New 'King' of Broadway

New 'King' of Broadway MICHAEL NOURI IS KING MARCHAN IN "VIC/VIC"

MICHAEL NOURI IS KING MARCHAN IN "VIC/VIC"

King Marchan, the tall, smooth gangster in "Victor/Victoria," has a lot of chutzpah. He also has a voice. Michael Nouri came into the world endowed with a generous quotient of both, though not many people until now have known about the voice.

Nouri--with his bravado, his charm and his strong baritone--is the King Marchan of this "Victor/Victoria," which looks to run forever at the Marquis Theatre, or at any rate as long as Julie Andrews and Blake Edwards want it to.

Victoria isn't the first love in Nouri's life. That was an exchange student named Maria, from Brazil, back in New Jersey when he was a kid. "She came to live with us for a year and brought her guitar with her. The most beautiful girl I'd ever seen. She was 17, I was 10. When she left, she gave me her guitar. That was it. I started studying, singing. The girl is gone, the guitar is gone, but would you believe I remember that, 30--35--40 years later."

Nouri's blood is Iraqi on his father's side, Scottish/Irish on his mother's. "My father wanted me to take over his insurance business. I tried it for two months." The insurance man's son left Emerson College to come to New York and be an actor. He kicked around the Village in the sixties, auditioning for gigs as a folk singer. In 1968, out in Los Angeles, Nouri landed his first professional job --as Ali McGraw's boyfriend in "Goodbye Columbus."

"One of the ballsiest things I ever did. Lied my way into the office of a big agent out there, the Michael Ovitz of his day. Said I had an appointment, and I wouldn't go away. He sent me over to Paramount Studios that afternoon, and that was it, I was cast. I thought, hell, just like falling off a log. Famous last words. My next job was a waiter."

There was a bigger job down the road, the lover Jennifer Beals keeps fighting off in "Flashdance," but that 1983 hit didn't have him singing. It wasn't until a year and a half ago, when he was in rehearsal for a production of "South Pacific" opposite Sandy Duncan in Long Beach, California, that history repeated itself.

"I stopped off one night at a restaurant in Brentwood called Il Toscano, and sitting at the next table were Tony Adams [a producer of 'Victor/Victoria'] and Blake Edwards. Adams tapped me on the shoulder and said: "We were just discussing who can we get to play King. When you walked in the door, we looked at each other and said: "'Jesus Christ, I wonder whether Nouri sings?'"

"They lent me the script. I went home, didn't open it, called them up and said: "I think it's great, terrific, let's go.' "

But they had to be shown. Nouri invited them to "South Pacific." "They'd meant to see only the first act, then stayed the whole show. Afterward, they came back. Blake took my hand and said: "Let's go to Broadway.' "

-- By Jerry Tallmer