Linda Lavin on her busy career, new CD

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Mark Kennedy

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.

So which one is she doing in New York? Neither.

Lavin instead took a strong part in Nick Silver’s new play The Lyons, which opened off-Broadway in October at the Vineyard Theater.

“There’re absolutely no regrets. This is a great part. I don’t know when I’ve been this satisfied with one role,” Lavin said over a breakfast of yogurt and fresh fruit. “I’ve never gotten final closure like I do with this character.”

Lavin, 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 said. “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 coming Wanderlust with Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd, and has just released her first CD, “Possibilities.”

A meaty starring role

In the dark comedy The Lyons, Lavin played the mother of a family grappling with the impending death of its patriarch. It is a central role, one not offered by Follies or Other Desert Cities, and it deeply moved Lavin.

“I love a short run [the play closed in late November], and I love being in on something at the beginning. So this offer, when it came, was a perfect time,” she said. “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 said 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 said. “The shows are much bigger than my participation.”

Mark Brokaw, who directed Lavin in The Lyons, was happy to have her. “It’s a fantastic role with great range, and [we were] so happy to have her because she is a serious actress with fantastic comic chops.”

A CD of favorite songs

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 said, beaming. “I’m like a child about it.” [Lavin celebrates the release of the album with a concert at Birdland jazz club in New York City on December 5, where she will be joined by three of her co-stars from The Lyons.]

With Lavin’s twist on standards, the CD boasts two notable additions: liner notes by Hal Prince, whom 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 Wilmington, 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 said 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 has not gotten to camp, but she has played Jennifer Lopez’s grandmother in The Back-Up Plan. When she is 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 said. “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 is 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 said. “I don’t know how long it will last, but I’m happy to eat it up while it’s here.”

— AP