Published September 1 2005
Atlantic City Weekly
David J. Spatz

Because he’s going from one cop role to another, conventional wisdom would suggest that comedy actor Brad Garrett may already be typecast. Conventional wisdom would be dead wrong.

Garrett, who spent a decade playing Ray Romano’s hapless police officer brother on the long-running CBS sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, will take on another cop character this month.

Only this time, he’ll do it in a medium where no 6-foot-8-inch standup comic has gone before. Garrett will play Murray the Cop in Neil Simon’s latest Broadway revival of his 1965 comedy classic The Odd Couple, which stars Nathan Lane as sloppy Oscar Madison and Matthew Broderick as fussy Felix Unger. Previews begin Oct. 4 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in preparation for an Oct. 27 opening.

Garrett, said he leaped at the opportunity to make his legitimate theater debut when the role was offered.

“This is a dream I’ve had for a very long time,” Garrett tells Atlantic City Weekly during a recent Saturday morning phone chat from his Los Angeles home. “I’ve never done a [legitimate stage] play before.”

In addition to his supporting part as one of Oscar’s and Felix’s poker-playing pals, Garrett may be called upon to step into one of the starring roles, because he’s also been cast as Lane’s understudy.

“I’m such an anal, controlling guy that to arrive at the theater not knowing who I’ll go on as has already given me schpilkis like you wouldn’t believe,” Garrett says, using an old Yiddish expression that has no singular definition, but is commonly used to describe fidgety nervousness.

Although rehearsals for The Odd Couple begin next week, Garrett says he’s already seen a big difference between working in television and working in theater.

“Television is the coldest vacuum you’ll ever work in, especially at the executive level,” he observes. “But from the moment I [accepted the Broadway role], everyone from the executive producers down to the stage manager were calling me, introducing themselves, welcoming me with open arms, asking me if I needed anything. It was absolutely amazing.”

Actually, Garrett did ask a favor of the producers of The Odd Couple, and this was even before he received his script. The Broadway neophyte actually asked if he could skip the first day of rehearsal, originally set for Sept. 6.

“I’m a very hand’s-on father,” says Garrett, 45, who has a 7-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son. “And the first day of rehearsal is also the first day of school for my kids.”

Not a problem, Garrett was told. We’ll just postpone rehearsals for a day.

“I was amazed,” he says. “I mean, I’m not even one of the leads, and here they are bending over backwards to accommodate me.”

When Garrett wraps up his casino gig on Sunday, he’ll fly back to Los Angeles, pack his kids off to school on Tuesday, then hop a flight back to New York to prepare for his Broadway debut.

“That sounds so weird – my Broadway debut,” the gentle giant laughs in that rich, basso-profondo voice that’s made him one of the industry’s most sought-after voiceover specialists.

Garrett, whose initial commitment to the role is for four months, isn’t sure how much of The Odd Couple script will change. Simon has been known to rewrite some of his revivals, and Garrett’s been told Simon’s written “a few extra pages.”

“I do know that [the play] will still be set in the same time period as the original show, which was the mid-’60s,” he says. He also knows that the show’s legendary, 78-year-old author will be attending some of the rehearsals.

Because he knows there’s a big difference between acting on a television sitcom and working on the legitimate stage, Garrett has spent time working with an acting coach to help make the transition between mediums easier.

“I already feel like I’m in the zone,” he says. “I’m the kind of guy who likes to mix things up, push the envelope, so this is going to be a very interesting experience.”

Garrett’s road to the Great White Way was initially paved with comedy club gigs, which began in the early 1980s after he decided six weeks of college was more than sufficient.

He came to national attention in 1984 as the first $100,000 grand comedy champion on Star Search, the television talent competition.

That led to a series of opening act jobs – many of them in Atlantic City – before he ultimately hit the mother lode: Opening for Frank Sinatra and touring with Sammy Davis, Jr.

Davis, he says, was one of his idols. He was 11 years old the first time he saw the diminutive song-and-dance man perform live, and Davis’ album, Live At The Coconut Grove, was the first album his father ever bought him. Garrett says that piece of vinyl is still part of his record collection.

“The first time I heard it, I turned to my dad and said, ‘Dad, I’m gonna work with him some day,’ and my dad actually believed me,” Garrett recalls. The first time he opened for Davis, Garrett admits, was a “completely surreal moment.”

Garrett remembers practically every moment from that tour, but one incident that stands out happened backstage at Harrah’s Reno and captured the essence of Davis in just five words.

Garrett was standing behind his boss at a soda machine and realized he didn’t have any change.

“Mr. Davis,” Garrett timidly asked, “do you have change for a twenty?”

Sammy turned around, slowly looked up at his giant opening act, and leveled him with a line Garrett will never forget.

“Boychick,” Davis said gently, using the Yiddish word for young boy, “a twenty is change.”