from Company as a duet.
Why do you think audiences are so in love with Linda Lavin?
BS: Well, what's not to love? She has a warmth and a sincerity that comes out immediately. She is completely authentic and spontaneous in her nightclub show which is a real gift. And of course, people of a certain age remember her from her nine years as "Alice" so naturally, there is enormous built-in affection there. I can't tell you how often I've heard people express what that show meant to them and how it was such a big part of their growing up. And after seeing Linda in concert, the audience falls a little more in love! I know I'm completely devoted to her.
Billy, so am I.