“There’s a big space in my heart that has Wilmington in it,” Linda Lavin says over the phone. “I had a very productive, very exciting and meaningful life in Wilmington. So I’m very excited to come back and see my old friends and do a show for them and new friends.”
She’ll be heading to CFCC’s Wilson Center on Saturday, Feb. 11 to perform as part of Linda Lavin and Friends with Wilmington Symphony Orchestra’s “Symphony Pops!”
Lavin lived in Wilmington for 17 years, during which she became an integral part of the theatre community. She married her husband, Steve Bakunas, at City Club of Wilmington in 2005. The couple also opened Red Barn Studio Theater about five years prior to moving from their South Front Street home in 2012. Founding their own theater, Lavin says, not only gave a sense of accomplishment within the arts community but also creatively satisfied them. They left Red Barn under Thalian Association’s umbrella, where the company has hosted several successful and initimate productions annually. However, Thalian Association’s rent-free lease is up in June, which means the Red Barn is now on the market.
“They gave us this wonderful opportunity to expand Wilmington’s theatre community,” Susan Habas, executive director of Thalain Association, says. “And we have been grateful for our four years there.”
“We know we were there at a very fertile time,” Lavin adds. “When I first came to Wilmington, there were a lot of theatre companies, and we all kind of grew up together. The Red Barn was our pride and joy because it was the kind of theatre that we wanted to do with the performers and actors we thought were the best in town, and the people we wanted and loved to work with.”
Well known for her title role in the 1970s-‘80s sitcom “Alice,” which secured her an Emmy and Golden Globe award, Lavin has been awarded the Tony and Drama Desk awards for her stage work in 1987’s “Broadway Bound.” She continues to perform today, and has a recurring role on the CBS sitcom “Mom” as Violet’s (Sadie Calvano) mother-in-law. As well she has a movie coming out in April, “How to be a Latin Lover,” starring Rob Lowe and Eugenio Derbez. She plays Lowe’s wife in the comedy.
Her voice has been hailed onstage for quite some time, as she has performed numerous cabaret and jazz shows. Today she lends it to audiobooks, including “The Boston Girl” by Anita Diamant and Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s memoir “My Own Words.” More so, Lavin closed her final performance as the Old Lady in “Candide” —her debut role with the New York City Opera, which opened on Jan. 6.
“It’s a wonderful role and something I’ve always wanted to do since I heard the opera when it was first done,” Lavin tells. “My mother, sister and I listened to the album years and years and years ago. . . . All of the sudden it was done. Just like community theater, you rehearse and rehearse, and it’s over in two weekends—which we know a lot about having lived in Wilmington.”
Lavin is excited to perform at one of Wilmington’s newest stages in downtown: CFCC’s Wilson Center. Penned as an evening of American jazz and cabaret, Lavin will perform with pianist Billy Stritch, jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein and her husband Steve Bakunas on drums. Stritch has been Lavin’s musical director for a dozen years or so, and is well-known for his work with many performers, from Tony Bennett to Liza Minnelli (Stritch even christened the Cape Fear Stage when he performed with Minnelli at its grand opening in the fall of 2015). While Bakunas is featured on drums, he’ll also have vocals in the show.
Wilmingtonians may remember Weinstein from Lavin’s last performance with the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra. “He’s a young, extraordinary musician and I won’t work without him,” Lavin asserts. “People just go crazy when he plays and he’s fantastic.”
Bassist Tom Hubbard and guitarist Ron Affif round out her five-piece band. Their combined efforts and connection have bound them as family. “We are a troupe,” she describes. “We are a unit and I treasure our relationship . . . . And this time we’ll have a 50-piece orchestra, so it will be enriched by that fabulous sound, those strings and horns.”
According to Lavin, this upcoming performance is a very different show than what she started off with more than a dozen years ago. As she expands her catalog, and learns and grows with it, Lavin has accepted herself as a different person and artist. She wants this expressed in her music. Her performance will include songs from 2011’s “Possibilities” album, “The Great American Songbook,” as well as classic Broadway standards. From ballads to even some Brazilian tunes, Lavin’s song showcase will also help unfold a story to her audience.
“I’ll be doing ‘You’ve Got Possibilities’ from ‘It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman,’” she divulges. “‘There’s a Small Hotel,’ which is a wonderful song and very well known. I’ll be doing jazz and popular tunes people will recognize—and I’ll be telling my stories along with these songs—the story of my life, the story of my career, my past, my experiences, and my dreams.”
Wilmington Symphony Orchestra conductor Steve Errante has been working on adjustments to some of the arrangements. He has expanded the musicality from what is normally performed with a small band.
“I’ve created orchestral backups that will enrich the sound and take full advantage of the many instrumental colors available in a symphony orchestra,” he details. “The aim is to enhance the emotions and drama that Linda and her group already put into the music.”
It will be a Valentine’s show, as well as mark Lavin and Bakunas’ 11th wedding anniversary. While she says she’ll be making time to celebrate and see friends, they’ll be fully focused and rehearsing right up until the curtain rises on Feb. 11. Special cabaret seating is available for the show, with bistro tables for two, and wine, beer and dessert served at intermission. Call 910-362-7999 to purchase seats or visit www.cfcc.edu/capefearstage for more information.