Corrections or additions?
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
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
"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 (www.lithgowforkids.com). 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
Lithgow signs copies of his newest children’s book, "The
Farkle McBride." Free.
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 (www.tickets.com).
4 and 7:30 p.m.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.