What many of his WKRP fans may not realize is that Sandy is a theater veteran. Having made his Broadway debut under the direction of Franco Zeffirelli in Saturday, Sunday, Monday, he went on to perform in over 70 dramatic and musical stage productions, including a Broadway stint as the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance. For our TheaterMania interview, I spoke with Sandy during the tour's Philadelphia engagement.
THEATERMANIA: A lot of actors who are known for their work in television or film started in the theater, but I understand that you actually started out in daytime TV dramas.
GARY SANDY: Well, I was doing both at the same time. I came to New York when I was 20 and I went to acting school. The very first work I got was an Off-Broadway show. Shortly after that, I got As the World Turns, but I was still doing theater. By the time I got to New York, I'd already done been in about 10 plays...but I was not making any money at it.
TM: You worked Off-Broadway in The Children's Mass, produced by Sal Mineo, and you made your Broadway debut in a show directed by Franco Zeffirelli. What was it like working with these folks?
GS: At the time we started rehearsals, Zeffirelli had just directed a production over at the Metropolitan Opera, although I don't recall the name of it. Anyway, I got kind of friendly with his secretary, and so I had my first opportunity to go to the Met. What a way to see an opera--sitting in the director's box, with the director! Zeffirelli was a trip because, when he gave direction, he would literally move you around and take on the persona of the character you were doing. If he wanted you sad, he'd have weeping eyes. He gave you exactly what he was looking for.
TM: What about Sal Mineo?
GS: He was such a good guy. At the time of his death, he was very excited about the fact that he was going to play in P.S. Your Cat is Dead. He had been around a long time. I mean, he was in Rebel Without a Cause! And, like Zeffirelli, he was very concerned about detail.
TM: You've done a number of dramas and musicals. Do you have a preference for one over the other?
GS: Well, I do like musicals a lot. I've gotten a kick out of doing The Music Man in some big, high-level productions. I liked Craig Bierko's performance [in the Broadway revival], but I do it different: I try to give you the feeling that this guy is really a shyster, ready to get on the next train out of town, but he can't because he falls in love.
TM: Would you like to take over the role on Broadway?
GS: Man, I don't know. It's been about four or five years since I've done that show. You have to have the stamina for it, onstage and backstage. There's no downtime in The Music Man whatsoever!
TM: How are you enjoying the Whorehouse experience?
GS: I like playing Ed Earl Dodd because I get to do everything. He's romantic, hopefully a little sexy. The part has a lot of comedy and a lot of tenderness. Plus there's one speech I get to do that's about the best I've ever done; it's a two-page monologue. Ed Earl is sort of a crotchety sheriff who's been around a little while. He's a bit military-like in his approach to sheriffing, and he takes the law seriously. When that's tested, he lets loose. You know, this story really happened, so I try not to be a musical comedy version of a sheriff. And we walk a fine line between turning the play around to comedy. After all, it doesn't have a happy ending. It's very tender, and I think the audience is moved by it.
TM: Are you at all concerned that people will expect the stage production to be like the movie?
GS: Not really, because I don't think the film is considered to be successful. And I don't think the writers were too happy that their script was changed. The Hollywood ending is not what happened in the real story. One of the great things about the show is that it has such wonderful songs, and the last song was written especially for this production. It's called "You Were a Friend to Me." Ann-Margret sings the hell out of it. It's a song that other entertainers are gonna want to do...and Ann-Margret knows that! I tell you, to see an icon in this business performing live, and to perform with her--well, it's a real treat.
TM: You've got your own website now (www.garysandy.com). What's it like to be a dot-com?
GS: I'm kind of pleased with that. I couldn't get my name on AOL; it was already taken, probably by some couple with a husband named Gary and a wife named Sandy. I have never particularly cared for my name, but it's real. Anyway, I was pleased to get my own name for the website. The real reason for the site was that I wanted fans to always know how to get a hold of me. Lately, I've been hearing from people that I haven't heard from since high school.
TM: I'd be remiss if I didn't bring up WKRP in Cincinnati. How sick are you of talking about that show?
GS: I never get tired of talking about WKRP--but I don't gossip! Loni [Anderson] is a beautiful person and we're good friends. I think it's totally ungentlemanly the way some people gossip about people they've worked with. I don't see a reason to do that. It's tacky.
TM: You still make guest appearances on various television series. Would you like to do another series?
GS: Yes, but not just any series. I thought WKRP was a sincerely funny show during the golden age of sitcoms. It's a hard act to follow, and I don't want to do something that would be embarrassing. That's why I've passed on some TV projects. Yeah, I'd like to make a few bucks, but I want to do more than just fluff. I'd rather do A Streetcar Named Desire!