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Retro : Tom Bosley Knows Fathers Best

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tom Bosley has become the ultimate father figure. Fans of “Happy Days” know him as Richie and Joanie Cunningham’s understanding pop and the man Fonzie affectionately called Mr. C. In the lighthearted “Father Dowling Mysteries” series, Bosley was a different sort of father--a crime-solving priest. And now Bosley can be seen eight times a week at the Shubert Theatre in Century City playing Maurice, the loving, absent-minded father of Belle in the blockbuster musical “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.”

Bosley, a New York theater veteran, originated the role of Maurice last year on Broadway. “I always wanted to go back and do one more show on Broadway before whatever happens happens,” Bosley, 67, explains. “There were opportunities to go back where I didn’t care for the material. Then there were opportunities to go back where my schedule here made it impossible.”

But when he read the script for “Beauty” and heard the score, “I thought it was the ideal situation to go back.” Bosley also was very familiar with the Oscar-winning, Disney animated film from 1991. “If you have grandchildren, it’s a necessity,” he says with a chuckle.

With this show, Bosley says he’s discovered a real difference between Broadway and Los Angeles theater audiences. “I’ve played theater out here before on other occasions, but never really remembered what the difference was between the two. But in this show, the [L.A.] audience is far more demonstrative. They laugh easier, they laugh longer and they laugh louder. There are a lot of things that those who did the show in New York are aware of that didn’t get certain reactions in New York that get wonderful reactions here.”’

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He attributes the enthusiastic response “to the fact that I think the L.A. people are so love-starved for theater. One of the cries of the critics here for years is that they never bring the original cast [to L.A.]. But we brought the original cast, except for the chorus. I think the audience appreciates that.”

Bosley was the toast of Broadway 35 years ago, winning a Tony for his performance as New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in the musical, “Fiorello!” Before that, “I had been doing theater in and around New York. I did a summer of musicals in Wilmington, Del., in the early ‘50s. I worked at the Dallas State Fair for one summer. I never claimed to be much of a singer. I was more or less an actor in a musical.”

Being in such a big hit as “Fiorello!” was a major adjustment for Bosley. “That was a situation where I was 90% of the show. I never had much time to realize what was happening. There were interviews every five minutes, photo sessions and all kinds of wonderful things that every young actor gives his right arm for and it was my first Broadway show. It really took me a few months after the show opened and settled down to realize what was going on. “

Bosley is eager to return to series TV. “I would relish it,” he says. “There’s a project that I’m working on now. We’re going to try and get this put together and get people interested in it as a possible midseason replacement for next year.”

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“Happy Days” and “Father Dowling” have lived on in reruns thanks to syndication and cable. Bosley is surprised that “Father Dowling” had an afterlife because only 45 episodes were produced. “Happy Days’ is more or less undated, he says. “It’s timeless really. I think that’s one of the reasons it’s done so well. It was a period where a lot of people remember it as a good time. The kids growing up today say, ‘This is a fun time. Why isn’t it fun now?’ ”

“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” is performed Tuesdays-Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 1 and 6:30 p.m. at the Shubert Theatre, 2020 Avenue of the Stars, Century City. For information, call 1-800-447-7400. “Happy Days” airs weekdays at 6 a.m. on TBS; “Father Dowling Mysteries” airs Mondays-Thursdays at 11 p.m. on the Family Channel.


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