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John Davidson performs as the Wizard in the stage production of “Wicked.”
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GODFREY – A few years ago, legendary singer and entertainer John Davidson thought he was supposed to retire. Turns out, he didn’t like it one bit.
“I sing and play my guitar every day, whether I have a show to do or not,” Davidson, 72, says. “It’s just in my blood. I didn’t like retirement.”
On Sunday, Davidson will be performing live at the Lewis and Clark Community College’s Hatheway Cultural Center, in the Ann Whitney Olin Theater. The event is presented by the Greater Alton Concert Association.
Davidson also produced and directs the show.
“This tour gives me the freedom to play John Davidson,” he said during a chat with AdVantage News. “The show is not really about me, though, but about basic themes-marriage and relationships, growing older, the music of your life.”
The entertainer says to plan on quite a bit of audience participation during his set, including interaction with couples in the crowd, where he often sings a medley of tunes from the year they began dating.
“I don’t really have ‘hits,’ so that frees me up to perform material with a purpose, whether that is to entertain, inspire, or make you feel nostalgic,” he says. “That’s it … to be something that makes you feel.”
For five decades, Davidson has been keeping the world entertained through music, comedy, acting, dance and just about anything else that brings a smile to his audiences.
But show business was not his initial plan.
“I was looking into becoming a minister,” he said. “I was a philosophy major in school with plans to go into a theological seminary. Someone told me I needed some theater to be a good minister. I ended up graduating with a bachelor of arts in theater and headed off to Broadway.”
Davidson’s Broadway debut was the musical “Foxy” in 1964, and his breakout into Hollywood was the 1967 film “The Happiest Millionaire,” kicking off a long career on both stage and screen. From the mid-60s until its cancellation in 1981, Davidson also appeared in more than 100 episodes of the “Hollywood Squares,” filled in for Johnny Carson on his talk show nearly as many times, and hosted “That’s Incredible,” one of the early pioneers of the “reality television” genre, from 1980 until 1984 alongside Fran Tarkenton and Cathy Lee Crosby.
Ever the cut-up, Davidson became famous (or, infamous) on “Hollywood Squares” for being able to convince contestants that his over-the-top, often ridiculous answers were actually true.
“They gave you the jokes without giving you the questions or the answers,” he said. “I didn’t feel I pulled off the one-liners well, like Paul Lynde was always able to do. I knew of a ‘professor’ who walked around in a suit and knew absolutely nothing about everything, so I just created my own version of that, and it seemed to work.”
In 1986, Davidson hosted a revised “Hollywood Squares.” That revival lasted three years.
“When I left Broadway, I wanted to be a variety show host, but that was when the variety show was dying out,” he said. “To me, the closest thing to variety shows was game shows.”
Media appearances also included his own show from 1980 until 1982, guest appearances on numerous television shows, a memorable turn in 1990’s “Edward Scissorhands,” and no less than 12 albums, the latest a comedy/music variety album released in 2006.
An unsuccessful retirement to Florida only lasted a couple of years, and soon Davidson was back with his first love, the stage.
“There is just something about theater,” he says. “For that moment, the actor is in control. In film, the actor is never really in control. ‘Live’ really is an actor’s medium.”
Recent stage work includes “Chicago,” “State Fair,” “The Fantasticks,” and he just finished a nine-month stint as the Wizard in the North American tour of “Wicked.”
While he said he really enjoyed “Wicked,” he is looking forward to Sunday’s show, where he can truly be himself.
“No two shows are the same,” he said. “I do a lot of audience interaction that makes each show different.”
Working closely alongside Davidson is Rhonda, his wife of more than 30 years.
“We have an incredible partnership, and she is a big part of my career,” he says. “My first marriage lasted 10 years, and traveling was very hard on that marriage. This time, I was determined to keep my family together.”
Davidson is appearing at the Ann Whitney Olin Theater Sunday beginning at 3 p.m. Doors open at 2:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at Liberty Bank, CNB Bank and Trust, Dick’s Flowers, Halpin Music, Picture This and More, the Greater Alton Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Jerseyville Library, or online at www.metrotix.com.
For more information, call (618) 468-4222 or visit www.altonconcerts.com.