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February 13, 2014 - Image 39

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2014-02-13

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Alan Safier as
George Burns

I
Actor channels beloved comedy icon in one-man show.

I

Suzanne Chessler
Contributing Writer

A

lan Safier might very well be as
much a fan as an entertainer.
A strong baseball aficionado
devoted to the Cleveland Indians, he drove
from Ohio with his brother to take a last
look at Tiger Stadium in 1999, its final
season.
A longtime fan of the late comedian
George Burns, he has become the legend's
portrayer and will appear Sunday after-
noon, Feb. 16, at the Macomb Center for
the Performing Arts in Clinton Township.
The one-man show, Say Goodnight
Gracie, also pays tribute to the comedian's
late wife and show-business partner,
Gracie Allen, whose stage character is
captured with recordings by actress Didi
Conn (who played the childlike-voiced
"Frenchy" in the Grease films).
Film clips and pictures make the pro-
duction a multimedia event.
"This production goes from very funny
to very touching" Safier says in a phone
conversation from his New York home.
"The audience very quickly goes from
tears of laughter to tears of sadness.
"Even though there is not a lot of sad-
ness in the show, there are sections,
especially when George Burns talks about
Gracie and the heart condition that caused
her death (at age 69):'
The remembered humorist-actor,
who reached his 100th birthday, visited
Michigan in 1992 to open Livonia's George
Burns Theatre, which hosted audiences

for one year before closing. Burns, near-
ing 100 then, recalled his vaudeville years
touring the state as well as his radio, tele-
vision and movie career.
The play, written by Rupert Holmes,
is based on Burns' remembrances. It
premiered in New York in 2002, starring
Frank Gorshin as Burns, and went on to
become the third-longest-running solo
show on the Great White Way.
"Although the show is extremely funny,
it's not just a constant yuck-fest" Safier
says. "There's a lot of depth to the Holmes
script. That's why the play was nominated
for a Tony the year it was on Broadway"
Safier, who is made up to look like
Burns and assumes his vocal qualities,
explains that Burns did not often bring
his Jewish background into his act. But
as George Burns (ne Nathan Birnbaum),
Safier does talk about the humorist's reli-
gious upbringing and references the star's
father, who was a Jewish scholar and stu-
dent of the Torah.
"If I hadn't been acting for 50 years or
so until the time I took on this project, I
don't think I would be able to do it," says
Safier, 64, who grew up in a Jewish home
in Ohio and celebrated his bar mitzvah in
Cleveland.
"I really think it takes somebody who
knows what he's doing to take on a one-
person show and sustain the interest of an
audience for an hour-and-a-half. In a way,
this is sort of a product of everything I've
done in my career up until now:'
Safier knew he wanted to be an actor
when he was in kindergarten and saw the

Actor Alan Safier

second-grade play performed for the
school. Although he envisioned himself in
a subsequent play, administrators canceled
the program when he reached second
grade.
"I had to wait until fourth grade to do
a play and then went away to summer
camp and did a play there he recalls. "I
did other plays in school and joined a teen
theater group doing musicals in the sum-
mer. I moved on to community theater.
"I got a degree in education but couldn't
find a teaching job so I decided to study
acting. I went to graduate school at an
acting conservatory at Ohio University (in
Athens, Ohio) and got a master's degree"
After moving to New York in 1975,
Safier found parts Off-Broadway and
thinks it comical that his first equity job
was in a very different play titled Say
Goodnight, Gracie, written by Ralph Pape.
That early play had nothing substantial

to do with Burns and Allen. It was about
three guys getting ready to go to their 10th
high-school reunion.
"A lot of the play is about growing up in
the 1950s, with references to The George
Burns and Gracie Allen Show:' he says.
"That's how the title was chosen"
Safier, the only actor who has done both
plays, has built a presence in television,
including parts on Wizards of Waverly
Place, Generations, Grey's Anatomy,
Without a Trace and Days of Our Lives.
Also a singer, he has recordings of his
favorite standards available on iTunes,
Amazon and his website, alansafier.com .
Songs include "Here I'll Stay" "Angel Eyes"
and "I'm in the Mood for Love:'
Voiceovers also are an important part of
his work.
"Around Christmas, I do a musical ver-
sion of A Christmas Carol," Safier says.
"I play all 27 roles. I wrote the book with
Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler on the Roof),
who also wrote the lyrics. Michel Legrand
wrote the music.
"I'm working on Joseph's Gospel, the
story of Joseph, Mary and Jesus told from
Joseph's point of view. I think it's interest-
ing because it has a Jewish perspective and
gives a contemporary look at the story.
"Being Jewish, I thought it was espe-
cially interesting because it was written by
a British Christian. We're looking to start
touring this fall:'
Safier, who is single, enjoys reading,
going to theater and movies, and watching
baseball games.
"I've studied on and off with a New
York teacher, Wynn Handman, who has
been teaching for about 60 years" Safier
says. "A biography of Wynn — Wynn Place
Show — just came out, and that's what I'm
reading.
"The title comes from his name, the
name of the theater he ran (American
Place Theatre) and all the shows he did
there. The picture on the cover is of Wynn
and Richard Gere, who also was one of his
students"
As Safier prepared to portray Burns, he
developed a friendship with Joan Benny,
daughter of the late comedian Jack Benny,
a friend of the comic couple. Burns' son
had died, and Burns' daughter could not
be located.
"One time, when I was taking a curtain
call for Say Goodnight Gracie, an older
man in the first row reached out his hand
to shake mine and said, 'Thank you for a
wonderful evening, George:" Safier recalls.
"To me, that was the ultimate compli-
ment:"



Say Goodnight Gracie will be

performed at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb.
16, at the Macomb Center for the
Performing Arts, 44575 Garfield
Road, in Clinton Township. $20-
$48. (586) 286-2222; www.
macombcenter.com .

JN

February 13 • 2014

39

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