Universal Press Department
January 5, 1983
Kevin Kline has been described as "half - Errol Flynn and half - Gene Kelly" and "one of the contemporary treasures of our theatre," as well as possessing "extraordinary gifts," including "the best qualities of Ben Turpin, Errol Flynn, Chevy Chase and Alfred Drake."
Currently playing the Pirate King in the screen version of the smash Broadway musical hit, "The Pirates Of Penzance," Kline is as unassuming sort, subdued, almost anonymous. If there is one subject that Kevin Kline will discuss passionately, it is acting. He studied at Juilliard and was a charter member of the Acting Company under John Houseman. He is so serious about it that he hesitates even to call himself an actor. As he said to Joe Klein in New York magazine: "I know it's silly, but to call myself an actor would be to imply that I'd mastered it, which I haven't."
Between 1978 and 1981 he appeared in three vastly different roles on the New York stage and managed physical metamorphoses so complete that even his fans had difficulty recognizing him from part to part.
In 1978, he won a Tony award in his first major Broadway role, as Bruce Granit, the plastered-down, dim-witted matinee idol of On The Twentieth Century.
The next year, in Loose Ends, by Michael Weller, he played "a disillusioned former Peace Corpsman struggling to stay married during the 1970's." Again, the reviews were excellent; Walter Kerr cited the performance as one of his ten favorites of the year.
And then, in the summer of 1980, with the New York Shakespeare Festival's production in Central Park, the triumphant Pirate King. Subsequently, he repeated the role on Broadway, winning a Tony award and Obie award and a Drama Desk award for his performance.
This was followed by a starring role opposite Marisa Berenson and Sally Kellerman in Phillip Barry's Holiday in Los Angeles.
Born and raised in St. Louis, where his father owned a music store, then a toy store, Kline was immersed in music. He played the piano and went to the University of Indiana as a music major. He also took an acting course during his first year and gradually realized that acting came easier than music for him, and he switched majors.
After graduating from Indiana, Kline was accepted into John Houseman's acting programme at Juilliard, joining a remarkable group of young performers, including Patti Lu Pone.
"We did a repertory season our last year there and were so good that the critics actually suggested that it would be a shame to break us up. So Houseman, who formed the Mercury Theatre with Orson Welles in the 1930s, decided to do it again, and we became the Acting Company."
Kline spent four years with the company, mostly on the road, playing just about everything -- classical roles, modern roles, leading men, character parts, heroes, villains -- and then decided it was time to stay in New York for a season and try to make it in the big time. He gathered all the usual battle scars: soapoperas, commercials, off-off Broadway, understudy. Finally, he landed the part in On The Twentieth Century, a small part that was transformed, through his creativity and director Hal Prince's willingness to experiment, into a Tony award-winner.
By the time he reached The Pirates Of Penzance, Kline was regarded by the rest of the cast as a Broadway veteran, and Linda Ronstadt, for one, was daunted by the prospect of performing with him.
Between the closing of Pirates in Central Park and its opening on Broadway several months later, Kline went to Los Angeles to play the old Cary Grant role in Phillip Barry's Holiday at the Ahmanson Theatre. "It was a nice change," he says. "The character was a much different sort from the Pirate King, more subdued and straight-forward."
When it was decided to make the screen version of Pirates, Kevin Kline was the only actor considered for the Pirate King. He had really made the part his own.
Immediately after completing his film role, Kline returned to New York to star opposite Meryl Streep in "Sophie's Choice." He is currently starring in the film, "The Big Chill," which is in production.
Edward R. Pressman presents A Joseph Papp Production, "The Pirates Of Penzance," starring Kevin Kline, Angela Lansbury, Linda Ronstadt, George Rose and Rex Smith. It is directed and has a screenplay by Wilford Leach, and Joseph Papp is the producer. A Universal Release, the executive producer is Edward R. Pressman, and the co-producer is Timothy Burrill.