Interview: Len Cariou on Bringing “Broadway & the Bard” to Long Wharf

  • Noah Golden

On July 13, Len Cariou will bring his solo show “Broadway & the Bard” to Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, ending a summer tour that has taken him across the United States and through Canada. Mr. Cariou is a thrice Tony nominated Broadway legend, whose long career spans musicals (“Applause”), plays (Neil Simon’s “The Dinner Party”), film (“Spotlight”), TV (Henry Reagan on “Blue Bloods”) and many regional Shakespeare credits. He is perhaps most known for his association with Stephen Sondheim, having originated the roles of Sweeney Todd and Frederick in “A Little Night Music.”

When we spoke on the phone, Mr. Cariou was tight-lipped about “Broadway & the Bard,” a show he originated Off-Broadway in 2016 and has been touring ever since in between breaks of filming “Blue Bloods.” But he calls the concert a “musical memoir” and a chance to review his storied career. It’s clear that at 79, he has many stories to tell and many more songs to sing.

Here are excerpts from our conversation, edited for length and clarity. For more information on “Broadway & the Bard,” visit Mr. Cariou’s website or Long Wharf Theatre.

NG: Tell me about “Broadway & the Bard?”

LC: It's Broadway show tunes and soliloquies. The music is chosen to either support the soliloquies or comment on them. We do it as one act, it's a straight 70-minute show. It's a lot of fun. I think people have been loving it. The reaction is really wonderful. There's a lot of surprises. We don't have a program because I didn't want anybody to know what I’m going to do and it works like a treat.

NG: What is the genesis of this show?

LC: Believe it or not, I first had the idea about fifty years ago. I was in Chicago at the Goodman Theatre School playing Iago with James Earl Jones as Othello. A friend’s uncle ran a bar and I used to go there after performances. The man who played piano there was great and he had his signature sign off. It was Dave Brubeck's “Take Five.” I'd been there for almost a month until I finally got up the guts and said to him, “OK you play ‘Take Five’ and I'll do a soliloquy from Iago like you're accompanying me.” He said, [skeptically] “Yeah, man.” I don’t think he knew what the hell I was talking about. Anyway, we did it and the reaction was explosive. People really loved that idea. It just took me 46 years to bring it to fruition.

NG: How was the show put together? Was it challenging to pick songs out of such a long catalog of music you’ve performed in your career?

LC: I knew which soliloquies I wanted to do. The challenge came because I didn't really have the musical comedy knowledge. I went to Barry Kleinbort, who directs the show and co-created it with me and [pianist] Mark Janas, and said, “this is what I want to do but I need I need help with the music.” Barry is like an encyclopedia of Broadway, so we created this evening together and he was a big help with picking music. I wrote the book, if you will, and it's kind of like a musical memoir of my career if you will.

NG: What made you want to develop a show based around Shakespeare?

LC: All Shakespeare is music, really. It's all in rhyme or iambic pentameter, some in blank verse. That's kind of why I wanted to do it. Also, I've been on the television show “Blue Bloods” for the last ten years and people think that’s all I do. I had a whole other career, first as a classical actor then as a musical comedy star and later in film. I just wanted to remind and educate people that Pop Reagan doesn’t just do Pop Reagan.