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This article by Jack Florek was prepared for the June 20, 2001

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

From `3rd Rock,’ Lithgow Tries Taming Children

Kids are an amazing audience, and an extremely


audience," says John Lithgow. "The challenge of making them

laugh, keeping their attention and teaching them something about music

is something that is really special to me. I think it’s akin to the

satisfaction a lion tamer must feel."

Perhaps best known for his starring role as High Commander Dick


on NBC’s long running sitcom, "3rd Rock From the Sun," Lithgow

brings his "Perfectly Ridiculous Tour" to the Trenton War

Memorial Theater for two shows on Monday, June 25, at 4 and 7:30 p.m.

Billed as family entertainment, but created especially for children,

the show features a mix of storytelling and sing-alongs, backed by

a 30-piece orchestra, a singing quartet, and a children’s chorus.

Lithgow is really the 21st century’s version of a Renaissance Man.

In addition to his TV work, he is an accomplished screen actor


in such films as "Terms of Endearment," "The World


to Garp," and serving as the voice of Lord Farquaadt in the


Dreamworks animated comedy feature, "Shrek." He is also a

highly regarded stage actor — winning Tony Awards for his roles

in "The Changing Room" and "M. Butterfly." And he

is a recording artist, with two CDs geared toward the younger set

— 1999’s "Singin’ in the Bathtub," and this year’s


and Friends." And now Lithgow is even an author of children’s

books, with the highly acclaimed "The Remarkable Farkle


and "Marsupial Sue the Kangaroo," set to be released in the

fall. He makes a bookstore appearance for "The Remarkable Farkle

McBride" at Barnes & Noble, MarketFair, on Sunday, June 24, at

2 p.m.

Taking time out from his hectic tour schedule for a phone interview,

Lithgow discusses his love for working in front of an audience largely

made up of children. "I find it thrilling, absolutely


he says. "They can be a tough audience because they’re just so

honest. But there is nothing like the glow you get from them. Now

that my own kids are older I find this is the only way I can get that

special kind of joy of performing for a young audience."

But Lithgow also feels he is providing a kind of service to the


generation. "I like the good feeling of doing good by performing

a service that not many people are doing these days, and it’s probably

more necessary than ever."

Lithgow was born in 1946 in Rochester, New York, to a theatrical


After moving to Ohio as an infant, he made his stage debut at the

age of two-and-a-half. "I was one of Nora’s children in `A Doll’s

House,’" he says. "But I was so young I don’t remember a thing

about it." After a pause, he adds with a chuckle, "Though

I am told I was very good."

In the 1960s, the family moved to Princeton where his father, Arthur

Lithgow, was head of McCarter Theater, and his mother "just sort

of picked up the pieces," says Lithgow. "She was my dad’s

helpmate and raised my two sisters, my brother, and me." Lithgow

and his family lived in Princeton during his teens. He spent his final

two high school years at Princeton High. "We lived at Hibben


down by the lake, and then my folks moved to Alexander Street, right

near McCarter," he says. "It was a wonderful couple of


His time in Princeton has certainly left its mark on

Lithgow, coming as it did when he was developing his artistic and

musical sensibilities. "I have very vivid memories of


he explains. "There was lots of music. I used to sneak into


all the time and got to hear musicians from Isaac Stern to Donovan.

I saw ballet, and it was the first time I saw Alvin Ailey Dance


It was incredible. I used to travel to New York every Saturday morning

to take art classes. So I regard those two years in Princeton very

much as my formative years."

His upcoming concert at the Trenton War Memorial Theater will bring

Lithgow back to the Princeton area for only the third time since those

youthful days. "I have a real history in Princeton, but I haven’t

been back much," he says. "I came for a McCarter Theater gala

a number of years ago, and then, of course, for the tribute concert

to Christopher Reeve."

That latter concert came in January, 1997, when Lithgow, along with

Mandy Patinkin, Carly Simon, and Mary Chapin Carpenter, performed

in a benefit concert at McCarter Theater that was organized by family

and friends of the paralyzed actor. Lithgow had been a friend of Reeve

since his college years at Harvard when he directed Reeve in a


of "Much Ado About Nothing." Reeve, who later attended


was still in high school at the time.

Molly Sword McDonough of Brooktangle Productions, who produced the

tribute concert, was struck by Lithgow’s generosity. "When I


him to ask if he would do this wonderful benefit for Chris Reeve,

he said `Of course, I’ll be there. You just tell me when to come.’

It was extraordinary," explains McDonough, now marketing director

of the Trenton War Memorial. "He said to me, `Whatever I can do

to help. If you wo uld like me to pick up the phone and call the other

artists and encourage them to come, I will do that.’ As it turned

out, we didn’t need that because they all agreed to come right away.

But John was the first person we called and he was the key around

which the whole event was built. He is a very special person."

Lithgow’s "Perfectly Ridiculous Tour" is a 10 city concert

tour, in which the ensemble travels by bus to perform for audiences

of about 2,000. Lithgow’s youngest son Nathan, 17, will serve as his

on-stage assistant. "He doesn’t sing. He just sort of hands me

my props, but he is definitely a presence," says Lithgow.

Lithgow and his wife Mary make their home in Los Angeles and have

another son, Ian (from a previous marriage), and a daughter, Phoebe.

Lithgow had a great success performing his children’s concert last

fall at Carnegie Hall. The centerpiece of that performance, Lithgow’s

15 minute "Farkle McBride Suite," will not be included in

the show at Trenton. The suite is based on Lithgow’s highly acclaimed

children’s book "The Remarkable Farkle McBride," the story

of a boy, a kind of musical prodigy, who loses interest in individual

musical instruments until he discovers the wonders of a full symphony

orchestra. It is a story that translates nicely to the stage as each

instrument comes alive, one-by-one, demonstrating its unique sound

for the audience, before coming together in one big orchestral wall

of music.

"Unfortunately, we’re not doing `The Farkle McBride Suite’ in

Trenton just because I need a great big orchestra and we’ll be working

with only a 30-piece orchestra here," says Lithgow. The suite

can be heard however on Lithgow’s new self-produced CD called


and Friends," and which he is currently selling at his concerts

and on his website ( He hopes

to get the CD into stores in the fall.

All of the other songs in the Farkle McBride concerts, plus a few

more, will be included in these shows, half of which are original

and the other half being old-time and well-loved novelty songs such

as "Animal Crackers in my Soup." But Lithgow is quick to point

out, "My songs are the good ones."

And Lithgow even ventures to play the guitar, an instrument he taught

himself as an adult and which he very definitely has not mastered.

"I’m up there with some awfully good musicians," he says.

"So I’m letting them do most of the work."

Lithgow came up with the text of his story, "The Remarkable Farkle

McBride" over one weekend. "I had been proposing the idea

of doing these concerts and everyone wanted to know what the


angle of it was," says Lithgow. "There was none — and

I had to come up with one. So I thought to myself, how do you show

off an orchestra and demonstrate the four sections and all the


instruments? I came up with the idea of a little kid who masters each

instrument in succession. None of them completely satisfies him, and

finally he realizes his true calling to become a conductor."

"The Remarkable Farkle McBride," published by Simon &


is lavishly illustrated by C.F.Payne. The book has received excellent

reviews and has taken a prominent place on the shelves of local


next to the work of other celebrity children’s book authors, such

as Jamie Lee Curtis, Katie Couric, and Rosanne Cash.

Now that "3rd Rock From the Sun" has gone off the air, the

2000 season was its last, Lithgow doesn’t see a return to series


anytime soon. "I can’t imagine ever doing another sitcom, because

`3rd Rock’ is such a hard act to follow," he says. Lithgow’s next

big project will be a return to Broadway, with his first Broadway

musical "The Sweet Smell of Success," scheduled to open in

March of 2002.

Throughout his career, even his most dramatic roles have contained

a good measure of Lithgow’s childlike innocence. This palpable


is, in many ways, what sets him apart from most other actors and


has a good deal to do with why he has been one of America’s most


performers for such a long time. It is not surprising to see that

even in his work created especially for children, John Lithgow is

as giving, generous, and just plain likable as ever.

— Jack Florek

John Lithgow , Barnes & Noble, MarketFair,


Lithgow signs copies of his newest children’s book, "The


Farkle McBride." Free. Sunday, June 24, 2 p.m.

The Perfectly Ridiculous Tour , War Memorial Theater,

West Lafayette Street, Trenton, 609-984-8400. John Lithgow presents

a family concert of music and fun. Adults $20 to $30; kids 12 & under

$10 to $15. Tickets online at ( Monday, June 25,

4 and 7:30 p.m.

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