The other day, I was talking with my friend Adam Belanoff, the fine writer on Major Crimes, about the actor John Goodman who, as Jon Stewart noted the other day when Goodman was a guest, never seems to give anything less than a wonderful performance. Adam had just seen the new Coen Bros. movie, Inside Llewyn Davis, that Goodman is in, and I mentioned was that I actually saw John Goodman before he was…well, John Goodman.
Back in the mid-80s, I drove down to San Diego with my friend Adam Bezark (an occasional reader of these pages when he has the time and can take a breather from designing rides for amusement parks and all manner of extravaganzas. And no, all of my friends are not named Adam). We went to see the premiere tryout production of a musical version of Huckleberry Finn, called Big River, at the La Jolla Playhouse. It later went to Broadway and won the Tony Award as best musical. (The score was by Roger Miller, most famously the writer of the mega-hit song "King of the Road," who also won the Tony.) The show wasn't necessarily brilliant, but it was awfully good, taking on the challenge of adapting arguably the Great American Novel. Very lively, rambunctious and well-staged, particularly for a first-run tryout.
What I found out later was that John Goodman had a small, supporting role in that as Pap Finn. I checked the cast album, and by gum, there he is, listed for the one song he sings, a rant against politicians called “Guv’ment.” Once, after he became famous, I saw him on Letterman, and he did the song. I’ve been trying to find it on YouTube since. Anyway, I tracked down the cast list of that La Jolla production and, sure enough, there’s John Goodman in it! End of fascinating tale…)
Actually, there’s a P.S. At one point in the Broadway run, Goodman was temporarily replaced in the role for about a month. Now, normally I’d have been pissed off in retrospect if I’d been there on one of those nights and realized I hadn’t gotten to see John Goodman. With one exception. The reason he was replaced is because the producers decided it would be nice if Roger Miller did the role for a month. Now, that I’d loved to have seen.
But in lieu of seeing Roger Miller in the role, or even John Goodman -- here is listening to John Goodman, as the perpetually drunk and ornery Pap, ranting against "Guv'ment."
And by the way, as you'll hear...he was wonderful.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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