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Veteran TV actors to stage ‘Love Letters’ at the Suncoast

Veteran television actors Loni Anderson and Hal Linden plan to perform A.R. Gurney’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play “Love Letters” at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday at the Suncoast Showroom, 9090 Alta Drive.

The Las Vegas show is produced by the Jewish Repertory Theatre of Nevada. The play follows Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Melissa Gardner, both born to wealth and position, who grow up together. Their lifelong correspondence is the thread through the storyline and shows how their lives and romantic involvement progress over the years.

The first night is being presented in honor of the late Neil Galatz, a local attorney who died in January. He and his wife, Elaine, were supporters of educating local youths through the arts. Norma Morrow, co-founder of the Jewish Repertory Theatre, said he was the inspiration for ELEVATE …Youth Education Through The Performing Arts, a program done in partnership with the Clark County School District that brings stage performances to at-risk schools.

“This is our love letter to him, to both of them,” Morrow said.

In its few years, the Jewish Repertory Theatre of Nevada has brought in critically acclaimed performances to the area, plays that have a social impact, such as “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

“What we’re trying to do is bring things that have not been to Vegas,” Morrow said. “The professional theater aspect, bringing in true artists, well-known artists, has been our mission. … I mean, Hal Linden –– what a big name.”

Linden is a Tony Award-winning actor who is best known for playing Capt. Barney Miller on the “Barney Miller” television series. Morrow said he’s traveling the country with his one-man show, and after appearing in “Love Letters” here, he plans to perform “The Scottsboro Boys” in Los Angeles.

“We are so fortunate that we can bring this type of talent to Las Vegas,” Morrow said.

Anderson was nominated for two Emmys for her role on “WKRP in Cincinnati.”

Linden was not available for an interview, but Anderson was. She steps into the “Love Letters” role being vacated for one weekend by Barbara Eden. The two are good friends, and Eden had planned a trip to Australia.

Most sitcoms in the ’80s used a laugh track. WKRP’s creator and writer, Hugh Wilson, did not.

“We had done pickup shots during the day, then we ran the evening show (before the audience) with no stops,” Anderson said. “So, it was like a play. Hugh Wilson, he was ahead of his time. He said, ‘If you don’t get a laugh, you don’t get a laugh.’ It was a challenge. What ended up happening was that instead of adding laughs, we had to cut laughs because they were taking up too much time. That’s when we knew we were a hit.”

Anderson has done theater since she was 10, even touring for 52 weeks in “Fiddler on the Roof.”

“That was back when I had my dark hair,” she said. “I never dreamed I’d be a blonde. It never even crossed my mind. I was a snooty, dark-haired, serious actress.”

But being a single mother led to coming to Los Angeles with her union card and a portfolio of credits –– modeling, national TV commercials and theater experience. She appeared in “S.W.A.T.” with Farrah Fawcett. They played beauty queens who needed rescuing. Soon after, her agent insisted that she meet with MGM producer Grant Tinker for the WKRP part.

“I didn’t want to do it,” Anderson said. “I went there and told them, ‘Listen, I think this part is window dressing, a thankless part.’ They said, ‘Well, how would you do it?’ and I said, ‘Couldn’t she just be sexy and the smartest person in the room?’ And that’s how Jennifer was born.”

Like she made the Jennifer role her own, she said her “Love Letters” role will be her own, as well.

“For me, the way it works is, I have to ‘inhabit’ Melissa,” Anderson said. “She, then, is me, and I am her. That way, you’re playing you, and you are the only one who can play you.”

Anderson said she loves having an audience off which to play and that stage acting requires “being big.” She said she also liked stage work because an acting epiphany could occur while on stage, leading to repeating the subtle change in subsequent shows. With TV or film, she said, you get only one shot.

Tickets for “Love Letters” are $32, $42 and $52. For more information, call 702-636-7075.

Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at jhogan@viewnews.com or 702-387-2949.

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