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The Time Between

Armed with his usual positive outlook on life, actor Michael Nouri heads for Broadway.
Mervyn Rothstein
From the Print Edition:
Linda Evangelista, Autumn 95

When you meet Michael Nouri, three words come to mind: tall, dark and handsome. His craggy good looks are the kind that in an earlier era would have earned him the designation "matinee idol." You may have seen him in the movies as Nick Hurley, the romantic lead in Flashdance; on prime-time television as Kip, the self-enamored actor divorced from Susan Dey on "Love and War," or as Lucky Luciano in TV's The Gangster Chronicles. This fall you can catch him on Broadway, costarring and singing with Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria, the Broadway musical version of Blake Edwards' 1982 hit comedy.

Nouri portrays King Marchand, a supermacho Chicago gambler who finds himself, much to his consternation, falling in love with the title character, a down-on-her-luck singer who pretends to be a man so she can impersonate a woman. It's the role the ruggedly handsome James Garner played in the movie, and it's a good match: the dark, curly hair (now fairly salt and pepper), the smile of ingratiating charm, the trim and muscular physique, the easygoing demeanor and the self-effacing sense of humor.

Nouri is sitting in a restaurant off the lobby of a Manhattan hotel, his home for the moment, during rehearsals for Victor/Victoria. It is early May, and he and the show are going on the road to try things out in Minneapolis and Chicago. At summer's end, they will return to New York for previews beginning October 3 and the scheduled October 25 Broadway premiere, and for what everyone hopes and expects will be a long run at the Marquis Theater.

"We have some of the best people in the business working on this show," Nouri says. "Blake Edwards, who is directing it and wrote it, is really doing it the right way. It has been a dream of his to do this since the movie. He [originally] wanted to do it with Robert Preston, who died a few years after [in 1987]. And for one reason or another it didn't work out until this year. But now it's a very luxurious situation. The last musical I did, South Pacific at the Long Beach Civic Light Opera in California [with Sandy Duncan in May 1994], had five weeks of rehearsal. For this one, we have five months. And then," he smiles, "there's this wonderfully talented woman who I predict is going to have an amazing future: Julie Andrews."

Working with Andrews, he says, has been a revelation. "The first time I kissed her, it was something of an out-of-body experience," he says with a laugh. "I thought to myself, I'm kissing Mary Poppins. What am I doing? I could get arrested. But really, she is one of the most energetic, gracious and positive people I've ever met. It always astonishes me to watch people who can dance and sing and act. I can act. I can sing. I don't dance--don't ask me. I move all right, but to see somebody who does it all is really something. And the amazing thing about her is she doesn't know she's the legend. She doesn't know she's the diva. And she doesn't behave like a diva. What matters to her is the work, getting it right. Someone once said of her that she doesn't seem to know she's Julie Andrews."

He has many important moments onstage with the former Ms. Poppins, key among them a duet, "Almost a Love Song," one of the 14 new songs written for the show by the late Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse. Members of the press heard Nouri and Andrews perform the number in early spring in a mini-preview at the rehearsal studio, and there was a one-word consensus: "Wow!" Other members of the knockout cast include Tony Roberts (in the Preston role) and Rachel York.

Nouri not only loves working with his co-star; he also loves his role. "I really like playing somebody who has his reality stood right on his head," he says. "It's wonderful to play such a character, because you get to go somewhere with the role, to play different aspects of yourself. I get a chance to ask myself what it feels like to be in total control of a situation, and then to go into a tailspin, to be thrown into complete chaos. And then I ask myself, how do I pull myself into control again?"

Nouri is confident of the musical's success; he has taken an apartment on Central Park West, a continent away from his permanent home in Pacific Palisades, California, a house on a hillside overlooking the ocean. He does not expect to return to the West Coast for 18 months, but he has brought with him a reminder of his California life, his constant companion, an 8-year-old golden retriever named Chauncey.

Chauncey, the offspring of prize-winning English show dogs, is a cheerful and understanding friend, Nouri says. "He goes running with me every morning in Central Park. But it's his first visit to New York. I'm used to the city. For Chauncey, everything was new: the sounds, the sights, the smells. For a while he was overstimulated." One smell that Chauncey was already familiar with, however, was that of his owner's cigars.

"It all began when I was a teenager growing up in Alpine, New Jersey," the 49-year-old Nouri says. "I had to read Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea for high school, and in the course of learning about the book I found out that Hemingway spent a lot of time deep-sea fishing and smoking Cuban cigars. This sparked some very rich fantasies in me. My mom and dad were out of town at a convention--my father was in life insurance, so he would go to these annual conventions. And in those days, you could go down to the corner cigar store and for probably 50 cents buy an H. Upmann Cuban cigar. So that's what I did. Spending 50 cents for a cigar in those days was exorbitant. It was a luxury. But I sat in the living room reading The Old Man and the Sea and smoking an H. Upmann cigar."

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