Sitcom star from ’70s is wizard in ‘Wicked’
If you go
When: Wednesday through Dec. 13 (times vary)
Where: State Theatre, 1519 Euclid Ave., Cleveland
Tickets: $25 to $130; call (216) 241-6000 or go to PlayhouseSquare.org
By John Benson
Richard Kline was in ‘Three’s Company.’
Actor Richard Kline admits that until earlier this year he was seemingly one of the few people in America who hadn’t seen the Tony Award-winning musical “Wicked.” This somewhat surprising revelation comes with the notion that the television and stage veteran is now playing the role of The Wizard in the national touring production of “Wicked,” which comes to Cleveland Wednesday through Dec. 13 at PlayhouseSquare’s State Theatre.
“I hadn’t seen it, but before my final audition in front of the entire ‘Wicked’ creative team, I went to see it in New York City and was pretty much blown away,” said Kline, calling from Denver. “I think it’s an exciting thing to be a part of. I love the show. I love the part. The Wizard, they talk about him for an hour and 15 minutes before he comes on in the first act. It’s kind of a thrill because everybody is expecting to see who The Wizard is and what’s he going to do.
“And I like the fact that the character is shaded. He’s not some sort of stock musical character, nor is he the guy from the film, for that matter. He’s a con man, he’s power hungry and he has different levels to him, and I’ve discovered that as I’m playing him. So that’s been challenging and fun for me.”
Known mainly as a television actor, including his long-running role as Jack Tripper’s best friend Larry Dallas on the classic ’70s sitcom “Three’s Company,” Kline said that the stage has always been his first love. In fact, he has fond memories of performing summer stock theater in the early ’70s in Chesterland.
“First of all, I like the live audience effect,” Kline said. “It’s a little bit different every night. In television, you wait for a guest spot and you wait around and then maybe you work two or three days. And that doesn’t hold any kind of artistic thrill for me anymore. It did when I first started. And in theater you get into a show like ‘Wicked,’ and hopefully you get a long run.”
While five years ago Kline moved back to the Big Apple area to pursue more theatrical opportunities, the 65-year-old spent the three decades prior making quite a name for himself in Hollywood. He appeared on everything from “Maude” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” to “ER” and “NYPD Blue,” as well as recent feature film “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry.”
Still, it was Kline’s roll as Jack Tripper’s wingman that gave Kline lasting fame and instant recognition. In looking back at the swinging ’70s character, Kline feels that he now understands his appeal.
“He’s basically Jack Tripper’s alter ego,” Dallas said. “I started that show as a guest and what they saw was true, (Tripper actor) John (Ritter) and I had terrific repertoire. They wanted to have more than just him reacting with the girls and the landlords, so my character was pretty much a foil to John’s all-American good guy.”
And what does Kline think Larry would be doing 30 years later?
“Larry would be living in a condo in Florida with Roseanne Barr,” Kline said. “He’d basically be taking orders. It would be a nightmare fantasy.”
Continuing with this thought, what would Larry think of “Wicked?”
Kline laughed, “He’d probably say something like, ‘You know, I never dated a munchkin.’”