Think of it as a bilateral transfer rather than a promotion when TV's "Commish" turns into Broadway's "Caveman" Jan. 29 as Defending the Caveman bows at the Booth, resuming its run after a break of 25 days.
Michael Chiklis, fresh from his five-year television stint as New York Police Commissioner Tony Scali, inherited the title-role (and one-man show) from Rob Becker, who racked 545 performances and 26 previews at the Helen Hayes, nabbing in the process the title of Broadway's longest-running solo play.
Now, while Becker spreads the Caveman philosophy to the rest of the U.S. on tour, Chiklis will keep the role warm for him on Broadway--one of the few instances where the creator-performer of a one-person show has turned it over to someone else to perform. The show's universality makes this possible, says Chiklis.
"I've only had to augment five lines to fit me," he says. "In a two-hour show, that's extraordinary. I don't think anyone else is going to do Jackie Mason's material--that's specific to him, whereas Rob has hit universal bone-marrow.
"When I was watching this show to see if I wanted to do it, my big concern was that I'd be doing someone else's standup gig, and, when he started mentioning his wife Erin, I became concerned, but after listening to him for two minutes, I thought, 'All I have to do is say Michelle, and it applies.' Every single thing he talks about I've either said or lived through or she's said--it's just universal stuff. It really is. I think that's why it has become such a juggernaut, such a word-of-mouth sleeper hit. It's like this collective group-therapy. People come and they start seeing themselves and hearing themselves and they start recognizing not only themselves but people that they know." Defending the Caveman will mark Chiklis' Broadway debut. "I've been Off-Broadway, and I've done regional theatre my whole life, but I never done Broadway before," he admits. "When I was here before, in the '80s, there were only revivals and you had to be a TV or film star to get a lead in a Broadway show. I had to go out to L.A. to come back here, but I'm thrilled about it."
Chiklis took one big step up to stardom, playing John Belushi in the 1989 feature, Wired. "My wife laughs at me. She says, 'Michael, your first time in front of a camera in your life, and it's the first lead in a controversial movie. Your first television series, it's a title role lead. Your first Broadway show, you're yakking for two hours by yourself. It's always this trial-by-fire thing with you.' That's my M.O. It's not planned, really. It just sorta happened this way. It's ironic, but it's fun at the same time.
"I was looking for something that would be challenging and new for me. At the end of the run of 'The Commish,' I spent about six months not doing anything except working on my golf handicap and getting to know my kid--my three-year-old and I haven't spent a lot of time together--but I was waiting for the right thing. I said to the guys at my agency, 'I'd like to do something new and challenging, and I'm interested in potentially going to Broadway.' I couldn't have told them something so perfect as this. It seems tailor-made."
Becker required convincing, however. "The night Michael came to see the show," he recalls, "he came backstage and shamed me into letting you do the part. He said, 'If you don't let me do this part, then you're being selfish--a prima donna.' I wasn't going to turn it over to anybody, but he opened up his wallet and showed me a picture of his wife and said, 'You're married to this woman. I'm you. You're me.' We talked about it, and he made me laugh. After an hour and a half of this, I was comfortable enough to turn the show over to him."
The Caveman Cometh (once again)!
-- By Harry Haun