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Lithgow Takes on a New Role in Music Video

TIMES STAFF WRITER

John Lithgow, children’s entertainer?

The Oscar-nominated, Tony- and Emmy Award-winning actor--who wore a dress when he burst on the national scene in “The World According to Garp,” played a psychopathic murderer in Brian DePalma’s “Blow Out” and was Glenda Jackson’s sparring partner onstage in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf"--has made a singing, guitar-strumming video for small fry.

In “Baby Songs Presents John Lithgow’s Kid-Size Concert,” the actor accompanies himself on acoustic guitar and sings simple, upbeat traditional fare and his own original nonsense songs to a group of elementary school children.

The 30-minute video, produced for Hi-Tops Video, is the fourth in the “Baby Songs” series. It will be released Wednesday, at a suggested retail price of $14.98.

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In a recent interview, Lithgow said that his new kid-sized role is not such a departure, nor is it new.

“I’ve been singing for children for years--at home to my own, in their classrooms and at benefit concerts for their schools,” he said. “I did a concert a year ago (for UCLA Child Care Services) and the producers of ‘Baby Songs’ came, I guess on a little talent search. I had had sort of a vague idea of doing a video; they pulled it together.”

How did his songs evolve?

“I always made them up with my children--they’re 6 and 7 and 18 now,” Lithgow said. “In ‘Big Kids Scare the Heck Out of Me,’ I thought kids would enjoy seeing a big man talk about being afraid of big kids; it brings out the compassion in them.” He laughed. “Makes them feel they want to help me through this terrible crisis.”

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“ ‘Mr. McCloud’ emerged through improvising with kids over the years. It’s wonderful to get kids to sing along and make a big racket and then bring them back to earth. That song is about impulse control.”

Lithgow even added his own touch to the familiar “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain,” with comic lyrics such as “we’ll put ice cubes down her collar.” Each verse is illustrated by a variety of raucous noises. It ends, “in a complete cacophony of sound.”

Music is important for children, Lithgow said, because “it can help put them in touch with their feelings and gives them something they can learn and master. Kids have to learn they can do things, to feel good about themselves.”

Lithgow, who recently completed work on “L.A. Story,” with Steve Martin, “a film for childish grown-ups,” is about to begin Hector Babenco’s “At Play in the Fields of the Lord,” now filming in the Amazon. “It’s definitely not for children,” said the actor.

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Are there more kids’ concert videos in Lithgow’s future?

“I’ll return by public demand,” he joked, “but I’m going to have to get somebody to help me write songs. These few have taken me 18 years to write.”

Lithgow does admit to some tongue-in-cheek anxiety that his new venture may get him typecast. “I’m afraid I’ll never work again in my chosen profession.”


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