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Tom's tunes

April 12, 2002

Jennifer K Mahal

Tom Wopat is an unlikely cabaret singer. The 50-year-old is most

famous for his role as Luke Duke in "The Dukes of Hazzard." Four of his

five albums have been country music, spawning five top-20 singles. But

listen to the standards on "The Still of the Night," released by Angel

Records in 2000, and you know this man can seduce and break hearts with

his voice.

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It's a talent that Wopat will put on display through Sunday at the

Orange County Performing Arts Center as part of the Center's Cabaret

Series."I don't have the most amazing voice you've ever heard, I don't

have virtuosity," said Wopat on the phone from Seattle. "I pretty much

try to tell a story, and if I can share a story and people can understand

what I'm saying, then we share something special for a while."

This is the second time in two years Wopat will be on the Center's

stage. Last year, patrons caught him as he reprised his Broadway role of

Frank Butler in "Annie Get Your Gun." Wopat's other credits include

playing one of Cybill Shepherd's ex-husbands on the small screen in

"Cybill."

It may surprise many that the Lodi, Wis., native doesn't see himself

as an actor, but as a singer.

"I enjoy acting," Wopat said. "It's just that the more interesting

stuff I do is the vocal stuff."

Listening to him convince Antonia Bennett that "Baby It's Cold

Outside," it's hard to disagree.

Wopat has been singing since childhood, performing in "Damn Yankees"

when he was 14. He went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison as a

music major. Among his first paid performances was a Cole Porter revue at

a dinner theater in Madison, singing "Begin the Beguine."

After recording the cast album for "Annie Get Your Gun," which

co-starred Bernadette Peters on Broadway, Wopat became interested in

doing what he now calls a "saloon record."

"It's an eclectic group," the blue-eyed singer said of the album's

songs. "There's a Jimmy Webb next to a Sondheim next to a Cole Porter."

He credits producer Russ Titelman with the album's polished sound.

"This is probably the first time I had a producer pay attention to the

order of how the songs on the CD go," said Wopat, who confesses to be his

own worst critic. "This one I can listen to from top to bottom."

The album spawned the cabaret act, which gained attention this winter

when Wopat and his trio played Arci's Place in New York City. Bookings

have been steadily coming in since, and Wopat said another album is in

his future.

The best part of performing, he said, is that when it's going well,

you learn something about yourself.

"When you invest enough into a song, all of a sudden you're singing

and, oh, there's a different meaning to the line," he said.

The worst is all of the traveling involved. For example, the past week

has had Wopat bouncing from Wisconsin, where he performed in "South

Pacific," to Seattle to Orange County.

Wopat said he wants his Orange County audience to come away singing,

whether out loud or just in their heads.

"If you sit there and pay attention," he said, "I guarantee you'll

come away with a song in your heart."

FYI

* What: Tom Wopat

* When: 7:30 p.m. today and Friday, and 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday

and 7 p.m. Sunday

* Where: Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive,

Costa Mesa

* Cost: $46 or $49

* Call: (714) 740-7878

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