Monday, November 8, 2010

Interview with Legend Dick Van Dyke

Legendary stage, film and television star Dick Van Dyke brings Step In Time! A Musical Memoir to the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theatre @ the Geffen Playhouse opening December 16. He has much to say in our interview about his career and the people he's worked with.

What are you going to be doing in Step In Time?

Well, it's still kind of in the formative stages right now. We had a concert out here in August, we did a loose performance of our stuff, but they want it to be theatricalized a little bit, so we're going to make it autobiographical to some extent. We'll put in some film clips and things of that kind. It will be a little more structured.

Was the title, the song from Mary Poppins, your choice?

It turned out to be everybody's choice. We fooled around with a number of titles. Step in Time seemed to work on two levels: it's the name of a song and it also has an autobiographical sound to it ...  steps in time.

Will you be doing any 'stepping', we hope, during the show?

Some, yeah, I'm doing a couple of numbers from...Poppins and Chitty Bang Bang. So I'll be doing some stepping!

Great! Have you considered writing a book?

As a matter of fact, I'm working on one right now.

Wonderful! Published within the coming year?

Probably spring it'll be out. They came to me, so I had to start reminiscing. It's all there.

As you look back, anything you'd like to do that you haven't done?

No. As I said, this is not work, but a part of my retirement. Everyone else is playing golf; I'm doing this.

You love to do it, that's why!

Such a joy!

Let's play a little game. I'll give you the name of a film or show you've done and say the first thing that comes into your mind about it!

the film: The Comic (1969)

We were excited about that. We thought we had an authentic piece there. It showed the times. We went out and shot a lot of 16mm comedy schtick, a lot of which didn't end up in the film. It was an interesting movie, but opened and closed in the same week. We were kind of prousd of it. Aaron Ruben and I wrote it and rewrote it every day on the set. We had a lot of fun; Mickey Rooney was in it.

the show and film: Bye Bye Birdie (1960; 1963)

It's a case of where they Hollywoodized the film. People loved it, but it just didn't compare...the Broadway show was really a romp. Some of the best songs were cut from the screen version, and some of the best dance numbers. It turned into a vehicle for Ann-Margret, which had been a rather small part on Broadway. She deserved the break she got, but for me the movie was not nearly as good as the Broadway version.

the film: Mary Poppins ( 1964)

Almost the same thing is true there. I saw the stage version last year and it was much darker and left out some of my favorite songs, although it was a great evening of the theatre. Mary Poppins was one of the best experiences of my life.
(There's a reverse in trends to be noted here. Whereas Bye Bye Birdie started as a stage show and later became a movie, Mary Poppins began as a film and much later became a stage musical, in 2004. Although he enjoyed the stage version, Van Dyke definitely preferred the film of Mary Poppins, in which he starred.)

And you performed on stage in Mary Poppins in LA, am I correct?

(laughs) I got up there and did the old banker. It was fun.

TV: The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966)

Everyone of us connected with it say it was the best five years we ever had. It was never work. It had brilliant writing that Carl Reiner did. He wanted to cut if off at five years; I'd still be doing it if I could. I didn't want it to end.

TV: Diagnosis Murder (1993-2001)

That was one of those things that was just a fluke. We did the spinoff from Jake and the Fat Man and then we did a couple of TV movies. Nobody ever expected it to be a series. They'd pick up five shows and then a couple more. We just stuttered along like that for...ten years. (he laughs)

It was a very entertaining show!

We tried to keep it family style and working with my son (Barry Van Dyke) was a joy!

Let's do some of the many people you've worked with now. Give your first impression!

Morey Amsterdam
He was as happy a little guy as you would expect. The sweetest man! He wrote lyrics to the theme song, which no one ever heard. We sing it in this show. Great lyrics! He was a good songwriter, along with being a good comedy writer!

Rose Marie
Rosie...of all the people I've ever worked with in comedy...has the sharpest sense of timing. Razor sharp! And she'd call the rest of us...if it was too long, she'd nail us. Incredible!

Carl Reiner
A Genius! What can I tell you? An absolute genius! And also my favorite human being.

Mary Tyler Moore
When I first met her, I said "Carl, she's beautiful. And she has a mid-Atlantic accent. Can she be funny? And I think I was the last person ever to ask that question." Around Morey, Rosie and me, she picked it up so fast. I was so proud of her.

Carol Burnett
I did The Carol Burnett Show a few times. That group was the most fun to work with. They tried to write me as Harvey Korman and nobody could replace Harvey Korman. Ever!

Julie Andrews
A British lady...with kind of a mischievous side to her. Oh My God, she's everything you'd expect her to be.

Janet Leigh
Oh, a sweet, sweet lady. I've known her since Jamie Lee (Curtis) was a little girl. I used to go to her house and she had just been divorced from Tony (Curtis) and met Robert (Brandt) who was a mensch and a wonderful guy. And we lost Janet way too soon! Wonderful mother, just ask Jamie Lee!

Maureen Stapleton
(howls with laughter) One of the greats! My God, what an actress! I did two movies with her, Birdie...

And you did The Runner Stumbles in the late 70s. I forgot about that one.
I wish everybody would.

Chita Rivera
She was just out here a couple of weeks ago, and we spent a day together. The most electric performer ever to step on a stage now or any time! Nobody like her! Unbelievable!

Michele Lee
I don't know Michale that well. We did one movie (The Comic) and one special together. As young as she was, she always struck me as being so knowledgeable about movie making and cameras and everything. I learned a lot from her.

She deserved the break (in Birdie) and turned out to be one heck of an actress. We're still friends today.

Terrific! What a delight to talk with you and I can't wait to see Step In Time! Thank you for your time!

Thank you, Don! My pleasure.

Don't miss Dick Van Dyke live on the second stage @ the Geffen beginning December 16!
Geffen Playhouse
10886 Le Conte Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90024
call: (310) 208-5454

or visit:

Updated: December 9:

We are incredibly disappointed to share that due to an achilles injury beyond anyone’s control, Dick Van Dyke will be unable to perform in his upcoming show Dick Van Dyke – Step in Time! – A Musical Memoir at the Geffen Playhouse.  Obviously the Geffen Playhouse’s top priority is to do what’s best for Mr. Van Dyke who is a longtime friend and supporter of the theater, and as such, we have no choice but to cancel the production.

“I very much wish that circumstances allowed me to share my stories at the Geffen this winter,” said Dick Van Dyke. “Unfortunately, this injury is forcing me to be off my feet for a while.  Perhaps there will be an opportunity to revisit this sometime in the future, but in the meantime, I thank everyone for their understanding and support.”

The Geffen Playhouse will be offering refunds to all patrons ticketed to the event as well as options to exchange into Broadway Holiday or a season subscription at no extra cost.

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