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A Gershwin Gig:
The Musical Staging Of Stephanie Zimbalist

By Sid Smith
(The Chicago Tribune, July 19, 1987)

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Stephanie Zimbalist, the elegant and freckled bombshell late of television's Remington Steele, is the first to admit she isn't the world's greatest dancer.

So how come she's partner to Tommy Tune, who is one of the world's great hoofers? (She is touring with him in the latest incarnation of My One and Only, the relatively new musical built around George and Ira Gershwin oldies playing at the Chicago Theatre through July 26.)

"I studied dancing a little bit when I was young," she says. "And I've been on a crash course. But the truth is, the dancing demands for the female lead in this show just aren't that great. I'm the fourth to play the part with Tommy, but of the other three, only Sandy Duncan had danced a lot previously. Lucie Arnaz (who co-starred with Tune when of One and Only first played here at the Civic Opera House) and Twiggy (who originated the part on Broadway) weren't celebrated dancers, either.

"The show is designed so that Tommy makes us look good."

Zimbalist is not all modesty, however. She quickly points to her drama training at the Juilliard School and her classical voice studies at an early age. "I think I bring something different to the show," she says. "I may be the strongest in the acting area."

Zimbalist, 30, gained a lot of attention during her 4 years teamed with Pierce Brosnan on the NBC television detective series. Remington Steele had its ups and downs, rescued from cancellation by viewer support one season and plagued intermittently by talk its two stars didn't get along. Since the show ended its regular run, there have been a few two-hour movie follow-ups. Now, says Zimbalist, Remington Steele is over for good, at least in terms of new episodes.

She hopes that also means an end to the talk of the feud. "It's all buried, finished," she says. "We got along fine. It just isn't a scoop in newspaper copy to say so." Still, she drops a coy hint or two. When asked if Brosnan has managed to catch her in her stage musical, she replies, "That would be funny. Anyway, I think he's in England now." Her final word on the series? "It got me this job," she says. "I'm grateful."

Does her television fame draw new audiences to the show? "It's hard to tell," she says. "We've only played a few cities so far, and we've done well, even though the show played in them before. So maybe it helps. Being on the road, I don't get to see my fan mail, so I can't be certain people are making the connection."

For Zimbalist, the thrill is in doing live theater, her true love, she says, after so many years on TV. She grew up in a family immersed in show business, although she prefers the term "performing."

Her father, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., worked consistently in television and movies. But before that came her grandfather, Efrem Sr., a classical violinist and composer.

Stephanie isn't even the first woman in the family to perform professionally. Her grandmother, Alma Gluck, was a professional opera singer. "Maybe their influence is one reason the phrase 'show business,' to me, always conjures up a lounge act."

Despite a father who spent many years on successful television series, notably 77 Sunset Strip and The F.B.I., Zimbalist says she didn't grow up surrounded by celebrities in Hollywood.

"My upbringing was very un-Hollywood," she says. "I was born in New York and grew up on a ranch. I was never really smitten by the business in those days, never a fan type--just a basic kid watching TV. It wasn't like I was an insider. I was never really brought into the show business side of my father's life. I guess that's been a blessing and a downfall. But it's made my own work the initiation."

She says her family is both devoted and close-knit. As if continuing a tradition, her niece is currently scurrying backstage as Zimbalist's dresser for My One and Only before attending college in the fall.

Efrem Jr. has become somewhat renowned over the years as a conservative and ardent Christian. Zimbalist says she is both conservative and religious, too, although those factors are not at the forefront of her life these days.

Neither is romance. For all her beauty and grace, Zimbalist is single and likely to remain so. She just hasn't had time for dating. "I work very hard," she says. "That comes first. The hours for Remington Steele were killers. Now, I'm on the road week to week. That doesn't leave a lot of time for going out to dinner."

Between the series and the show, she engaged in some stage work at the Long Wharf Theatre and the Williamstown Theatre Festival, playing in The Cherry Orchard and, with Antony Hopkins in The Tempest.

In My One and Only, Zimbalist portrays Edith Herbert, a champion swimmer who, in 1927, the year in which the musical is set, gains worldwide fame by swimming the English Channel. She also attracts the attention of an ace aviator, played by Tune, who is as determined to fly solo across the Atlantic as he is to woo her.

The tour, says Zimbalist, has an open end and could travel on until Christmas, which would be fine by her. "There's nothing I'd rather be doing right now than this."

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