Mining emeralds - Tyne Daly’s Second Time Around

by Robert Sokol

Bay Area Reporter

Sunday January 10, 2010

There's a directness, a crispness of diction and an intelligent specificity in her language that makes even a simple conversation with Tyne Daly as engaging as a performance. The six-time Emmy winner (four for Cagney & Lacey) is on the cusp of something new, which she brings to the Rrazz Room next Tuesday.

"Totally new!" she says with a mixture of excitement and near wonder. "I'm closing in on 50 years in this business next summer, and after that much time, I think all you have left to do is to surprise people. If people are fans, they've seen you do a lot of stuff, and if they're not fans, they'd think, 'Oh, her again?' So you have to surprise people."

Daly certainly surprised the world two decades ago with her Tony-winning strut in Gypsy. "See what I mean? If I was going to change my category from 'TV actress' to actual actress - if I wanted to erase the 'TV' from the front of it - then I had to surprise people. I got a great opportunity to do that, and I took hold of it."

She's clearly taken with the newest facet to her career, launched last year at Feinstein's in New York. "I love going to cabaret. I love cabaret that is well done. I just fell in love with Marilyn Maye. She's an expert. So is Barbara Cook. I love people who are good at what they do. I would not want to do a cabaret that was thrown together or ill-considered. You have to have something in mind if you are in the communication business, which I am."

So what does she have in mind? "I've got some Jerry Herman stuff I'm pairing with Bessie Smith. How's that for a connection?" she laughs. "I've got some George M. Cohan and a number of interesting things. Songs are about life and love mostly, so that's what I'll be singing about."

Where other performers might rattle on, Daly prefers to let her audience discover the work. "I always used to be annoyed with the TV Guide because they would tell the story. So you think, why would they tune in to see it? It would say things like, 'Mary Beth Lacey gets cancer, but she's OK.' Great! Thanks! Now I don't have to watch. So I'm a little leery of trying to explain what I'm up to. I'd rather just do it. Then you guys get to explain it for me.

"The hardest part about being an actor is trying to explain acting. I'm not being coy about it, it's just really hard to tell someone what it is you do or why. Just doing it is really much better, don't you think? There's also a great deal of crap talked about acting, you know? I see [cabaret] as acting with music. I don't pretend to be a singer, but I do pretend to be a singing actor. You won't see me giving a concert at Carnegie Hall, I don't have that kind of skill. The skills I do have are story-telling skills, and I'm hoping to put them to good use in San Francisco.

"I've spent a long time building that fourth wall between me and the audience, so it's very different to just go as a person and say, 'Good evening. This is me, this is my dress and here are my songs.' It's a different kind of communication. I have the songs to go into, but ultimately it's just coming and spending some time with me. That's a source of a kind of delicious agita for me as a performer." She accepts the challenge of creating something worth an audience's time. "And their valuable dollars," she adds, "so we'll try to spend an hour together that is worthwhile.

"I felt that way about television, which I looked at as a coal mine. You can't mine diamonds or gold in a coal mine. You either have to go to a gold mine, which to me is the movies, or a diamond mine, which to me is the theatre. So I said to myself, 'Well hell, if we're only mining coal, at least we can make it a really good grade of coal. It won't be crap coal. It will be a nice, tight, dense piece of coal that will burn for a solid 48 minutes and won't fall apart on you or stop giving heat after 10 minutes. It'll be good coal.' How's that for an analogy?" After a moment she adds, "I don't know yet what I'm mining in cabaret. Maybe it's emeralds. They are smaller, rarer and harder to cut. So maybe I'm mining emeralds. That'd be nice."

The Second Time Around with Tyne Daly at the Rrazz Room at Hotel Nikko, Jan. 12-15 at 8 p.m., Jan. 16 at 7 & 9:30 p.m. Tickets ($45-$50): (866) 468-3399 or www.therrazzroom.com

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