Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Len Cariou returns to musical roots

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TORONTO -- Winnipeg-born theatre star Len Cariou wants to return to the night-club scene where he got his start as a performer.

Only this time, the 71-year-old Tony Award winner can also crow while he croons.

"When I was growing up and doing the night-club act, I was singing these songs by guys that I didn't know," said Cariou, who plans to build an act based on his Valentine's Day concert at the Royal Conservatory's Mazzoleni Concert Hall.

"They were just guys who wrote them, and I thought, 'I never will meet them either.' But fate intervened and said, 'Oh yeah, you're going to meet them all right.' So I'm singing all of the songs written by people that I knew, for the most part."

The Feb. 14 concert, titled Darling, je vous aime beacoup: A Night of Romance with Len Cariou, will see Cariou singing hits from the American songbook, as well as Broadway favourites from various composers, including his old pal, Stephen Sondheim. Music director David Warrack will accompany Cariou on piano.

"I'm looking at songs that I've always liked to sing," Cariou said in a recent phone interview from a studio in New York, where he was working out setlists with Warrack.

"The only difficulty is that there are so many of them. To weed through and pick out the ones that you really like... you've got a practise a little discretion. You can't be up there forever."

Cariou also plans to talk to the audience about his lauded career, which began at the Manitoba Theatre Centre and moved through stages around Canada and the U.S., including Broadway, where he won the 1979 best-actor Tony for his role in the musical Sweeney Todd.

He's also an Emmy-nominated TV star, with credits including Damages, Murder, She Wrote, The West Wing and, most recently, Blue Bloods, in which he plays the father to Tom Selleck's cop character.

"I have some pretty funny stories, things to tell," said Cariou, whose film credits include About Schmidt, Flags of Our Fathers and One Man, for which he received a Genie Award.

"It's a wonderful opportunity in a sense to be able to just say, 'Here I am, and I'm going to tell you a couple of stories and I could give you a couple of laughs."'

The show, he added, is meant to be a Vegas-style showcase that he hopes to either set up in one place or tour in night clubs this spring or summer.

"The idea is to put this thing together and make a solid basis to then do it anywhere, and I think that it's something that I'm going to pursue," said Cariou, who frequently returns to Winnipeg to see his siblings, his daughter and his two grandchildren.

"I started my career in a night club so I've kind of come full circle, if you will. I'm enjoying it a lot."

Clearly, Cariou loves to sing, yet early in his career he considered focusing solely on dramatic roles.

Cariou recalls returning to Winnipeg after a stint at Ontario's Stratford Shakespeare Festival and declaring to John Hirsch, co-founder of the Manitoba Theatre Centre, that he wanted to focus on stage classics for that point on.

"He said, 'Well, God help you. You're picking a tough row to hoe. But you have to make me a promise -- you promise me that you won't give up the musical because you have a rare musical talent. Not many actors can do what you do,"' said Cariou.

"So I said, 'OK, I promise,' and so I did -- I kept that promise. I think the more versatile you can become, obviously, the more of a commodity you are, and it's much more satisfying to be able to work in all aspects, really, of the profession."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 9, 2011 D3

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