How many marquee light bulbs does it take to spell LARROQUETTE? Lots — 127, to be precise. But they're worth the wattage, just as John Larroquette's long-time-coming Broadway debut is worth the wait. His name streaks the night skies in gold above the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, between RADCLIFFE (as in Daniel) and HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING, their musical team-effort. (For his turn, Larroquette earned a 2011 Tony nomination as Best Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical.)
It definitely dazzles a guy — even one who has reaped all the awards that the small screen has to offer. After four consecutive Emmys as Dan Fielding, the lecherous D.A. of "Night Court," he had his name removed from contention — only to snag a fifth for a guest shot on "The Practice." Now 63, he has switched coasts and is trolling for Tonys.
Vividly, he recalls his first bulb-blast of Broadway: "We were coming down the street in the car, and my youngest son looked up, and he went, 'Oh my God! It's our name!' Though young, it's a reality to him that his dad is a guy people know, but to see it in those bulbs is a thrill — especially below Mr. Radcliffe, who I consider a phenomenal actor and a great guy and a real workaholic. He takes his work so seriously, and yet he has fun with it — and that's how I like to work, so he and I get along very well."
|photo by Ari Mintz|
"Mr. Radcliffe" betrays a courtly Cajun past with a lingering trace of Old South formality. Truth is, Mr. Radcliffe and Mr. Larroquette fit together like a musical-comedy Mutt 'n' Jeff. At almost 6-foot-5-inches, Larroquette towers over the 5-foot-6 Radcliffe like a skyscraper worth scaling. Which is precisely the gist of this Pulitzer Prize–winning Frank Loesser classic about a crafty little window-washer named Finch (Radcliffe) who attempts to make the corporate climb, one wrong at a time. By following Shepherd Mead's satirical how-to book of 1952, he reaches the top of the World Wide Wicket Company — J.B. Biggley himself (Larroquette) — and boardrooms beyond.
"The thing that I love about this play is that nobody actually tells a lie," Larroquette says. "They let somebody else assume the truth that this is, perchance, accurate, but to boldface lie — nobody actually does it. Even Finch really doesn't lie. He sets up a situation, and the character will assume the rest of it, and he doesn't dissuade him from that belief system, so everybody is, in a way, naïve in the play, which I like. There isn't much nuance in the lives of these people. They're rather black and white. You look at a scene, you can figure out what the character wants, and you don't really have to play with the subtleties of that want. Just go for it.
"With a musical like this, I think you've got to be upfront with an audience and not to try to be too clever, too sly with them — the old vaudeville routine, right? The axiom in vaudeville was: 'You tell the audience what you're going to do. You do it. And then you tell the audience you did it.' I think a lot of the humor of this play is that way."