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'Wicked' returns to Tampa with Richard Kline of TV's 'Three's Company' as the Wizard

As the national tour of Wicked re-creates the wonderful world of Oz for a month at the Straz Center, fans will quickly recognize the flying witch, winged monkeys and signature tunes that have made this a hit on Broadway since 2003.

But please, play close attention to the man behind the curtain. Yes, that man. The Wizard of Oz.

The face looks familiar, even if the name doesn't right away. That's because if you've watched any television in the past 30 years, chances are pretty good you've seen Richard Kline.

Still drawing a blank? Kline played the role of "Larry," the sleazy, womanizing neighbor on TV's Three's Company from 1977 to 1984. The role sparked a career in television that would see Kline pop up again in the '80s and '90s on series such as Love Boat, Fantasy Island, L.A. Law and even E.R.

"I'm not naive. I know (Three's Company) probably hindered me in various jobs but when you look at the whole spectrum, I don't regret it for a second," Kline says. "And playing the Wizard in Wicked, there's a lot of competition involved and I don't think it crossed the mind of the producer either positively or negatively that they were hiring 'Larry' per se. They were hiring a guy who could sing and could act."

To hear Kline describe the Wizard, there are even some parallels between his new stage role and his signature TV character. We recently caught up with him on the road before the production opened Wednesday in Tampa.

I grew up watching Three's Company. So please excuse me if I call you "Larry" by mistake.

Can I call you Britney?

It wouldn't be the first time! But I do have to tell you I think that, intentionally or not, growing up I may have based my life on your character of Larry.

Uh-oh.

And that might explain my two divorces.

(Laughs) Hey wait! I don't think Larry ever really hooked up. I think he was all talk.

You were doing something right. Three's Company still shows up in reruns today.

I'm just amazed that it's been running in reruns as long as it has. What's funny is that the (Wicked) crew, the kids, come up to me and say, "I was up last night at 3 in the morning and there you are."

Why do people love it so much?

It was a farce pure and simple. It didn't have a political agenda. It's just pure fun, and people like escape.

So back to the land of Oz. How did you land the Wizard role?

I auditioned like everyone else. They offered me another part in the show, the part of Dr. Dillamond. I refused that, but I guess I was on file in their Wizard database and they called me in again and hired me.

What do you find appealing about the role?

What I like about the role is that he has sinister qualities but he also has con-man qualities, which is kind of a throwback to Larry from Three's Company. I'm not saying it's the same character.

Is the Wizard a villain?

He thinks of himself as just trying to do a job to keep the kingdom working. He's not trying to amass wealth per se. He's just trying to keep power. . . . I don't think of myself as Snidely Whiplash.

Did you read the novel that it's based on, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West?

I'm going to be as honest as a human being can be with you. I started it, I got halfway through it and I went, "This is too dark and too dense and it's going to screw me up with the role." God bless (author) Greg Maguire. The imagination in the book is astounding. However, as a narrative, it needs to be cut by 120 pages.

Do you remember seeing the original Wizard of Oz for the first time?

Yeah, I was scared out of my pajamas watching Margaret Hamilton and the monkeys. It really did scare me.

As the Wizard, will you be able to conjure up any free time for yourself while you're in Florida?

Have you heard of the game of golf?

I believe so.

Okay, that's where you'll find me.

Richard Kline’s take on Wicked’s Wizard is that he’s “just trying to do a job to keep the kingdom working.’’

Straz Center for the Performing Arts

Richard Kline’s take on Wicked’s Wizard is that he’s “just trying to do a job to keep the kingdom working.’’

>> If you go

Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. today, Tuesday-Wednesday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Through Feb. 28. Morsani Hall at David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa.

Tickets: Prices start at $50. (813) 229-7827; wicked
themusical.com.

On the Web

See a video of the crew setting up the Straz stage for another run of the blockbuster musical. entertainment.tampabay.com

'Wicked' returns to Tampa with Richard Kline of TV's 'Three's Company' as the Wizard 02/03/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 10:33am]
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