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Actress Linda Lavin enjoys a burst of renewed attention as well as her first album
NEW YORK (AP) ' Linda Lavin was in two well-received productions last season that are on Broadway this fall: "Follies" at the Kennedy Center and "Other Desert Cities" at Lincoln Center.
Which one is she doing in New York? Neither.
Lavin instead took a strong part in Nicky Silver's new play "The Lyons," which opens off-Broadway this week at the Vineyard Theatre.
"There're absolutely no regrets. This is a great part. I don't know when I've been this satisfied with one role," Lavin says over a breakfast of yogurt and fresh fruit. "I've never gotten final closure like I do with this character."
Lavin, who is about to turn 74, is these days basking in a burst of renewed attention, decades after the Golden Globe- and Tony Award-winning actress put on a paper hat to play a waitress in Mel's Diner on the long-running TV sit-com "Alice" (1976-1985).
"That's just the most amazing thing for me. I'm being invited to all these parties at this stage in my life and my career," she says. "I'm feeling very, very lucky."
Besides the Stephen Sondheim musical and Jon Baitz's play about a dysfunctional family wrestling with a deep secret, Lavin has finished a movie ' the upcoming "Wanderlust" with Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd ' and next month releases her first CD, "Possibilities."
In the dark comedy "The Lyons," Lavin plays mother of a family grappling with the impending death of its patriarch. It's a central role ' one not offered by "Follies" or "Other Desert Cities" ' and deeply moved Lavin.
"I love a short run and I love being in on something at the beginning. So this offer, when it came, was a perfect time," she says. "Nicky's play offered more meat on the bones and it was something I absolutely had to do."
Decision made, she had to walk away from "Follies," in which she was singing the iconic song "Broadway Baby," and from Baitz's play, in which she played a lefty alcoholic. Her part in the Sondheim musical was given to Jayne Houdyshell and Judith Light took her part in the play for Broadway.
Lavin says Light is a wonderful actress who will do "great justice" to the role she left. As for "Follies," Lavin calls it like doing a beloved rock show. "It's 'The Rocky Horror Show' of Broadway," she says. "The shows are much bigger than my participation."
Mark Brokaw, who directs Lavin in "The Lyons," is happy with the actress' choice. "It's a fantastic role with great range and we're so happy to have her because she is a serious actress with fantastic comic chops."
When the discussion veers to her new album, Lavin brightens even more. Backed by a jazz band, she sings 12 favorite songs, including "Two for the Road," ''It Might As Well Be Spring" and "You've Got Possibilities."
"Look at me," she says, beaming. "I'm like a child about it."
With Lavin's twist on standards, the CD boasts two notable additions ' liner notes by Hal Prince, who she calls her first mentor, and drumming by Steve Bakunas, who happens to be Lavin's husband.
Prince gave Lavin her first big break while directing the Broadway musical "It's a Bird ... It's a Plane ... It's Superman." She went on to earn a Tony nomination in Neil Simon's "Last of the Red Hot Lovers" in 1969, and the Tony for another Simon play in 1987, "Broadway Bound." In between, she starred in "Alice," singing the theme song and becoming an icon for working moms.
She and Bakunas, an artist, musician and her third husband, have been together for 13 years and make their home in Willmington, N.C., where they converted an old automotive garage into the 50-seat Red Barn Studio Theatre. It opened in 2007 and their productions include "Doubt" by John Patrick Shanley, "Glengarry Glen Ross" by David Mamet, "Rabbit Hole" by David Lindsay-Abaire and "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife" by Charles Busch, in which Lavin also starred on Broadway.
Lavin in recent years has been at Lincoln Center in Paul Rudnick's comedy "The New Century" and earned a Tony nomination last year for her role in Donald Margulies' "Collected Stories." She has also been refining her concert show "Songs & Confessions of a One-Time Waitress."
Lavin says she's finally re-emerging after struggling with too few roles offered to women over 40. She quotes a verse from Sondheim: "First you're another sloe-eyed vamp/Then someone's mother/Then you're camp."
She hasn't gotten to camp, but she has played Jennifer Lopez's grandmother in "The Back-Up Plan." When she's asked for guidance from up-and-coming actresses, Lavin stresses one thing.
"I won't give advice ' I don't believe in it. I believe in experience and sharing that," she says. "I say that what happened for me was that work brings work. As long as it wasn't morally reprehensible to me, I did it."
Now she's in the enviable position of having to turn down work.
"I think it's really, really good fortune and the fact that there are writers out there who know the value of women and what women have to say," she says. "I don't know how long it will last, but I'm happy to eat it up while it's here."
Follow Mark Kennedy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits