The Santa Monica Pier is a second home to Paul Sand, the actor who won a Tony Award nearly 43 years ago playing 11 characters, including a dog, in “Paul Sills’ Story Theatre.”
His parents met on the pier at a dance. He took his first baby steps there and lived above the famed carousel after he graduated from high school. And even today, the 78-year-old Sand resides on the 13th floor of a Santa Monica high-rise that overlooks the landmark.
And now he’s performing on the pier. Sand has created a musical revue, “Kurt Weill at the Cuttlefish Hotel,” the first show at the West End Theatre, which he established in late summer.
In addition to directing, Sand is also a member of the four-person ensemble; he performs the standard “Mack the Knife” from “Threepenny Opera.”
“I love the songs,” Sand enthused during a phone conversation. “We have a five-piece band. We’ve got the atmosphere. It’s highly theatrical. I wear one red glove and sing this mean song.”
The Times review of “Kurt Weill at the Cuttlefish Hotel” said the show was “carving a weirdly effective niche for itself on the Santa Monica Pier.” And that the cast of four performs nine “familiar numbers with a mix of Sprechstimme and moxie that is often evocative and arresting.”
Sand, who has appeared on TV since the 1960s and in such films as 1972’s “The Hot Rock,” 2000’s “Chuck and Buck” and 2005’s “Sweet Land,” came up with the idea of the show during one of his strolls on the pier.
"I thought, wouldn’t it be great for a Kurt Weill songfest — songs in a cabaret atmosphere,” Sand said. The legendary German composer, who collaborated with Bertolt Brecht on “Threepenny Opera,” fled to the U.S. from Nazi Germany and worked on such musicals as “One Touch of Venus,” “Lady in the Dark” and “Knickerbocker Holiday.”
The day after that walk Sand chatted with the deputy director of the pier and worked out a deal to create a theater in the observation deck above the Mariasol restaurant.
“It’s still a space in the daytime for people to look out at the ocean,” Sand said. “So we have to strike the set every night because it is a public space.”
The members of the ensemble have different observations of working with Sand.
Megan Rippey said her mother is thrilled she’s working with Sand: “She’s been watching his shows and movies for years. I told her I met Paul and my whole family was ecstatic!”
“He reminds me of Buster Keaton,” Shay Astar said. “He’s so alive and every part of him is constantly crackling with humor and fun. It’s being directed by a really brilliant kid.”
Sol Mason has worked with Sand when he directed Mason in two Clara Mamet one-acts last year in Santa Monica. They also appeared together in a 2013 independent, “Simple Being.” Mason also directed the short Indiegogo campaign film for “Kurt Weill.”
“He knows how to get the best performance out of you,” Mason said. “He allows you to improvise and it really works for me.”
Sand, remembering that as a kid he knew all the MGM musicals by heart, struck a deal with his parents when he was a boy. “I could study acting, but I was not allowed to be a child actor.” At 9 he began studying with the renowned improv theater innovator Viola Spolin. She and her son, Paul Sills, who directed Sand in “Story Theatre,” were “the best mentors,” he said. “They meant everything.”
After high school, Sand made enough money working as a chorus boy on a TV special to seek his fame and fortune, not in New York but Paris.
"I didn’t want go to New York and I didn’t want to stay in L.A.,” he said. “I was a real French kid and watched French moves constantly. I had long black hair and black turtlenecks. Then I went to Paris. Everybody thought I was an American cowboy.”
Eventually, he found his way to the home of renowned mime Marcel Marceau. “Two weeks later, I got into his company and worked for a year. We worked in a beautiful theater right in Paris. Then I felt a year later it was time to go home.”
He worked with another legend, Judy Garland, on one of her tours of California, duetting with her on “A Couple of Swells” from 1948’s “Easter Parade.”
“Every other day she knew who I was,” Sand said of the troubled Garland. “Every other day, she had no idea who I was.”
He honed his comedic skills with such up-and-comers as Alan Arkin and Barbara Harris in Chicago’s Second City improv comedy ensemble, which was run by Sills. And then came the Tony win in 1971 for “Story Theatre,” which began at the Mark Taper Forum in 1970.
“Angela Lansbury handed me my Tony,” he said. “I think I said, ‘I’ve always had a hard time dealing with reality, but this seems very real to me.’”
The win brought a lot of television offers, as well as the Robert Redford caper comedy “The Hot Rock.”
“In fact,” Sand said, “the film’s director, Peter Yates, called me in and said, ‘I haven’t seen your show, but I loved your acceptance speech. So will you take this role in my movie?’”
His neurotically funny sad-sack persona caught the attention of TV viewers in a 1970 episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Four years later, he got his own CBS comedy, “Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers,” where he played a shyly romantic tousled-haired double-bass player with the Boston Symphony who always struck out with the ladies. The comedy struck out with viewers and was gone after 15 episodes.
“It was not a happy time,” Sand said.
In fact, after the series was canceled, he went to Europe where he fell in love. (“I’m afraid I fell deeply in love forever, a lot in those days.”) He has continued to work in film and television.
“I’ve written a full-length play,” he added. Still, he admitted, “I am not ambitious.”
But Sand does feel re-energized with “Kurt Weill.” “I am sort of playing with my instincts and having a good time all over again. I am back to playing again.”
He has ideas for other shows, including staging a series of old French horror plays. He also has bigger ambitions: “I do want to open a big, open, clean white space that is capable of a lot of electricity.”
‘Kurt Weill at the Cuttlefish Hotel’
Where: West End Theatre, 200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica
When: 7:30 and 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Dark Dec 27-Jan. 4.
Info: (310) 425-8308 or https://www.thewestendtheatre.com
Running time: 45 minutes