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Doolittle Does Much for 'Lady' Luck

March 13, 2008 By:
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Where's he going? No matter, Alfred P. Doolittle (Tim Jerome) won't be late.

Get him to the ... temple ... on time?

Who knew that Alfred P. Doolittle was a Jew?

"Well, sometimes your Alfred P. Doolittles in life are Jewish," jibes Tim Jerome, who indeed is as he cavorts on stage as the dusty Doolittle who makes soot and the city so delectably dirty in "My Fair Lady."

The high-flying Lerner and Loewe classic -- which seemed to dance all night with the critics when it first opened on Broadway 42 years ago -- is getting a loverly reintroduction at the Academy of Music through this Sunday where the Cameron Mackintosh/National Theatre of Great Britain production marks its American premiere.

My fair ... landsman? This dishpan-handsome Doolittle has done a lot in a career of classics -- Jerome's juggernaut of a bio includes "Phantom of the Opera," "Beauty and the Beast," "Man of La Mancha" and a Tony and Drama Desk Awards-nominated turn in "Me and My Girl."

His girl these days is more apt to whine and kvetch with a Cockney accent as dear daughter Eliza endears her mien and mouthful of marbles to yet another generation.

And Jerome is proud to be part of the clean sweep that is this magical musical.

"It's probably the best role I've ever had," and that says a lot given his Broadway background, as well as Hollywood highlights.

What's it all about, Alfie?

Much more than before, contends Jerome, who says that this production "reveals a great deal more of the person Doolittle is."

For theater-goers who have grown accustomed to his facial tics and sneers, Doolittle is a larger-than-life literary character who, with a little bit of luck, turns his hard-scrabble existence into a half-pence life.

His newfound bourgeois banter never bores, given its echtian etymological roots in the Shavian wit that made its forebear "Pygmalion" a pig-out pleasure for wordsmiths.

"But Alfred accepts himself for what he is, a lower-class guy who likes where he is," the Paddington station in life without the sheen of modern-day padded respectability foisted on him by sudden riches.

"He is," concedes the actor with approval, "a legitimate finagler. I admire a person who can get the most out of his status."

Addictive Performance
Even if "honor is a luxury I can't afford," according to Doolittle, it is something his acclaimed alter ego is awash in. Jerome's performance perks up audiences' ears and connects critics' hands for an applauded interpretation that allows the actor to devise "a correlation between what you see on stage and what you see in today's society; very similar strains of what we call addiction."

But this crack interpretation is not drug-driven.

"When we talk about addiction, we're talking about how American society is addicted to commercialism," notes Jerome.

"I've been going from city to city on tour" and feeling mauled by mall culture. "It's the same wherever you go. Same malls, same stores, same comfort food -- it's what American culture is now."

Take a culture sample of Jerome's jeremiad and see a disgust with day-to-day imitations of life. But then what to expect from a committed creative craftsman who's not just talk; he's song and dance, too.

Indeed, this is a talent who sits at life's crafts table eager to partake of the big portions he's been given -- with never taking anything for granted.

And now he's been granting and doling it out to others. When not miffed at middle-class morality on stage as Doolittle, Jerome is off and running as a creative collaborator off-stage.

Which brings him back to the boards: Jerome is founding president of the National Music Theater Network and the New York Musical Theatre Festival, reflecting his interest in "being more involved with the new canon of musicals in the industry."

That canon is shot through with innovative creations that make his heart soar decades after it first took flight when his bubba Henrietta took him to his first Broadway show, "Peter Pan."

Doesn't Broadway ever want to grow up? The safe and secure of standard fare is not the child's play he'd like to see.

"Independent productions have come to step up," insists Jerome of the jigsaw puzzle of pieces that fit together to form the "10 to 12 shows we put on in our festival."

Life upon the "Wicked" stage may be bewitching, but Oz is out there for anybody willing to get caught in the tornado that is theatrical innovation. To that end, Jerome is "coordinating regional festivals for colleges and local professional and community performances."

He has seen regional theater perform miracles here, he says, in his familiarity with Marjorie Samoff and her trend-setting Philadelphia-based, nationally acclaimed American Music Theater Festival.

He wants to set the stage where his own company "can deliver three new musicals every year to people around the country, [which] would benefit from local access to new musicals periodically. It would be a cultural advantage for the nation," he states of the ultimate stage presents.

As the self-described theatrical iconoclast gets set to reapply himself to one of theater's more incredible iconic characters, Jerome envisions it all happening soon, getting him and his NMTN company to the stage in time.

With a little bit of luck -- and a lot of hard work. 

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