Tom Wopat has come a long way from tending cows on his family's farm in Lodi, Wis. He's starred in the '80s television series DUKES OF HAZZARD and graced Broadway stages from GUYS AND DOLLS to ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, (for which he received a Tony nomination). Now his eighth album, I'VE GOT YOUR NUMBER, will be released Feb. 12. The title is the name of a tune from the musical "Little Me."
And on top of that, he's booked for a concert Feb. 25 at 54 BELOW where he'll be crooning songs by Cole Porter, Harold Arlen and other classic masters.
In a free-wheeling interview as he drove back to Manhattan from Hunter Mountain where he had gone for a mini ski break, Wopat explained the reasoning behind releasing a CD that features a 30-piece orchestra. It's a significant departure from his previous recordings that included pop rock, American Songbook classics, and Ol' Blue Eyes classics in an homage to Sinatra and his rat pack.
"We wanted to do something that had a big band sound to it, like Bobby Darin might have sung," Wopat said. "That swinging stuff, MAD MEN type of thing," he explained. "There are lots of standards, pop tunes and two songs I wrote myself. We have horns all over and we had a lot of fun putting things together," he said. Wopat's pedigree reveals his love for all things pop with his deep respect for classic standards, blues, reggae and yes, even some country thrown in for posterity.
"I used to do a lot of stuff for Dick Clark specials and even had a short-lived talk show in Nashville," he recalled. "It was called 'Primetime Country' - what a stinker," he said with a laugh. "But I came out smelling like a rose - you can't have a career without taking chances and falling down once in a while. That's show biz." The ruggedly handsome leading man even confessed to being a huge Joni Mitchell fan, the go-to confessional singer/songwriter typically favored by a different gender. "I'm a big fan of Joni and a song I sing" - on a CD titled "Consider It Swung" - called 'Thailand Sea' is very evocative of her style."
His other big influences include: "Nat [King Cole], Ella [Fitzgerald], Louie [Armstrong], Sinatra and Jack Jones," he said. He chooses songs for their ability to stir his soul. "For me a song has to say something, have something I can hang onto whether it's a poignant, funny or blues sound. Or maybe it's just a tempo, swings like a ..." (Let's just say it swings.)
Wopat gives due credit to his collaborators. "It doesn't take much if I have good musicians, then I'm in a pretty good place to sing. Singing has always been one of my favorite things to do." He was entertaining family and friends by the time he was 6 years old and lapped up the attention his performances produced.
He was nurtured by caring teachers, he said, who recognized his potential and encouraged him to shoot big. And it paid off, with roles on Broadway where audiences were receptive to his leading man charisma, particularly when he played opposite Bernadette Peters in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN. He also starred in CAROUSEL, GUYS AND DOLLS and non-musicals as well.
Wopat's latest credits include the new Quentin Tarantino film DJANGO UNCHAINED, playing a marshal. That role came about because Tarantino, the writer and director, used to frequent the DUKES OF HAZZARD set as a teenager and was a big fan of the show, so when he was casting the film, he immediately thought of Wopat.
But for now Wopat is looking forward to serenading live audiences. "The truth of the matter is there aren't a lot of leads for someone my age, so if I did any more Broadway stuff, I'd be limited," he said. Maturity has its upside, though, he admitted. "I like to think my taste has broadened and matured a little bit. I even throw in a little country now and then."
Tom Wopat will be appearing at 54 Below (254 W. 54th St. between Eighth Ave. and Broadway on Feb. 25. His latest CD is I'VE GOT YOUR NUMBER.