John Cullum: An Accidental Star, April 8-22, a Streaming Tribute to One of Theater’s Hardest Working Leading Men
By: Ellis Nassour
April 5, 2021 — Three of veteran actor John Cullum’s long-time theatre homes – the Vineyard, Goodspeed Musicals, and Irish Repertory – came together to present in association with manager/producer Jeff Berger John Cullum: An Accidental Star on April 8 at 7 P.M. E. The tribute to the still spry 91-year-old actor will stream on demand through April 22. There’ll be two live watch parties on April 8 and at 2 P.M. E April 17.
Cullum, a Tennessee native and college tennis pro, came to New York to pursue his dream of being an actor. His Off Broadway debut was in 1962 as King of France in NY Shakespeare Festival’s Delacorte Theatre/Central Park revival of King Lear. In 1974, Cullum auditioned for and won the plum role of Charlie Anderson in Goodspeed’s Shenandoah, which transferred to Broadway — winning a Best Musical Tony nomination and the Best Actor/Musical Tony for him. He worked with Vineyard for 2010’s premiere of Kander and Ebbs’ The Scottsboro Boys, which moved to Broadway. Cullum has a long working relationship with Irish Rep, starring in its 2015 production of Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales as well as their 2014 and 2018 galas.
John Cullum: An Accidental Star is an 80-minute intimate evening of stories and songs spanning the 60 decades onstage and TV, and in film. Lonny Price and Matt Cowart (110 in the Shade revival) co-directed, with book by David Thompson and Cullum. It’s a rare opportunity to go behind-the-scenes with someone who was there and has vivid memories; and who will for the first time reveal tales of working with friends John Gielgud, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Julie Andrews, Robert Goulet, Barbara Harris, Madeline Kahn, and Audra McDonald among others.
Cullum has been married for more than 60 years to choreographer and writer Emily Frankel. His passion for acting has not dimmed, as will be quite obvious in the tribute. A 2007 inductee into the Theater Hall of Fame, he’s been a reliable, dependable, and respected force in regional theatre, Off Broadway, and on Broadway for more than 60 years.
He has the distinction of receiving five Tony nominations for Best Featured Actor and Best Actor. Cullum made his Broadway debut in 1957 in a revival of Shaw’s Saint Joan and had a steady run of shows as understudy or replacement. He was cast by John Gielgud as Laertes in 1964’s Hamlet, in the star-studded cast led by Burton, and co-stars Eileen Herlie, Alfred Drake, Hume Cronyn, William Redfield, and George Rose. He appeared in the film adaptation.
In 1965, he was called in to replace Louis Jordan in the role of Dr. Bruckner during the Boston try-out of Lerner and Loewe’s On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, opposite Barbara Harris. It earned him his first Tony nomination, Best Actor/Musical. Cullum had a long run as Cervantes in 1967 when he replaced Richard Kiley in Man of La Mancha; and in 1970 when he joined 1776 to portray Edward Rutledge of South Carolina – a role he recreated in the film adaptation.
In addition to the Best Actor Tony for Best Musical Tony nominee Shenandoah, there’s his 1978 Best Actor/Musical Tony as desperate Broadway producer Oscar Jaffee, opposite Madeline Kahn, Kevin Kline, and Judy Kaye in On the Twentieth Century. He was a Best Actor/Musical Tony nominee for 2001’s Urinetown; and Best Featured Actor/Musical nominee for 2007’s 110 in the Shade revival. His last Broadway role was in 2017 when he joined Tony nominated Best Musical as Joe in Waitress.
Cullum’s musical credits also include Camelot (1960), Aspects of Love (1990), Harold Prince’s lavish revival of Show Boat (1994), and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2007). Non-musical credits include Deathtrap (1978), Private Lives (1983) co-starring with Burton and Taylor, Cymbeline revival (2007), and Casa Valentina (2014). During the run of 2007’s August: Osage County, Cullum, age 80, also starred Off Broadway in Keen Company’s Heroes – doing 15 shows a week.
His films include Hawaii, Inherit the Wind, and The Notorious Bettie Page. Cullum’s extensive TV credits include six seasons on Northern Exposure, and included recurring and guest roles on ER, 30 Rock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Madam Secretary, Mad Men, The Good Wife, and The Blacklist.
Tribute co-director Price (English National Opera production of Sunset Boulevard starring Glenn Close, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, ‘Master Harold’… and the boys revival, and Kleban/Kline/Price’s A Class Act) is joined by 12-time Tony nominee librettist Thompson (revised West End Chicago, The Scottsboro Boys, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Steel Pier, And the World Goes ‘Round). Music director is Julie McBride (SpongeBob SquarePants!, Head Over Heels). Composer/pianist Georgia Stitt is music supervisor.
Donna Lynn Hilton, Douglas Aibel and Sarah Stern, and Charlotte Moore are respectively the artistic directors of the Vineyard, Goodspeed Musicals, and Irish Rep (producing director is Ciarán O’Reilly).
For the streaming production, Carlos Cardona was director of photography, with costumes by Tracy Christensen and lighting by Megan Peti. Adrian White was line producer.
John Cullum: An Accidental Actor will be presented April 8-22. Streaming tickets are available at www.vineyardtheatre.org/an-accidental-star/. For more information, call the box office, (646) 931-4714 or visitwww.vineyardtheatre.org. Book as above to join the April 8 and 17 live watch party events.