"Use it or lose it." That's the secret to longevity, explains actress Nanette Fabray, who is starring in the West Coast premiere of "Club of Hearts," a comedy about three widows getting on with their lives, playing in La Mirada.
Fabray, 70, embarked on her stage, movie and television career at age 3 with a tap-dance routine at Los Angeles' Million Dollar Theater. During six decades, she has earned Emmy and Tony awards and starred on several television programs.
In "Club of Hearts," Fabray plays a character not unlike herself, she says. In the play, Fabray and two 60ish friends, Jane Kean and Fritzi Burr, cope with the loss of lifelong companions. One friend refuses to go on, the other is uncertain about what to do. But Fabray's character never wavers. "She's upbeat and aggressive. She wants to do something with her life," Fabray said.
"I think people reach a certain age, usually in their 40s, when they decide to be a couch potato or not," Fabray said. "To keep going you have to keep yourself in good shape, both mentally and physically. You have to keep up with what's happening in the world and be open to change."
In show business, she said, "you have to be versatile. And you have to work very hard. I still go to tap-dance classes; I practice my art."
To many, Fabray is best known for her stage roles, including Cole Porter's "Let's Face It" with Danny Kaye, Irving Berlin's "Mr. President," "By Jupiter" with Ray Bolger, "High Button Shoes" with Phil Silvers and "Arms and the Girl" with Pearl Bailey. She won a Tony Award as best musical actress for "Love Life" in 1948.
In the early '50s, Fabray signed a lucrative contract to do Judy Garland's movies while the actress was ill and unable to work, she said. After completing "The Bandwagon" with Fred Astaire, "most of the studios literally closed their doors and went to TV, so I did too."
Fabray won Emmy awards for best comedy and best supporting actress on Sid Caesar's "Caesar's Hour," she said, and went on to star in her own TV series, "Yes, Yes Nanette" in 1961. Last year, she joined her niece, Shelley Fabares, on the TV comedy "Coach" as Fabares' mother, a role she hopes to continue in coming episodes.
In the meantime, though, Fabray is very happy with her role as Lucille at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, a part she played before at the Cleveland Play House.
The show opened last week and continues through Jan. 26. Performances start at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays and 2:30 p.m. for Saturday and Sunday matinees. Tickets cost $23 and $25 for Sunday through Thursday evening performances and the matinees; Friday and Saturday evenings cost $25 and $27. To charge by phone, call (310) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310. The theater is at 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada.