Wopat at 50 has his Broadway following but an even larger number of fans remember him as Luke Duke, the Southern redneck star of TV's "Dukes of Hazard" series, which ran seven years. His Arci's Place engagement ending this weekend is actually his cabaret debut and he confessed to his opening night audience that he felt "dangerously close to being naked up here" on the supper club's tiny stage.
If he feels nervous working a small audience live, he doesn't show it. He has a pleasant, laid-back style as he applies his husky but pliant vocal gifts to standard classics, most of which can be found in his new CD album (Angel), also titled "The Still of the Night." He is accompanied by a trio headed by Ted Firth, a fantastically intense keyboard artist, with Peter Grant on drums and Ed Howard on bass.
Wopat jokingly told his hearers that singing such ballads as "They Say It's Wonderful," "I Get Along Without You Very Well," and Stephen Sondheim's anguished "Anyone Can Whistle" puts him in touch with the feminine side of his nature, a side that is hardly noticeable in his generally macho attitude toward his material. But he is able to keep his voice tender, even elegant when a song calls for a crooner approach.
Wopat is from the nation's heartland, having grown up in Wisconsin in a large family, and he gives some of his songs a country flavor, especially noticeable in the haunting "If These Walls Could Talk" and "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress," both by Jimmy Webb. He delivers these ballads in a straight-forward, smooth, and sensitive manner.
Wopat mentions ruefully that he is twice divorced and makes a point of reflecting his own experiences in a rendition of "Makin' Whoopee," an admonitory song that says that the consequences of too much playin' around may be playing house and washing baby clothes (he has five children). It's one of his most enjoyable numbers.
Wopat resists the continual stream of patter with which many cabaret artists lace their vocal material and is short on biographical anecdote. But he was singing and dancing in musicals by the time he was 12 and began his theater career in University of Wisconsin productions of Broadway musicals.
He came to New York in 1977 to get experience and landed work in several off-Broadway shows. His first big break was in the title role of "The Robber Bridegroom" at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., leading to his Broadway debut in Cy Coleman's musical, "I Love My Wife." More recent Broadway credits include Detective Stone in "City of Angels" and Sky Masterson in a revival of "Guys and Dolls."
He has sung at Carnegie Hall as a soloist for the Cincinnati Symphony, and he has tried his hand at commercials, touting Rogaine hair restorer on television. He had a leading role in the TV series "Cybill" and recently appeared as a guest on ABC's long-running soap, "All My Children." His original cast recording of "Annie Get Your Gun" opposite Bernadette Peters is still a top seller.
"My singing career has been a real process of discovery," Wopat tells his audience. "It's a matter of finding what's there that has never been really highlighted before and finding what sounds kind of cool."