STAGE TO SCREENS: Gallagher, Abraham, Phillips, Phelan, Evigan and Bucchino

By Michael Buckley
07 Apr 2008

Greg Evigan is pleased to be playing in Mask. "I'm glad to be here. I have two songs, and I'm working with a great team." While he enjoys rehearsals, Evigan says, "Until you're in front of an audience, you don't know where the laughs are. You realize, I can't talk quite that fast or I'd better talk faster."

How would he describe his character? "Gar is a free-spirited guy who's good at building bikes, is never without a few bucks in his pocket, but has a bad temper. He runs away from problems, but can't live without Rusty or Rocky."

Evigan has toured as Danny Zuko in Grease, and appeared on Broadway in the original production of Jesus Christ Superstar (four different roles during two years), and also spent a year on the road with the show. "I did an open-call audition, and had more than a dozen callbacks [before joining the Superstar company]."

However, most of Evigan's work has been on TV. Among his 13 series are "B.J. and The Bear" (1979-81), "My Two Dads" (1987-90) "a great chance to do comedy" "Tek War" (1994-96), "Melrose Place" (1996-97), and "Pacific Palisades" (1997).



"A Year at the Top" was a Norman Lear project, for which Evigan did four pilots. He and Paul Shaffer ("Late Night with David Letterman") played rock stars who sold their souls to the devil (Mickey Rooney). "They never got it right, script-wise. One day Norman came in, and said, 'That's it.' He pulled the plug."

A New Jersey native, Evigan's been married since 1979 to dancer Pamela Serpe. They have a musician son, Jason (of the After Midnight Project group), and two actress daughters: Vanessa and Briana.

In Mask, says Evigan, "Gar takes on responsibility, and tries to make things right. He believes in living for your dreams, and that you can live a full life in whatever time we have."

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Though John Bucchino neither reads nor writes music, he's had a successful career writing songs (many of which are performed and recorded by cabaret artists) and is making his musical-theatre debut by writing the score for A Catered Affair, now in previews at the Walter Kerr.

How much has changed between last fall's San Diego tryout (at the Old Globe) and Broadway? Claims Bucchino, "I've rewritten one small section of one song, and a couple of small reprises. Friends who have seen both think it's even better now."

Seven San Diego Theatre Critics Circle Awards for Excellence were presented to A Catered Affair: Musical, Score, Orchestrations, Director (John Doyle), Lead Male and Female Performances, Musical (Tom Wopat, Faith Prince), and Lighting.

The cast of 10 also features Harvey Fierstein (who also penned the book), Leslie Kritzer, Matt Cavenaugh, Heather MacRae, Philip Hoffman, Lori Wilner, Katie Klaus, and Kristine Zbornik.

Bucchino watched the movie "The Catered Affair" at the beginning of writing the score, but it didn't inspire any of his songs. "It inspired Harvey," notes Bucchino. "I watched it again about a month ago, called Harvey, and said, 'I appreciate what you've done.' I've learned so much working with Harvey. He touches people on a deep level, which is what I always try to do with my songs."

Gore Vidal wrote the screenplay for the 1956 film version, which starred Bette Davis, based on Paddy Chayefsky's (last) teleplay, which starred Thelma Ritter. "There's no record of that," Bucchino tells me, "but we do have the script, and a copy of Chayefsky's original screenplay."

What is his pattern of writing songs? "Usually, the lyrics come first, but for 'Coney Island' [sung by Fierstein], the music came first. I woke up about four in the morning, grabbed a little digital recorder that I have, and sang 'la-la-la' all the way through."

Is it true that when Fierstein approached Bucchino about writing the score, he said no. "I was scared," admits Bucchino. "Like many artists I suffer from self-doubt. But Harvey's material is so brilliant. I still don't think I could write a big production number."

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Of over 1,100 interviews, my favorite remains Richard Widmark (1914-2008). It took five years to get the superb actor, and very private individual, to consent to a 1985 interview at his Roxbury, CT, home.

A successful radio actor, Widmark's Broadway career includes five plays: Kiss and Tell, Get Away Old Man (both 1943), Trio (1944); Kiss Them for Me and Dunnigan's Daughter (both 1945). Asked if he had any desire to return to the stage, Widmark replied, "No. I never liked the life. It's the only place to learn to act, but it's so goddamned regimented."

Widmark received an Oscar nomination (and a Golden Globe) for his movie debut as a maniacal Tommy Udo, who pushed an elderly lady (Mildred Dunnock) in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs, in 1947's "Kiss of Death." He starred in over 60 movies (1947-91).

His TV debut was on a 1955 "I Love Lucy" episode, and he got an Emmy nomination for his dramatic debut in 1971, as a U.S. President in "Vanished," the first TV movie to be shown in two parts. He starred in the 1972-73 series "Madigan," even though his character had been killed in the 1968 movie.

He was married (1942-97, her death) to college sweetheart Jean Hazelwood. They had a daughter Anne (once the wife of baseball pitcher Sandy Koufax). In 1999, Widmark wed Susan Blanchard (Oscar Hammerstein's stepdaughter and Henry Fonda's third wife).

In 1990, Widmark received a Career Achievement Award from the National Board of Review, for which I wrote the ceremony's script. I'd recommended Sidney Poitier as the presenter, since Poitier wrote in his autobiography that when he made his movie debut (in 1950's "No Way Out," which starred Widmark), a lot of people paid him lip service, but only Widmark invited him to his home for dinner.

Proof positive of Widmark's quality came with an exchange (which I was the only one to overhear) between him and Poitier: "Sid," said Widmark, "I can't believe you came all the way from California to do this for me." Poitier's response: "For you, I would have walked."

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VARIOUS AND SUNDRY

Lonny Price, who directs the five Avery Fisher Hall concert performances of Camelot, featuring Gabriel Byrne, Marin Mazzie, Christopher Lloyd, Christopher Sieber, Fran Drescher, and Marc Kudisch, also helms the May 8 "Live from Lincoln Center" telecast.

The April 23 "Law & Order" marks the last (and 201st) episode for original Rent cast member Jesse L. Martin (Det. Ed Green), and introduces his successor, Anthony Anderson ("The Departed," "K-Ville," "The Shield") as Det. Kevin Bernard...Robin Williams fans can see the Oscar winner as guest star on the April 29 "Law & Order: SVU." Boris Kodjoe, selected one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful" in 2002, has since gained fame on TV's "Soul Food" (where he met actress Nicole Ari Parker, now his wife and mother of two), and makes his Broadway debut April 15, as Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, filling in six weeks while Terrence Howard (whom I interview in next month's column) promotes his latest movie "Iron Man."

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Stage to Screens is Playbill.com's monthly column that connects the dots between artists who cross freely between theatre, film and television. Michael Buckley has written this column since 2002. He may be contacted at stagetoscreens@aol.com.