Television legend John Larroquette finds his feet on Broadway

“Normally, I look forward to a job ending and getting back to my life…but not this time,” laments comedic actor and television icon John Larroquette in his dressing room at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. He sips on his pre-show Nespresso and counts off the remaining shows before the curtain drops for the last time on the Broadway smash hit How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. “I wish it could just keep going. But Daniel [Radcliffe aka Harry Potter] can’t stay and it just doesn’t feel right continuing on without him.”

If you were lucky enough to catch Larroquette in his Tony-winning turn as J.B. Biggley you would have witnessed the transformation into an authentic “song and dance man,” hoofing it eight times a week with a co-star 42 years his junior. (“I’m almost old enough to be his grandfather!” Larroquette points out.)

You would also have been one of the 1,435 audience members to leap to your feet in appreciation after the two-and-a-half hour performance and watch as the seasoned actor graciously stepped aside for “the real star of the show,” as he refers to Radcliffe. Their onstage chemistry has blossomed into an off-stage bromance and the respect is palpable: “His name is at the top of the call sheet for good reason,” Larroquette says.

This disarming warmth and generosity plays out in most of Larroquette’s observations – surprising, considering he is still best associated with playing the womanizing cad Dan Fielding on NBC’s seminal ’80s sitcom Night Court. It was a role that won him four Emmys, until he took his name out of consideration so that others could have a turn. Though due to slight embarrassment he’ll try to make you believe it was less magnanimous and more to do with distancing himself from the part and general fears of typecasting.

John Larroquette's dressing room
John Larroquette's dressing room
John Larroquette's dressing room
John Larroquette's dressing room
John Larroquette's dressing room
John Larroquette in his dressing room

While television has been kind to Larroquette, his true love has always been the theater. He got his break in Joseph Stein’s Enter Laughing, (based on Carl Reiner’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name) a 1974 production that landed him both his first agent and his wife, Elizabeth (née Cookson). He occasionally hits the boards at the Colony Theater in Burbank which he co-founded, but for all his decades as a working actor the only performing he’s done in New York was twice hosting Saturday Night Live. Offers to star on Broadway came from the likes of Neil Simon and Herb Gardner, but his pat answer, “would love to, if my show gets cancelled” rarely materialized. So when Boston Legal ended its run in 2008, Larroquette forced himself to walk away from television altogether with the hopes of finally making his Broadway dream come true.

While he waited, he found his Big Apple sea legs in Elizabeth Meriwether’s Oliver Parker! downtown at the Cherry Lane Theater. Then a call came that the star of the biggest movie franchise of all time was coming back to Broadway and needed a scene partner who was “really funny, really classy and really tall.”

At 6’4” Larroquette is larger-than-life, and talk to him long enough, you’ll come to appreciate that his intellect is as large as his stature. A know-it-all in all the best of ways, he’s eager to spar, one minute telling stories of Hollywood lore (yes, he was there the night Bruce met Demi) and sharing his knowledge on everything from cameras to bird hunting to 20th century fiction the next. His rare book collection is legendary, particularly the real “heady, depressing stuff” like Thomas Pynchon and Michael Ondaatje. But when the conversation turns to Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, he truly comes to life.

"It becomes crystal clear that for all the years he’s played the clown, there is consummate discipline and study behind every laugh."

After a “not creepy at all” Jesuit priest turned him on to the absurdist as a teenager (rightly assuming that it would be a meeting of the minds), Beckett has captivated Larroquette’s imagination. He rattles off descriptions of past productions the world over like a jazzed professor.

When I mention a desire to see him perform Krapp’s Last Tape, he lights up and launches into a well thought out plan about what show to pair it with (it includes a part for his wife) and intricate details including the number of steps to take between certain speeches as stated in Beckett’s diaries. It becomes crystal clear that for all the years he’s played the clown, there is consummate discipline and study behind every laugh. Perhaps these grow out of his decision thirty years ago to get sober – and do so publicly.

Back then, being an alcoholic wasn’t trendy like today. It was a major taboo he boldly lent his face to at great professional risk after an acting coach said: “You went around drinking and making sure that the whole world knew you were a drunk, why not go around now and make sure they all know now that you’re sober.” It’s incalculable how many people he has helped by this decision by coming out publicly, but he takes great pride in the friends he has made along the way.

But nothing compares to the pride evident when the subject of his family comes up. Apart from the love and support he has counted on from his wife, he is eager to discuss his three grown children, Lisa, Jonathan and Ben, and considers them his closest of advisers, and friends.

Next, Larroquette will take his turn as on the call sheet with such celebrated names as James Earl Jones, Angela Landsbury, Michael McKean and Candice Bergen in a revival of Gore Vidal’s election thriller, The Best Man.

Reading the script, Larroquette quickly connected to the villain – a nefarious political operative – and told his agent he was ready to accept the part. To his surprise, though, he discovered he was actually being offered the leading role of presidential candidate Secretary William Russell, played on film by no less than Henry Fonda. That Larroquette has grown into that level of gravitas feels well earned, but the excitement will come from watching how he brings his trademark subversive intrigue to the part – another crowning achievement in a city that has embraced him as its own.