Noël Coward’s Present Laughter

Five Larger-Than-Life Performances By Kevin Kline

by Elisa Lichtenbaum

“Everybody worships me. It’s nauseating,” Kevin Kline declares as hilariously egotistical actor Garry Essendine in Noel Coward’s Present Laughter, airing Friday, November 3 at 9 p.m. on GREAT PERFORMANCES as part of Broadway’s Best on PBS, a line-up of theater specials airing Friday nights through December. The spotlight-loving, scenery-chewing Garry is the perfect role for Kline, a Juilliard-trained actor who has built a Tony- and Oscar-winning career playing larger-than-life characters in Shakespeare plays, Broadway musicals, Hollywood movies, and beyond.

Before you tune in to this witty backstage comedy — also starring Kate Burton (Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy), Kristine Nielsen (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike), and Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother) in her Broadway debut — here’s a look at five memorable larger-than-life performances Kline has delivered on stage and screen during his illustrious career.

1) On the Twentieth Century

Kline won his first Tony Award as fabulously narcissistic 1930s movie star Bruce Ganit in this 1978 Broadway musical featuring a score by Cy Coleman, a book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and based on Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s hit play, Twentieth Century.

VIDEO: WELCOME TO THE TONYS: Kevin Kline, John Cullum, Imogene Coca, Judy Kaye, and the On the Twentieth Century company perform at the 1978 Tony Awards, introduced by Robert Guillaume.

2) The Pirates of Penzance

In 1981, Kline earned a second Tony nod as the sexy, swashbuckling Pirate King in the New York Shakespeare Festival’s production of The Pirates of Penzance, starring rock star Linda Ronstadt and Rex Smith.

3) Cyrano de Bergerac

Kline took Broadway by storm once again in 2017 as the proboscisly challenged, 17th-century warrior-poet Cyrano in Cyrano de Bergerac, also starring Jennifer Garner and Daniel Sunjata. The acclaimed production was filmed in 2008 and aired on GREAT PERFORMANCES in 2009.

4) A Fish Called Wanda

Kline nabbed a Best Supporting Actor Oscar as inept jewel thief and philosophy devotee Otto in this 1988 black comedy starring John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Michael Palin.

 VIDEO: FISH AND CHIPS: In this scene from A Fish Called Wanda, Kline as Otto questions Ken (Michael Palin) about the location of stolen diamonds, using Ken’s prized fish as a torture tactic.

5) Soapdish

In this 1991 film comedy, Kline did some major scenery chewing as yet another fabulously egotistical actor. He’s Jeffrey Anderson, who is rescued from the indignity of Florida dinner theater when he rejoins the cast of the soap opera The Sun Also Sets as Dr. Rod Randall, the love interest of his ex-flame, played by Sally Field. Fun fact: Kline played cad Woody Reed in the CBS soap Search for Tomorrow from 1976-77.

VIDEO: GET THE DISH: Meet Jeffrey Anderson – a.k.a: “the most brilliant actor alive” – and other colorful Soapdish characters in this trailer featuring Kline, Sally Field, Robert Downey, Jr., Whoopi Goldberg, Cathy Moriarty, and Elisabeth Shue.

See Present Laughter on-air or online anywhere you watch PBS programming, including and PBS apps for iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Chromecast. Visit the Broadway’s Best on PBS collection for in-depth features about Present Laughter and other GREAT PERFORMANCES programs, and to watch previews and programs online. Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #BroadwayonPBS.



Elisa Lichtenbaum, editor of the monthly THIRTEEN program guide, is also Senior Writer at WNET, a tap dancer and theater geek.