NEW YORK — If you want Stockard Channing eating out of your hand -- and who wouldn't? -- just compliment her pipes.
The 64-year-old Tony and Emmy winner is singing on Broadway for the first time since 1984 and would appreciate a little encouragement.
Channing has four songs in the update of the Richard Rogers-Lorenz Hart musical "Pal Joey," including the stunning "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered."
"It's great to sing again," she says before a recent performance. "You know how you sing in the shower or you sing in your head? The issue is to get the stuff that's in your head out of your mouth."
To get in the mood to sing "Bewitched" -- with its lyrics "I'm wild again, beguiled again / A simpering, whimpering child again" -- Channing listened to a CD of the greats who covered it, including Frank Sinatra and Mel Torme.
"I had a tradition to be part of: I wasn't just going to talk the song," she says. "If anyone says that they love the way I do 'Bewitched,' I'm theirs forever. I'll be honest with you. If you really want to get into my heart, that's all you have to say."
Set in Chicago in the late 1930s, "Pal Joey" tells the story of a venal song-and-dance man who is romancing two women: a wholesome girl and a wealthy, married older woman, Vera Simpson, played by Channing.
"She is the original cougar," Channing says with a smile.
Of the sexy show, she says, "It's more Billy Wilder than Walt Disney. I wouldn't bring your 10-year-old." Then she thinks better of it: "Oh, who knows? Maybe. Why not? Ten-year-olds these days."
The current production has had a rocky start, with the original Joey -- Christian Hoff -- leaving about a week into previews after sustaining a foot injury while on stage.
"We were all stunned," says Channing, who credits Hoff's understudy, Matthew Risch, for seamlessly stepping in.
Channing's been a fixture on stage, TV and film since making her debut as an undergrad in a Harvard University production of "The Threepenny Opera." She first hit Broadway in 1971 in "Two Gentlemen of Verona," and her early film credits include the 1978 movie version of "Grease."
She won the 1985 Tony for her role in "A Day in the Life of Joe Egg" and went on to act in "Six Degrees of Separation" on stage and in the film version, which earned her an Oscar nomination. She has been recognized most recently for her role as first lady on the former NBC series "The West Wing."
Along the way, she's tried to avoid what she calls "pinata parts" -- those roles for older actresses that call for grotesque monsters, such as drunken mothers-in-law.
"Your job is to come out there and have people with sticks beat you," she says, ruefully. "For women of a certain age, unfortunately, that's a pinata part to me."
Her latest role is definitely not like that, and Channing is pleased to exercise both her pipes and live-theater muscles.
"It's really exciting to remember what this thing is like, having this big plane lift off the ground and just go," she says. "It's really thrilling."