Hal Linden, 88, the star of the smash television show Barney Miller from 1975 to 1982, has a new game these days.
Well, actually, it’s an old game — singing big-band songs were his first performing gigs back in the 1940s — but for the first time, he’ll be doing it as part of In the Mood. The show, a musical revue of the big-band music Linden’s loved for decades, will make a stop at the Bucks County Playhouse from April 23-27.
“This is the first experiment, if you will,” Linden said. “Either I’ll be a bump on a log in a very nice show, or it’ll increase its interest.”
In the Mood been touring for 25 years, and features songs like “Swingin’ on a Star,” “Tuxedo Junction,” “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “Take the ‘A’ Train” and many more. Many of the arrangements were done by Vic Schoen, who worked with everyone from Bing Crosby to Ella Fitzgerald.
Linden (born Harold Lipshitz), who has been doing his own stand-up concert show for nearly 50 years, will borrow some of the big-band songs for this show, joining the In the Mood Singers & Dancers and the String of Pearls Orchestra. For Linden, it’s a chance to do a little discovery onstage.
“We’re going to see if it complements their show,” he said, “and if it works, maybe we’ll have a long-term relationship.”
His love for big-band music dates to the early 1950s, when Linden got his start in show business as a clarinet player during big band’s heydey. It was a time when Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Count Basie and other giants of the genre still roamed the Earth.
But the Army called in 1952 and, by the time Linden was discharged in 1954, nearly all of the big bands were extinct. Though Linden played in the U.S. Army Band during his time in the service, he had been largely cured of his desire to play music as his primary profession. So he gave acting a shot, but admittedly, it was not entirely his decision.
“They took it away from me,” he said. “Let’s face it, that’s why I’m an actor.”
Linden made his Broadway debut in 1958, embarking on a massively successful career that culminated in three Daytime Emmys for Miller and a Tony for his role in The Rothschilds. (He also holds the distinction of having the most Primetime Emmy Award nominations without a win — seven, tying him with John Goodman and Matt LeBlanc.)
These days, Linden still gets a fair amount of acting work (American Housewife, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), which he schedules around his own show, a collection of “songs I sang on Broadway, songs I didn’t sing on Broadway, and the songs I wished I sang on Broadway.”
To the extent that he can, he keeps up with popular music.
“I kind of ignored Lady Gaga all these years, until I heard her really sing,” he said. “She can sing! It’s so cloaked in production and costumes and nonsense stuff. I always ignored it. Now I’ll pay attention. Same thing with Beyoncé. Beyoncé was always high production, costumes, everything. And then I heard her sing a ballad. I said, ‘My, that lady has a beautiful voice, I’d love to hear more of it!’”
As for In the Mood, it’s an exciting prospect for Linden. He hopes to see the music he’s performed and loved for so long integrated smoothly into the show. In the Mood “is a blatantly retro show,” he said, and “a time period that people come to celebrate.”
“It’s celebrateable,” Linden added. “It’s got a lot of good music. And I’m glad to be a part, celebrating it, and I hope that the people will get what they came for, which is remembering the music that they loved, and you don’t hear it too often nowadays, unfortunately.”
“Let’s face it,” he said. “I’m getting old, and I’m still standing up on the stage, and I’ll be here as long as I can.”
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