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A Tug on the Ear to Burnett and Sondheim

October 28, 1998|MICHAEL QUINTANILLA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Carol Burnett--svelte in a black-beaded Bob Mackie blazer--slowly makes her way through a throng of about 400 well-wishers. Photographers snap away and fans, including Barbara Eden and Betty White, follow for a congratulatory handshake or a hug from the television icon.

Burnett has been on her feet--in heels--for two hours, dancing, acting and belting out song after song in the Stephen Sondheim tribute "Putting It Together," which opened Sunday night and launched the Mark Taper Forum's 32nd season at the downtown Music Center.

But ever the gracious star, Burnett--now at a cast party--is herself putting it together as she obliges every photo request and takes a minute or two to accept every compliment. She really is glad to, well . . . have this time together, just to have a laugh and sing a song.

And helping her celebrate are friends Eden, White, Mackie, Alan Carr, Robert Culp, Alex Kingston, George Furth, Nancy Dussault, Doris Roberts, Ann Miller, David Birney, Bonnie Franklin, Jo Anne Worley and Erin Hamilton--all who have come together at the Music Center's Impresario Room to give kudos to the queen of musical revues.

Also present were cast members Bronson Pinchot, John Barrowman, Susan Egan and John McCook; director Eric D. Schaeffer and the Taper's artistic director, Gordon Davidson.

"We're a merry little band of crazy people," Burnett said of the ensemble cast that performs 33 songs from 12 musicals from Sondheim's four-decade career. Among them: "Company," "Follies," "A Little Night Music" and "Sweeney Todd"--as well as three songs from the film "Dick Tracy."

"The cast bonded from the first day," said Burnett, about her co-stars, who performed nonstop at the 750-seat Taper, weaving a story through song about relationships exposed at a penthouse party.

Burnett, a six-time Emmy winner, including one for last year's turn as Helen Hunt's mom on television's "Mad About You," has been a longtime Sondheim fan.

"What appeals to me most about Stephen is the philosophy behind his lyrics and the constant surprise that comes with his lyrics," she said. A case in point, she said, is the song "Could I Leave You?" from "Follies," in which the last word is a dramatic "guess."

"He's a musical genius."

The same was said about Burnett.

"She's a genius at work," said Pinchot, clutching a teddy bear for good luck on opening night. "She is an incredible, elegant woman," he said, adding that Burnett taught him a thing or two about musical comedy--mainly, not to stress out "if something goes badly creatively. She just always gives me the high-five sign with her face as if to say, 'What are you torturing yourself for?' She's a great teacher in that way."

For Egan, working with idol Burnett was "coming full circle." Ten years ago as a UCLA student, Egan won a $500 Carol Burnett award and used the money for a set of head shots, one of which is being used for the show's poster.

Before she went on stage Sunday, Egan wrote Burnett a note.

"I told her it's one thing to get to meet your idol--it's an entirely other thing to work alongside your idol, and then it's something exquisitely rare when your idol is even bigger and better and more than your imagination had expected."

* "Putting It Together" continues through Dec. 6. For tickets ($38 to $47), call (213) 628-2772.

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