The Duke of Arlen?

Published: Thursday, January 13, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 12, 2005 at 10:52 p.m.
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Tom Wopat honors the music of Harold Arlen in "Over the Rainbow: A Concert Celebrating a Century of Harold Arlen" Friday night at the Phillips Center.

Courtesy of Tom Wopat


"Over the Rainbow: Celebrating a Century

WHAT: Multi-media tribute to songwriter Harold Arlen
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday WHERE: Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, 315 Hull Road, UF campus
TICKETS: $20-$30, available at (T) and the box office

Luke Duke addressed me by name last week.
"Hey, Dave. Tom Wopat," said the Broadway staple who came to fame as a good-ole-boy cousin on the yokel car-chase series "The Dukes of Hazzard."
The show was not exactly a forward evolution in pop culture but a guilty pleasure all the same in the late '70s and early '80s. Heck, my grandfather and I were huge fans; I loved the Dodge Charger that solved all problems by jumping over broken bridges, and Grandad loved, well, cousin Daisy. We were not ashamed.
A "Hazzard" movie is in the works, and debates still linger about who drove the General Lee better, Bo or Luke.
And while my recent interview with Wopat was a significant life event, I must get past Hazzard County. Wopat is so much more than a face on a lunchbox. After the series ended, he returned to Broadway and was even nominated for a Tony Award ("Annie Get Your Gun").
And now he is part of a 33-date tour celebrating Harold Arlen, the man who penned "That Old Black Magic," "Come Rain or Come Shine" and - among others - the music from the "Wizard of Oz."
"Over the Rainbow: A Concert Celebrating a Century of Harold Arlen" arrives at the Phillips Center Friday with Wopat, fellow Broadway star Faith Prince and jazz singers Barbara Morrison and Loston Harris. This multi-media showcase includes rare footage of Arlen, as well as an all-star jazz band featuring one of my favorite jazz guitarists, Mark Whitfield.
The tour concludes in February, when Wopat's new CD of Arlen's music hits stores. "Dissertation on the State of Bliss" also will be available on the "Rainbow" tour. Fact is, Wopat said, the tour inspired the CD. Once he dove into Arlen's catalogue, he was hooked.
"The material is great ... It was basically live. We cut it all in three days," he said of the disc. "The thing of it is, (the songs) are all kind of unique. They all have their own little flavor. But there's an Arlen signature as far as chromatic stuff and octave jumps. There's a certain thing he does that he does great."
This will be the first time Wopat has worked with Harris and Morrison, both celebrated jazz recording artists. But Wopat and Prince go way back.
"She's terrific," he said. "I was the first replacement in 'Guys and Dolls' (with Prince and Nathan Lane) when Peter Gallagher left. And then, long before that, I was a headliner on a production of 'Carousel,' kind of an ill-fated production that we did in (Washington) D.C."
These days, Wopat is considered an all-star on this Arlen tour, the face on the poster, in fact. His Broadway credits range from "Chicago" to the "42nd Street" revival. Just this month, he was cast in the revival of "Glengarry Glen Ross" alongside Alan Alda, Liev Schreiber and Jeffrey Tambor. He's even had country-music hits.
But at the end of the day, high brow often collides with "Hazzard," a slapstick shot of TV testosterone that made a surprised - and "humbled" - Wopat a pop idol. They shot the first episodes in dusty Georgia, and that's where Wopat figured it would end.
"I thought I was going to do five episodes and make $35,000 and be done. Come back to New York and go back to Broadway," he said. Yet 25 years later, he estimates half of his celebrity is still fueled by Boss Hog's relentless, six-season pursuit of the Duke boys (played by Wopat and fellow singer John Schneider).
The turbo-charged, tight-jeaned CBS show was certainly a departure for Wopat. He and Schneider hung on for most of the run, with replacement Dukes tagging in during a brief dispute over salaries. Two reunion movies followed, and the show attained cult status in syndication on TNN.
Was the series a blessing or a curse for Wopat?
"Ah. Yes," he answered, adding a more telling chuckle. "Having said that, I've never tried to disassociate myself from it. It was a big part of my life, in more ways than one.
"I mean, the stuff is definitely bigger than we are. With such a strange amalgamation of things that 'The Dukes of Hazzard' was, it found itself into the American culture in a really kind of undeniable sort of way. It's amazing."
And now it's coming to the big screen, with "Jackass" star Johnny Knoxville playing Luke in a film set for release in July.
"I wish them luck and hope they have as much fun with it as we did," said Wopat, adding nobody approached him about making a cameo in the film. "They've really not, ah, reached out to us, to coin a phrase. They just didn't include us."
And Knoxville as Luke? "Whatever. Good luck," he said. "I hope he's decent, that's all. I hope they don't klutz it up and make it vulgar. It was silly enough as it was, but it was kind of innocent and well meaning."
With that, my 15 minutes with Wopat were up. But he graciously stayed on the line to help settle that age-old debate: Who drove the General Lee better?
"I was probably just a better organic driver, but as far as doing stuff with it, you know, probably John. I grew up driving a little more like that, I think, than he did. We did a lot of (the actual driving), and, of course, John did 80 or 90 percent of that."
Even those wicked jumps over bridges and creeks and - at times - Enos?
"No. That wasn't us. We'd get a little air now and then; we'd smack into something now and then."
The Arlen tribute starts at 7:30 p.m., with a free pre-performance discussion at 6:45 p.m.
  • NEWS OF NOTE: In a busy week crammed with Gainesville headliners, there is relevant news to the south. Local club staples the Roberts & Somers Band will be among the acts opening for Bobby Goldsboro at Silver Springs attraction on Saturday.
    "It's a high," said Bob Somers, who has played on the nature park's stage with other bands.
    This time, the duo will bring its backup band (Al Tomes, Ed Coggin, Ben Champion and Danny Hamilton). They are expected to perform on the Twin Oaks Mansion stage at 3 p.m. - and pack up soon thereafter, as they are due for their regular Saturday night gig at Emerald's Lounge in Thornebrook Village.
    Somers and Dan Roberts are veterans on the local music scene; they adore writing songs, but the current ensemble has them relishing in classic covers, things that will get people on the dance floor, they said. At the nature park, with thousands of Goldsboro fans spread out before them, tunes from Elvis and Roy Orbison are scheduled for the set list.
    Dave Schlenker can be reached at 374-5045 or

    Loston Harris

    Singer/pianist has performed as a member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, led by Wynton Marsalis. Harris also has appeared on the PBS special "Portraits in Blue" with fellow pianist Marcus Roberts.
    His CDs include "Comes Love" and "Timeless."

    Barbara Morrison

    The jazz and blues recording artist has performed with greats from Dizzy Gillespie and Etta James to Joe Sample and Keb' Mo'. She sang on the soundtrack for Denzel Washington's "The Hurricane,"as well as on The Duke Ellington "Millennium." TV appearances include the NBC hit comedy "The Naked Truth," "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "The Dennis Miller Show."

    Faith Prince

    The Broadway actress won Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards for the 1992 revival of "Guys and Dolls." She has starred in "Noises Off," "Bells Are Ringing," "Jerome Robbins' Broadway," "Nick and Nora" (Outer Critics Circle award), "Little Me" and "The King and I" revival. TV appearances include"Spin City," "Now and Again" and the PBS special "My Favorite Broadway."
    Her live recording, "A Leap of Faith," is available on DRG Records.
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