Barry Pearl remembers his first theatrical performance like it was yesterday.
“I had been taking a tap dance class, and they built this show around me and one of the young girls,” remembered Pearl, a long-time television, film and stage actor who is performing in the world premiere of “Assisted Loving: Dating with My Dad,” kicking off Friday at the Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany.
“We were 9. I guess we were both adorable. But when I heard that applause and laughter I said to myself, ‘Hey, I kind of like this.’ I really got bit by the bug.”
That was at the Lancaster Little Theatre in Pennsylvania in 1959. Two years later, in August 1961, Pearl was on Broadway, replacing Johnny Borden as Randolph MacAfee in “Bye Bye Birdie.”
He was also in the original Broadway production of “Oliver!” before heading off to Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh where he earned a degree in theater. Not too long after graduating in 1973 he landed a role in the national touring production of “Grease,” and in 1977 joined John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in the movie version of the film, playing the role of Doody, one of the three T-Bird characters.
“When the national tour of ‘Grease’ came through Pittsburgh, I went to watch it because a classmate told me there was this character who looked just like me,” remembered Pearl. “The actor was Michael Lembeck. He was playing Sonny, and it was like watching myself. Well, he breaks his leg. I tell my agent, and three weeks later I’m with the tour in Toronto. The real kicker is that four years later to the day, I get the role of Doody in the film. That was really the cherry on top of the icing.”
Since then, Pearl has been a very busy actor. His TV credits include “House” and “Criminal Minds” in the past 10 years, “E.R.” and “Beverly Hills 90210” in the 1990s, and “Growing Pains” and “Falcon Crest” in the 1980s. And, during the 1977-78 season, he was on 14 episodes of “CPO Sharkey” with Don Rickles.
Throughout much of that time he also was lured back to the stage. In February 2009 he played Arnold in the national touring production of “Happy Days” at Proctors.
“In a perfect world, I would continue to work until I take my last breath, and that’s whatever the medium might be,” he said. “To hear the laughter and applause from a live audience is extremely gratifying, and it’s wonderful to feel that power you have to take a mass of people on a journey and tell them a story. In TV and film you don’t rehearse to perfection like you do for the theater, but I still love the collaborative part of it. You’re creating something. I think maybe I don’t always appreciate that as much as I should. I have to remember to sit back and enjoy it all.”
While Pearl’s good nature and welcoming personality — if you watched TV in the 1980s and 1990s you’ll recognize him — comes through in a telephone interview, he’s even better in person according to Gordon Greenberg, who is directing “Assisted Loving.”
“I got to know him when he was in the national tour of ‘Happy Days,’ and he’s a delightful and dapper performer,” said Greenberg, who recently directed “Guys and Dolls” in London’s West End and “Holiday Inn” on Broadway. “He’s full of positive energy and great humor, and I just knew he would relate to this character. Everyone in Albany will recognize him. He’s been in a million things.”
In “Assisted Loving” by Bob Morris, Pearl plays Sol, a recently widowed 80-year-old who decides to re-enter the dating scene. His son, David, played by Brian Sills, isn’t entirely comfortable with the idea but then insists on vetting his father’s online dating possibilities.
“I love the fact that I’m working with Gordon again, and to work with him alongside the playwright, Bob Morris, working on a brand new piece is a great opportunity,” said Pearl. “You’re tweaking, you’re collaborating, you can see where things need to be altered a little bit, and Bob and Gordon are great allowing us to be a part of that process. Working on a new play is a lot different than doing an old chestnut. You’re giving birth to something completely new, and that feels very special.”
Last year at this time, Pearl was working with “Grease: Live,” a theatrical production of the show performed live on the Fox channel. Pearl, obviously a bit past the age of playing a teenager, was Mr. Weaver, a role made specifically for him.
“By virtue of the fact that all the major networks have done them is a clear indication that it’s an idea whose time has come,” said Pearl, referring to the relatively new concept of performing stage productions live on television. “I believe it’s a good thing. It exposes people to what live theater can be or look like. It was fabulous, and I’ll tell you, there is nothing like the real thing.”
Also opening this weekend is the Schenectady Civic Players’ production of “Wait Until Dark.”
Originally written by Frederick Knott and revised by Jeffrey Hatcher, “Wait Until Dark” tells the story of Susan Hendrix, a blind yet very capable woman who is set upon by three con artists. Matt Teichner is directing the show, while Colleen Lovett stars as Susan. Also in the cast are Nick Casey, Matt Harvey, David Rook, David DeSorbo and Susan Durocher.
Knott’s original play was performed on Broadway in 1966, and turned into a Hollywood film starring Audrey Hepburn in 1967.
In October 2013, a revised version by Hatcher opened at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. Among Hatcher’s changes were setting the story in 1944 instead of 1964.
‘Assisted Loving: Dating with My Dad’
WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl, Albany
WHEN: Previews Friday through Sunday; Opens Tuesday and runs through Feb. 19; performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $60-$16
MORE INFO: visit www.capitalrep.org or call 445-7469
‘Wait Until Dark’
WHERE: Schenectady Civic Playhouse, 12 S. Church St., Schenectady
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through Feb. 5; performances are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $20
MORE INFO: 382-2081, www.civicplayers.org
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected].