It has taken nearly two decades, but Tyne Daly finally is getting the chance to play one of her dream roles: Countess Aurelia, the eccentric heroine at the heart of Jerry Herman's rarely seen musical "Dear World." The actress will star in a concert performance of the fanciful Parisian tale Friday at the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge.
During a career that spans more than half a century, Daly, 70, has portrayed characters formidable and funny, including what she describes as "lots of very strong women and a range of mothers." She has won six Emmys — four as New York police detective Mary Beth Lacey in "Cagney & Lacey" — and a 1990 Tony as the indomitable Mama Rose of "Gypsy."
Daly recently shared her thoughts on Aurelia, acting and aging during a phone interview from Atlanta, where she was filming the movie "Spider-Man: Homecoming." Here is the edited conversation:
Tell us about "Dear World."
Arthur Laurents, who wrote "Gypsy," called that show a musical fable about show business. "Dear World" is a musical fable about corporate greed, which I find wonderful and amusing considering the times we are in.
It's based on the Giraudoux play "The Madwoman of Chaillot." Aurelia is kind of a bag lady in the Paris neighborhood of Chaillot. Something happens that makes her realize her dear world is in trouble and it's her duty to fix things. She's actually pretty crazy, which is fun to do. In fact, the reason she is so effective is that she's crazy enough to confront real evil, which is what the play is about.
The original 1969 Broadway production had a rocky run that was blamed on its book and inflated staging.
The show has a wonderful score and, yes, it has a problematic book. There has been a struggle to figure it out in a number of productions, most famously the first one. Angela Lansbury was Aurelia and won a Tony. There were other versions with Chita Rivera, Maureen McGovern at Sundance and Betty Buckley in London.
How did the VPAC production come about?
[Producer] Suzi Dietz approached me when I was doing a musical in New York last year and asked what was on my dream list. I told her I'd been interested in "Dear World" for 17 or 18 years. I had been looking at music and thought this music was beautiful, the sentiment was beautiful and it was an age-appropriate score.
She said we could do a one-night concert version and got permission from Jerry Herman. Doing a concert version means we can get down to the core and celebrate the music. This score has beautiful stuff, tricky stuff. Jerry took some really interesting chances.
You have been acting onstage for more than 50 years, yet many people know you mainly from television shows such as your '80s series, "Cagney & Lacey."
That's fine. "Cagney & Lacey" made me famous. There's a lot that people say they don't know about me. They don't know I can sing. They don't realize my childhood dream was to be in musical theater. Or that my brother is [actor] Tim Daly. To have people not know stuff about you is a triumph in this nosy world.
One thing you don't keep secret is your age.
I love to talk about being old. Unfortunately, there isn't much call for experience in the 21st century. I have always been interested in looking at women in all stages of life. But Hollywood is only interested in you from the blush of youth until fecundity starts to be over. Attitudes are changing, but in tiny increments.
How have your Hollywood roles changed as you've grown older?
In the beginning, if you are especially decorative, you play the decoration. I wasn't, so I played the victim. I wept for a living or screamed or cowered. Then, I got lucky with "Cagney & Lacey" and got to be a hero. And then I played my share of villains. An interesting thing is that ["Cagney" costar] Sharon Gless and I were at the stage in our lives when we were supposed to leave town. We were basically old news as actresses because of our age. But we became famous instead.
And your experiences onstage?
The theater allows for a different kind of imagination. I have played everything from an 8-year-old black boy to an 87-year-old French matriarch.
I like acting in the theater because you are in the same room with the people you are telling the story to. When you're making a film, everybody around you is working and you are talking to the imaginary hundreds of thousands of people who will be watching the movie. It's less sexy, less alive.
You have said you need to love the characters you play.
You must believe most of what they do is justified no matter how hideous they are. If you are Iago you have to love Iago.
Have you turned down a part because you couldn't love the character?
Yes. In fact, I did it a few days ago. Years ago, I turned down a movie because it was about people eating dead human flesh. I didn't know this would become all the rage.
Can you tell us about your character in the new Spider-Man movie?
Sorry. I'm sworn to secrecy.
Your recent projects have included two Broadway shows, an HBO movie and films with Sally Field and now Spider-Man. You are about to play a singing madwoman.
One of the things I really like about my job is I don't know what's going to happen next. In the beginning, that was uncomfortable because I was so anxious it would be nothing. At this point, it's part of the joy. It keeps me limber.
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