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A Monkee's evolution: Dolenz in 'bad-guy' role

04/15/03

Tony Brown
Plain Dealer Theater Critic

Hey, hey, we're the Egyptians. And people say we mummy around.

You won't hear those lyrics tonight when a tour of the Elton John-Tim Rice Broadway musical "Aida" opens a one-week stand at E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall in Akron.

But they would be perfectly appropriate.

That's because in the 13 months since the Disney musical visited Cleveland's Playhouse Square, Monkees drummer and lead singer Micky Dolenz has joined the cast as the conniving Zoser, the father of the show's lead male character, Radames.

The nice, shaggy, broad-faced boy from the Prefab Four who used to goof around with Mike, Peter and Davy has been playing the heavy in a touring Broadway show since February.

And if all goes according to plan, he'll join the New York cast of the show (which has little in common with the Puccini opera except the story and title) in August.

In a way, Dolenz said in a telephone interview last week from a tour stop in Louisville, Ky., it's a return to his child-acting roots before producers Bert Schneider ("Easy Rider") and Bob Rafelson ("Five Easy Pieces") launched "The Monkees" TV show in 1966 as an American version of the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night."

" Aida' is a marvelous opportunity to play the bad guy," said Dolenz, 58. "Since The Monkees,' I haven't done a lot of heavy roles because of the typecasting of The Monkees.'

"Before that, that's all I did. I was always the delinquent, the kid who got in trouble. But after The Monkees,' there was not much chance of playing a bad guy. And it's great playing a bad guy. Good guys just don't have as great a range of emotions."

If you look at his resume, you'll find that there is indeed more to Dolenz than those 58 episodes (over two seasons) of "The Monkees" TV series and the cult 1968 Monkees movie "Head."

The son of a pair of actors who lived in Los Angeles, Dolenz had his first screen test at age 6. His biggest pre-"Monkees" gig (under the stage name Micky Braddock) came in the 1956-58 series "Circus Boy." He played a 12-year-old orphan named Corky whose best friend was Bimbo the elephant.

After "The Monkees" was canceled (too much competition in the second season from "Gunsmoke"), Dolenz moved to London in the 1970s and got into television producing and directing. Among his best-known shows is "Metal Mickey," about a robot.

And he has not only appeared previously in musical theater (a stage adaptation of Harry Nilsson's animated feature "The Point" in London and in the Broadway revival and national tour of "Grease"), he also wrote the script for and directed a London musical adaptation of "Bugsy Malone," a 1976 film.

"I cast a 14-year-old named Catherine Zeta-Jones in Bugsy Malone,' " Dolenz said. "I wonder what happened to her?"

Of course, once a Monkee, always a Monkee. Living back in Los Angeles again since the late 1980s, Dolenz has regularly joined Peter Tork and Davy Jones for reunion tours and records. Holdout Michael Nesmith has even joined in a few times.

Although Dolenz said he got his part in "Aida" because an agent heard his "legitimate" voice in a solo show in Los Angeles, he's getting a lot of media attention for the tour because of his rock singing in the Monkees.

Is always being associated with something that's basically been over for more than 30 years a pain?

"I can hardly call it a pain," Dolenz said. "It's more like somebody throwing you a birthday party every day."

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

tbrown@plaind.com, 216-999-4181


© 2003 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.
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