Duncan relishes growing up Music: Unlike her old alter ego Peter Pan, singer is aging and performing gracefully.

March 05, 1998|By Judith Green | Judith Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Sandy Duncan has done it all: singing, dancing, acting, Broadway, television, film, even a workout video.

The petite performer, whose size and bubbly voice have typecast her as Peter Pan and My Little Pony, is now looking forward to being a grown-up. And at 52, she's entitled. "I want every bit of it," she says.

"Together," which she'll perform with her husband, Don Correia, and their old friend Guy Stroman in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's pops concerts this weekend, is part of her coming of age. It was conceived, she says dryly, "while I was waiting around for a new show -- which these days are few and far between."

A pastiche of musical theater songs and dances, it's not your predictable pops fare. The trio format, for instance, allows the performers to explore delightfully underutilized pieces: "You Gotta Have a Gimmick" from "Gypsy" -- "Everywhere else we strip, but not in Baltimore," Duncan jokes -- and the "Fugue for Tinhorns," sung by the racetrack touts in "Guys and Dolls."

And the opening lets people savor the real Sandy. Interviewed by telephone from her brownstone on the Upper West Side of New York City, she imitates the whispers of the audience when they see her: " 'Oh, God, I didn't know she let her hair grow!' 'Which one's her husband?' "

In her playwriting debut, a piece called "Free Fall" produced last summer at the Berkshire Theater Festival in Massachusetts, she delved into questions of masks and identity, about the traps we create for ourselves: "in show biz, the people who buy their own act and then get stuck with it," she says.

She's had her share of being stuck in cheerful childlike parts: "perking through," as she describes it in her perkiest voice.

Born in Texas, she took to the stage at 12 in a local production of "The King and I." Her Broadway debut was Louise, the rebellious teen-ager in "Carousel," in which she danced one of Agnes de Mille's greatest dream-ballets.

Then she went on to other musicals: "The Music Man," "Finian's Rainbow," "Life With Father" and "Canterbury Tales," whose pre-Broadway tryout tour in 1969 marked the last time she was in Baltimore. Her best-known roles have been the waifish lead in "The Boy Friend," which won her a Tony nomination and other awards, and the ingenue in the long-running "My One and Only."

Then she moved to TV, including her own series ("Funny Face"), specials (she was Pinocchio to Danny Kaye's Gepetto), TV movies, series episodes and one milestone: She was the very first guest on "The Muppet Show." And she starred in Jack Heifner's "Vanities," a play about three cheerleaders who grow up. This was not how it was in real life: "I was the seventh out of six girls who tried out" for the cheerleading squad, she says. "I thought my life had ended in the seventh grade."

Two years ago, in Los Angeles, she woke up one day and thought, "The series ended three years ago, and we're still here."

Back she and Correia went to New York with their children, Michael and Jeffrey, now 14 and 15. But the search for real roles had just begun.

She's been offered her share of revivals: "South Pacific," "Annie Get Your Gun," "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," even another "Peter Pan."

"I've done that," she says firmly. "In this business, you get 'known as.' Now it's time to take chances."

She points to Carol Channing, who has let her hair return to its real color and is now playing Brecht's Mother Courage in Los Angeles. "The older I get, the more permission I'll have" to do something like that, she says. "You stay in long enough, people will indulge you."

Part of her current life is writing, part gardening and redecorating her home -- "painting, plastering, tearing down walls" -- on West 90th Street, across the street from the school her boys attend.

Part is being a parent, which is one of the reasons she likes "Together." It allows her and Correia to be away just a couple of days for each engagement.

"Everything changed this year," she says about the boys. "Suddenly this wall came down." She does a tap-tap on the telephone receiver. "Yo!" she says, pretending to get their attention. "We still like you!"

And part of her life is looking for material for herself, trying to defeat "the machinery that is the business."

She thinks she's found what she wants. Late last year, Tune called with an offer for "Sandy-san" -- "He calls me that because we were in Japan together once." It was a new version of Irving Berlin's "Easter Parade," with a redone book and minimalist decor, "not just a big parade of costumes." Right now, they're looking for backers. If they find the money, the show will go into rehearsal this summer.

"And if that doesn't work," she says cheerfully, "I'll open up my little boutique and sell antiques."

Except for the moments of conscious cuteness, she has spent the whole interview sounding like a real person.

"Oh, I am," says Sandy Duncan.

'Together'

Who: Sandy Duncan, Don Correia and Guy Stroman with the BSO

When: 2 p.m. today, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

Tickets: $19-$55

Call: 410-783-8000

Pub Date: 3/05/98

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