Leachman brings her one-woman show to Suncoast

It’s the absurdly accented, horse-frightening voice of Frau Blucher. The sweet yet icily condescending voice of Phyllis Lindstrom. The lonely voice of a small-town Texas high school basketball coach’s wife.

OK, it only seems that way. Actually, the voice on the phone is the unmistakable voice of Cloris Leachman, the Oscar- and Emmy-winning actress who will visit Las Vegas this weekend to perform in "Cloris Leachman: A One-Woman Show" at the Suncoast.

In the show, the 84-year-old Leachman will review her life and career through stories, film clips and a song or two. It is, the actress allows, "pretty entertaining."

During the recent phone interview — which Leachman squeezed in while filming her new Fox sitcom, "Raising Hope," but more about that later — Leachman is self-effacing, candid and very funny. She laughs heartily while discussing her latest project and a career that began around the golden age of TV drama and rolls on today.

Leachman has won an Oscar ("The Last Picture Show") and nine Emmy awards, and reading her credits is an exercise in both memory-jogging — that’s right, she was in "The Facts of Life" — and discovery — she was in "The Twilight Zone"?

How does one fit so much life into a 90-minute, give or take, show? Easy, Leachman answers: "You don’t use it all. You just pick the (parts) they’d be interested in."

"Of course, ‘Young Frankenstein’ and ‘The Last Picture Show,’ " Leachman says, and "of course, ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show.’ "

Fans, Leachman adds, "all say, ‘You know, I’ve seen everything you’ve done.’ No, you haven’t."

Leachman successfully has forged a career not only in multiple media, from the stage ("South Pacific") to movies to TV. Even more impressively, she has won honors for both comedic and dramatic roles.

How did she become so adept at both? "I don’t know," Leachman answers, but "I always wanted it to be as authentic as possible, really. I always try to bring comedy to serious things, and I always try to bring serious things to comedy."

At this point in her career, Leachman has become an icon to generations of fans, some of whom met her via "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," others through her appearances in classic Mel Brooks films, and still others through her appearances on "Dancing with the Stars."

And that’s one reason why this weekend’s audiences at the Suncoast are apt to be diverse. Whatever their own favorite Leachman moments, audiences can expect a free-form sort of evening, with, perhaps, a bit of audience interaction.

"Oh, it’s (about) the people out there," she explains. "I’m doing it with them, not for them.

"They always ask me to please keep it down to an hour or an hour-and-a-half," she adds with a laugh. "Sometimes I go for two hours."

These days, she’s excited about her latest project, "Raising Hope," a sitcom by "My Name is Earl" creator Greg Garcia, which premieres Tuesday — "after ‘Glee’ " she notes — on Fox.

In it, Leachman plays a — let’s just say occasionally addled — grandmother helping a too-young dad raise a baby. Explaining the specifics of the plot, Leachman laughs uproariously.

"It’s just the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life, from anywhere, anybody, anything," she says. "God, it’s hysterical."

Garcia is "brilliant," she adds. "He’s on the set all the time. He’s just like the Jim Brooks of ‘Mary Tyler Moore.’ "

Is there anything she hasn’t done in her career that she’d like to do? Leachman thinks about it for a few seconds.

"Well," she answers, "Mary Martin did ‘Peter Pan,’ so I guess I’m over that."

She’d want to do "Peter Pan"? "Oh, sure," Leachman says, laughing. "You get to fly and sing."

It sounds like she’s still having fun. "Oh, always," Leachman says, laughing again.

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal. com or 702-383-0280.

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