Music & Nightlife

TV’s Alice is still feeling good: Linda Lavin to play Aventura

The cast of ‘Alice’ in 1979: Polly Holliday as Flo, Vic Tayback as diner owner Mel, Philip McKeon as Alice’s son Tommy, Linda Lavin as Alice and Beth Howland as Vera.
The cast of ‘Alice’ in 1979: Polly Holliday as Flo, Vic Tayback as diner owner Mel, Philip McKeon as Alice’s son Tommy, Linda Lavin as Alice and Beth Howland as Vera. Miami Herald File

Linda Lavin, the Broadway star who made it big as television’s “Alice,” likes to see the possibilities in life, both on-stage and off.

“If you don’t love it, you shouldn’t do it. I feel very strongly that if my life weren’t fun, I would do something else,” says Lavin, who performs her nightclub act — dubbed “My First Farewell Concert” — Wednesday night at the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center. “But what I love doing is this. I love performing. I love being on stage with this band.”

Lavin has had quite a career. She grew up in Portland, Maine, and moved to New York City after graduation from the College of William and Mary.

“I started my career working as office temps, part-time jobs, so I could audition for shows on and off Broadway. I started a nightclub act then in little rooms that all had the name ‘Downstairs’ in them in Greenwich Village,” she recalls. “I gained acceptance in the theater community. I started working in the chorus of a Broadway musical. That started me off when Hal Prince came in to direct the Broadway musical I was in the chorus of, he gave me my first speaking part on the Broadway stage. “A Family Affair” by John Kander and the Goldman Brothers. He pulled me out of the chorus and he was my mentor then and continues to be. I just did a production of “Candide” with Hal Prince directing at the New York City Opera. My career has always had Hal Prince in it.”

In 1966, Lavin played the second female lead in the Broadway musical “It’s a Bird ... It’s a Plane ... It’s Superman.”

“No, I had the more fun part than Lois Lane,” she says of her role as Sydney, girlfriend to Clark Kent’s rival at the Daily Planet, gossip columnist Max Mencken. “I got the hit song that came out of that show, ‘You’ve Got Possibilities.’”

Lavin still performs the show’s hit number. She recorded it for her 2011 album, “Possibilities,” and sings it in her club act.

“A lot has happened. I’ve been doing this club act for about a dozen years. It has come a long way and that’s what I’ll be bringing to Aventura,” Lavin says.

She’ll be in town with Billy Stritch, “my musical director, my arranger, pianist.”

“We do duets together. He has for over 10 years done all that for me. ... Billy and I have a five-piece band. My husband is my drummer, Steve Bakunas. I have piano, bass, drums and a guitarist coming from the city and my special guest is a genius jazz violinist, a young man named Aaron Weinstein. Lavin also performs with bass player Tom Hubbard and guitarist Ron Afif.

“We have a wonderful show that is essentially me in the center, singing the songs I grew up, the songs I didn’t get to sing or songs I did get to sing. The American Songbook with a jazz twist, bossa nova, we do a little Steely Dan, all interwoven with stories from my life. It’s an autobiographical evening.”

After “Superman,” Lavin starred in five other Broadway shows, including Neil Simon’s “The Last of the Red Hot Lovers” and “Paul Sills Story Theatre.”

In the mid ‘70s, Lavin moved to Los Angeles. She had a recurring role on “Barney Miller” and in 1976 was chosen to star in a new CBS sitcom based on Ellen Burstyn’s Oscar-winning waitress comedy-drama, “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.”

The title was shortened to “Alice” and Lavin suddenly was a major television star as Alice Hyatt, a widowed mother working in a roadside diner outside Phoenix. Other regulars: Polly Holliday as Flo, Vic Tayback as diner owner Mel, Philip McKeon as Alice’s son Tommy and Beth Howland as Vera.

“The success of the show, it gave me economic stability and the opportunity to produce. I’d produce a film or movie every years for CBS, I directed two episodes of ‘Alice’ every year,” Lavin says. “The show gave me enormous freedom and joy.”

“Alice” — at one point seen by 40 million viewers a week — also had a profound affect on Lavin’s personal life.

“It connected me politically with a movement that had to do with single mothers and working women. Equal pay issues and the Equal Rights Amendment politicized me essentially,” she says.

Lavin says she realized she would become a 1970s role model “the minute we knew we were going on the air.”

“I called Gloria Steinem and asked her to connect me with women who were writers, with people who could help me get the word out and get the scripts to reflect the life — the real life — of a working woman, a single mother.

“My life became expanded by being identified with that character. When I used to speak in front of large groups of people for those very issues, I met women and children and families who were single or blended, all of whom were working people, blue- and pink-collar people, who were looking to be heard, their financial and economic needs. All of a sudden I was a spokesperson for all these people. It gave me a knowledge of issues I really had not been aware of. So it gave me a sense of responsibility.”

“Alice” ran through 1985. By that time Lavin had been nominated for an Emmy and three Golden Globe awards, winning twice.

Then it was back to Broadway, where she won a 1987 Best Actress Tony for Neil Simon’s “Broadway Bound.” She’s been nominated for four other Tony awards, including playwright Charles Busch’s “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife” in 2001.

“Linda is a consummate actress, whether on screen, stage or in concert,” says Busch, who is also a world-famous female impersonator. “Her comic skills are as finely honed as a surgeon and her emotional resources are deep and profound. I guess you get the point: I adore her.”

Next up, Lavin and Elliott Gould will co-star with Mark Feuerstein in a CBS television pilot, “9J, 9K & 9L.”

“It’s a very well-written, well-crafted story … about a young man who has moved back with his family unwittingly because his father has bought him an apartment next door to them, his father and mother,” she says. “It’s about setting boundaries and not being able to set boundaries, and your family being in your life and trying to have your own life. I think it’s pretty familiar for a lot of young adults.”

And turning 80 in November, Lavin says she’s still happy to hit the road once in a while with her husband and friends.

“Of course it’s more fun to travel with people you love,” says Lavin, who lives with Bakunas in upstate New York.

“I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love doing it and I didn’t love the people. It’s important to bring on to the stage our joy of doing it together, bantering with each other onstage, being completely in the moment. It’s a show we really like to keep spontaneous and make it feel like it’s a party, that we’re all in someone’s big living room. I wouldn’t be able to do that with people I didn’t love or have a communication with, in terms of humor and comedy and music.”

If you go

▪ What: Linda Lavin — “My First Farewell Concert”

▪ When: 8 p.m. Wednesday

▪ Where: Aventura Arts & Cultural Center

▪ Tickets: $40 and $45. To purchase and for more information, www.aventuracenter.org

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