Hal Linden Brings His Clarinet Back Home

Hal Linden Brings His Clarinet Back Home

Ted Merwin’s column appears monthly. He writes about theater for the paper and is the author of the award-winning “Pastrami on Rye,” a history of the Jewish deli.

It’s a kind of homecoming for me,” said the warm and witty Hal Linden, 83, whose one-man show, “Hal Linden Live in Concert,” arrives at the Café Carlyle in New York next week after more than five dozen performances across the country. Best known as Barney Miller, the eponymous star of the 1970s sitcom in which he played the down-to-earth captain of a police precinct in Greenwich Village, Linden has appeared in 20 Broadway and Off-Broadway shows.

In addition to playing “Sing, Sing, Sing” (made famous by Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa) and other songs on the clarinet, he will croon Broadway hits, including “In My Own Lifetime” from “The Rothschilds,” backed by a seven-piece band. The show runs from Tuesday, May 20 to Saturday, May 24 at 8:45 p.m., with an extra Saturday night show at 10:45 p.m. ([866] 777-8932/www.ticketweb.com).

Linden, born Harold Lipshitz, grew up in a liberal Jewish family in the East Bronx. His father was a printer whose employees were unionized, unlike those of the competing print shops. Mr. Lipshitz went to temple for the High Holy Days, but the family was more devoted to music than to organized religion.

“My brother and my eight cousins all took music lessons,” Linden told The Jewish Week. “My older brother, Bernie, played the violin, but the sound of a beginner violinist is not a pleasant one, so I chose the clarinet. Six of us became professional musicians in one way or another.” Bernie became a music professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

After performing on the clarinet and saxophone at weddings and bar mitzvahs, Linden joined the army, where he entertained the troops at Fort Belvoir in Virginia during the Korean War. After the war, he used the G.I. Bill to study acting, and made his Broadway debut in 1957 in “Bells Are Ringing.”

He went on to perform many Jewish roles, some of them in “The Rothschilds” (for which he won the 1971 Tony Award for Best Actor), “I’m Not Rappaport,” “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window,” The Sisters Rosensweig” and “Cabaret.” He also appeared in 2009 in Toronto in “Tuesdays With Morrie.”

One iconic role that he has never played is Tevye. “We’ve discussed it a dozen times,” he said, “but it never came to pass.” He regrets that “The Rothschilds” has never had a Broadway revival, which he attributes to its “never-solved book problems” and to its expensive period costumes.

Nowadays, one of his favorite roles is as the national spokesman for the Jewish National Fund. He leads regular missions to Israel; the next one will be in June. He calls the Jewish homeland “warm and welcoming,” with an “inclusive spirit” — exactly the kinds of adjectives that apply to Linden himself.

Linden’s brother died in synagogue on Yom Kippur in 2007, in the middle of playing a note on his viola. “You want that ending?” Linden once asked a Canadian interviewer. “I’ll take it any day.”

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