His singing show tunes in Schwartz and All, as he calls the show, may surprise his TV fans, but, in fact, Wallem is a longtime musical theatre actor with many credits in Chicago and around the country. The actor, who recently played goofy Hazel in the Encores! concert of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Pipe Dream (of which there is now a cast album), logged almost 2,500 performances as both Jinx and Sparky in various companies of Forever Plaid including in Chicago (Royal George Cabaret), Las Vegas (Flamingo Hilton and Gold Coast Hotel), Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Drury Lane Oakbrook, and the first national tour.
Wallem only recently got into television, and only partly because his sister, Linda Wallem, co-created "Nurse Jackie." "I wish I could say my role was just handed to me, but I actually had to audition harder than anyone," he told Playbill.com. "She got me in the first door, the rest was all me!"
Born in Rockford, IL, Wallem was influenced early by a playwright uncle, James Robert Smith, who wrote dozens of plays and musicals that were performed all over the Midwest. The late Smith's play Background Music was published by Baker Plays. "He's the reason I became an artist, no question," Wallem says. The actor is also the co-author (with Danny Musha) of a Lizzie Borden-centered musical called Frozen River, which has gained traction in readings and workshops.
Wallem's partner in crime for Schwartz and All at Birdland is the revered Chicago cabaret fixture Beckie Menzie, a pianist and vocalist who launched the show with him several years ago at Davenport's Piano Bar, a Windy City institution. It later played Don't Tell Mama in New York.
Wallem said that Birdland approached him about doing a show, and since Schwartz's 65th birthday is coming up, it seemed a good time to return to the broad-appeal songs of the composer-lyricist of Pippin, Godspell, Wicked, The Magic Show and more.
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