Theater preview: Actor John Lithgow promises 'hugely entertaining evening' of storytelling with 'Stories by Heart'

Published: Saturday, Feb. 22 2014 4:30 p.m. MST

Actor John Lithgow in "Stories by Heart."

Photo by Craig Schwartz © 2011 Craig Schwartz

If reading aloud completely falls out of favor, society will lose a deeply enjoyable communal experience.

“There’s nothing like sitting in the same room while someone else is telling you a story,” said actor John Lithgow. “It’s the human contact and the communication between one person’s emotional life and another’s, or even with a whole audience of people, that will be sadly lost.”

The celebrated actor shares the pleasurable art of storytelling through his one-man show, “Stories by Heart,” to be staged in the BYU Bravo! Performing Arts Series.

“We actors are in the business of connecting with people, and this show connects with people on the most wonderful, basic level,” he said. “This is so personal.”

The production he conceived is a touching and humorous reflection on storytelling as the tie that binds humanity, according to reviews from previous performances in renowned venues such as New York’s Lincoln Center and London’s National Theatre.

“A tour de force that doubles as a primer on acting” is how The New York Times described “Stories by Heart,” while Variety said the production is “magical.”

The name John Lithgow rarely appears as an above-the-title credit, but his lengthy resume includes 30 films, 20 Broadway shows and TV’s long-running “3rd Rock from the Sun.” His awards include two Tonys (from six nominations), five Emmys (of 11 nominations) and back-to-back Oscar nominations for “The World According to Garp” and “Terms of Endearment.” He’s also written seven books for children that appeared on The New York Times best-seller list.

“I don’t really need to tour around the country, performing these solo evenings, but I love doing it,” Lithgow said in a phone interview with the Deseret News from his Southern California home. “It’s at the heart of why I became an actor.”

He clearly stated his intent with “Stories by Heart.“

"I hope to completely delight the audience," he said. "While it’s just me, sitting in an easy chair with a rug underneath and a lamp, I think it’s a hugely entertaining evening and something that so many people have never seen before.”

While his show is an homage to storytelling, “Stories by Heart” also allows Lithgow to show off his protean gifts as an actor. A cast of one becomes a multitudinous ensemble as he inhabits two classic stories he treasures from his childhood.

While relating P.G. Wodehouse's “Uncle Fred Flits By,” he performs — “with zany abandon,” as observers indicated — 10 distinct, outrageous characters, including a parrot. By contrast, “Haircut” by Ring Lardner is darkly comic.

His father, the stage veteran Arthur Lithgow, read these tales to Lithgow and his siblings. And they were re-discovered as Lithgow read them to cheer both his parents after his father became withdrawn and his health and good humor were in steep decline near the end of his life.

“These stories exploded in my hands as I read them,” Lithgow said. “And they made my father laugh.”

With his “Stories by Heart” travels, Lithgow savors the chance to visit cities he’s never been to before — and to revisit locales he enjoys.

Reminded of filming the role of Rev. Shaw Moore in the 1984 comic film “Footloose,” he said, “Utah is beautiful. There’s that fantastic grain mill that we used in the film, which I know is still there, and I pass it while traveling between Salt Lake City and Provo. That was a glorious period in my life, with the cluster of movies I was in at that point in my career, and I enjoy the state very much.”

If you go …

What: John Lithgow’s “Stories by Heart”

Where: BYU’s de Jong Concert Hall

When: Friday, Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m.

How much: $25-$35

Tickets: 801-422-4322 or byuarts.com/tickets

Advance: John Lithgow's "Stories by Heart" Feb. 28 at BYU

"Stories by Heart" is actor John Lithgow's one-man theatrical memoir.

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