SECOND FLOOR OF SARDI'S: A Chat With Linda Lavin, the 2012 Tony Nominee Who Roars in The Lyons

By Robert Simonson
06 Jun 2012

Linda Lavin
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The CD is named after "You've Got Possibilities," the most memorable song from Charles Strouse and Lee Adams' short-lived 1966 musical It's a Bird…It's a Plane…It's Superman. (The seldom-seen show was recently announced for revival in the upcoming Encores! season.) Lavin introduced it and it's been a part of her singing act ever since. To judge from the tale of her landing the role, she more than earned the rights to the song.

"I auditioned for Hal by buying a Superman comic book," she explained. "I went into a phone booth with a green fedora that I bought in the hat district and took pictures of myself, as if I were Lois Lane, mostly looking upward to the sky to see Superman fly. I slapped these pictures of myself all over the comic book and sent it to Hal. He called me up and said, 'We'll that's terrific. It's brilliant what you've done, but you can't be Lois Lane.' I said 'Why not?' He said, 'She's way too Midwestern. That's just not you. But I might have another part.'" (For the record, though many people assume Lavin is a native New Yorker, she was born in Portland, ME.)

That part was Sydney, a secretary at the Daily Planet who has designs on Superman. Lavin auditioned with "It's Almost Like Being in Love," which was her standard audition song at the time. She was called back and asked to learn the complexly paced "Possibilities." When she returned, she appeared in a wig, acting off a tip from someone in the Prince office that they were looking for a blonde. "I borrowed it from Sylvia Miles," said Lavin. She got the part and ended up with the show's one break-out number.

At that point, Lavin already had had some practice handling intricate rhythms and lyrics, having tacking Mary Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim's "The Boy From…" in the 1966, Mad Magazine-inspired revue The Mad Show. In the bossa nova comic number — a parody of the international hit "The Girl From Ipanema" — the singer loves a boy from the village of "Tacarembo La Tumbe Del Fuego Santa Malipas Zacatecas La Junta Del Sol Y Cruz." (Sondheim wrote the song under the name of "Esteban Ria Nido.")

Lavin in The Lyons.
photo by Carol Rosegg

"I think I learned things really quickly in those days," recalled Lavin. "And of course we had no time. The Mad Show was supposed to be a Christmas entertainment and we only had a couple weeks rehearsal." Sondheim never came to rehearsals to instruct her in the delivery of the song. "It was 1966. Of course I knew it was him. But he wasn't the Stephen Sondheim he is now. When you're young and desperate, you're just glad anyone brings you a song."

In his review of The Mad Show, New York Times critic Stanley Kauffmann wrote, "Linda Lavin is an elfin hipster, pretty, delicately caustic, with fine timing and a face that is a kaleidoscope of the kooky." Take away the "hipster" (and maybe the "delicately" — Lavin's latter-day characters are straight-ahead caustic) and you've still got an on-the-money encapsulation of Lavin's talent.

Linda Lavin doesn't mind a little pressure, even today. She says she works better that way, and is not the sort of actress who arrives at the first read-through letter perfect. "I learn the lines in rehearsal and connect it to the behavior. That helps me remember why I'm saying the lines, so it's not just like poetry. In high school, we all had to learn The Gettysburg Address and Shakespeare sonnets. That was memorization. But I never knew what the hell I was talking about as a kid."

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