NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – There’s an off-Broadway play called “Harry Townsend’s Last Stand” and it touches on a nerve that’s relatable to just about every family.
Harry is played by an actor who has generations of fans: He originated iconic Broadway roles, and on Friday nights, he’s a former NYPD commissioner.
“You run into people on the street and they just say ‘We love that show,'” Cariou told CBS2’s Dana Tyler.
“We watch you every Friday night. Tom Selleck, you, the whole team,” one passing motorist said to Cariou.
“They say ‘love the dinners, the Sunday dinners,'” Cariou said.
“You’re a family and we’re family. Just like that, I have Sunday dinner,” the motorist said. “Just like you do at my house… honest to God.”
Cariou’s working on West 55th when he’s not in Brooklyn filming “Blue Bloods.” The Tony Award-winning actor is on stage at New York City Center, eight performances a week as 85-year-old Harry Townsend, a widower living alone, adamant he won’t be forced into assisted living.
Tyler visited him on the set of the show.
“I was sitting about up there, and I’m looking, at all of the games down cause it’s so homey, so cozy, so real. And when you imagine someone living here more than thirty years and you don’t want to leave,” Tyler said.
“Right, of course, naturally,” Cariou said.
“Do you feel safe?” Tyler asked.
“This is the home he built for his wife. That Harry built for Jenny. So everything is a memory for him. She’s been gone for five years and he’s feeling a few deficits,” Cariou said.
Like putting things in the wrong places, and forgetfulness. Harry’s daughter, fed up with caretaking, left a list for her brother, who’s played by Tony nominee Craig Bierko. The humor, fear and anger, each is so easily relatable, Tyler reported.
The play, “Harry Townsend’s Last Stand,” written by George Eastman, deals with the inevitable, terrifying and acutely uncomfortable family dilemmas of what happens to us when we get old.
“What do you hear from your audience,” Tyler asked.
“For the most part, it’s ‘Boy, this is a little close to home.’ They love the writing and the fact that they can laugh at themselves, in effect,” Cariou said.
“Len, the response is usually boffo because they’ve had a wonderful time,” Tyler said. They laughed and they probably cried and probably go ‘Boy, I remember that I’m going to pay more attention to my mom or my dad, or my grandmother or grandfather,'” Cariou said.
A native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, 2020 is a big year for Cariou. He landed his first Broadway musical role and his first Tony Award nomination 50 years ago in “Applause,” starring Lauren Bacall.
“What was it like, you and Lauren Bacall?” Tyler asked. “What memories, what can you tell us about that?”
“Well, we became lovers when we were doing the show,” Cariou said.
“Excuse me – real life?” Tyler said. “I didn’t know that.”
“Yeah,” said Cariou.
“How did that make work?” Tyler asked.
“Oh, it worked fine,” Cariou said, laughing.
His second Tony nomination was for Broadway’s “A Little Night Music.” He co-starred in the movie with Elizabeth Taylor, but his heart has always been on stage. In the mid 1970s, he took some advice and immersed himself in Shakespeare’s “King Lear” at the Guthrie Theater in Minnesota.
“That changed everything,” Cariou said. “When you play those roles. It changes everything in your DNA… . When Sweeney came up next, I had Lear under my belt. Sweeney came under my belt and Sweeney was something that I, I think was a genius piece of writing from Mr. Sondheim, and it was just a wonderful chance for me.”
In “Sweeney Todd,” Cariou and Angela Lansbury originated the roles as a cunning pair who cut up barber shop customers, made them into meat pies and sold them: A demonic twist Cariou couldn’t resist as he accepted the Tony in 1979.
“This is a cutthroat business, they had no other choice,” Cariou joked during his acceptance speech at the time.
Five years ago, Cariou started singing again on breaks from “Blue Bloods,” touring cities with his musical memoir he calls “Broadway and the Bard.”
For now, the 80-year-old is on stage six days a week as a Vermonter trying to survive aging.
“In real life, you are very close to the age of your character, Harry, and what feelings does that evoke?” Tyler asked.
“I thought, wow, I have to do this role. It’s a wonderful role for a guy my age. It keeps everything going. It keeps the mind going. It keeps the energy going,” Cariou said. “One of the reasons I thought I would, so, because I thought if I do this play, maybe that won’t happen to me.”
Six decades in this business, there’s no stopping Len Cariou.