On NBC’s new series “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” the lead character finds she has recently acquired the ability to hear the thoughts of others, but only when expressed through song. Take her father, for example: He has a degenerative neurological disease that impedes his ability to move or communicate — except, of course, when he occasionally breaks into song. Which only Zoey can see.
He’s played by Peter Gallagher, and his character is based on that of the show creator’s own father. “The big reason I wanted to do it,” Gallagher said, “was that I found the story Austin Winsberg created and lived so compelling. And it’s such a good story to be telling right now. When we’re so divided as a nation and amongst each other, this show reminds us that everybody has a story and what connects us is so much greater and more interesting and more powerful than what we’re led to believe might divide us.”
Gallagher gained wide notice in Steven Soderbergh’s “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” in 1989, and his notable roles on TV include “The O.C.” and more recently “Grace and Frankie.” He’s also had a major career on stage, both in plays and musicals. Which makes his current series on NBC such a clever use of his musical talents. “It’s like a little secret that I’ve spent all these years working on Broadway,” he said. “I never really knew if I’d get an opportunity to do those things for a broader audience on camera.”
When asked to share a worst moment in his career, he said, “I’ve been embarrassed so many times, but this is the story I keep thinking of. You be the judge.”
“This was the end of 1986. I had just done ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ on Broadway — in fact, it was in the same theater that my daughter (Kathryn Gallagher) is doing ‘Jagged Little Pill’ in right now — and I got a call: ‘Peter, Bob Fosse wants to see you tomorrow.’
“And I said, ‘Oh my God! Are you kidding? This is awesome!’ And the person on the phone was like, ‘Yeah, he wants you to sing and tap dance.’ And I said, ‘What — at the same time?’ I’m thinking, are you crazy? You can’t go in there! Him seeing you try to tap dance could scar him for life!
“I’m not a triple threat, not even close. If I work my butt off, I can maybe be a two-and-half-threat. I mean, I’ve danced on Broadway in ‘Guys and Dolls’ and ‘Grease’ — but that was after four weeks of rehearsal where every day I was just trying not to be terrible. I mean, I can move. But I’m not really a dancer … .
“And I thought to myself, I should not do this but I want to meet Bob Fosse. I just want to be in his presence. What’s the worst that can happen — I’m going to haul off and die? …
“So the next day I go to the theater and they call me up and someone says, ‘All right, let’s see what you’ve got,’ and I just give it my all, I don’t leave anything back. I’m singing and dancing — and I should be doing them together a lot better, but I could tell the singing was getting away from the dancing or maybe it was vice versa. (Laughs) But I was staring into an abyss and flapping my arms and tapping my feet as fast as I could. And then miraculously the piano player stopped playing and I guess it was over.
“There was a deafening silence in the theater. … And then a very calm, ‘Thank you.’ …
“So I’m shaking that off, and I’m in the theater district, so I walk over to the unemployment office and I get on the elevator and it stops on a floor and Bob Fosse gets on! And I’m thinking, holy (crap)! It’s just the two of us, so I tried to disappear into the corner. …
“And then I hear (gruffly): ‘Gallagher?’ And I go, ‘Yes, Mr. Fosse?’ And I look at him, and he’s looking at me. And he goes, ‘Very interesting sense of rhythm.’ And I said, ‘Why thank you, Mr. Fosse.’ And the door opens, God knows where, and I was out of that elevator (laughs).
“The point is, I obviously really stunk. But I got to meet Bob Fosse. And you know what? He remembered me (laughs)!”