In the Thicke of Life

Most of us past the age of 15 remember Alan Thicke as the tender-loving psychiatrist/father from Growing Pains. More recently, he did a convincing stint as Dennis Dupree, the bombastic talk-show host on Hope and Gloria. He's also written TV specials and 45 theme songs, as well as starred in a fistful of those made-for-TV movies. You'd think he might be getting ready to slow down a bit, sit back on his laurels, stay home with his new baby.

Not so. Turning 50, which he did this year, has only made Thicke work harder.

Though he started his career in musical theater "way back when," working with such impressive folks as Lorne Michaels and Gilda Radner, Chicago is only the second musical of his grown-up career. There aren't, as Thicke says over the phone in his wonderfully low and hummy voice, "many calls for a singing, dancing psychiatrist dad on a sitcom." He hasn't done the song-and-dance stuff in years.

And what a way to come back to what Thicke calls a "live audience, one-take, no-holds-barred kind of experience." Taking on a lead role in one of the most popular Broadway shows of the decade means folks all across the nation will see him. Also, he worked with choreographer Ann Reinking, who was "intimidating at first ... but she made it very comfortable very quickly." She made "adjustments" for him and his bad knees.

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Why does he think Chicago is so much more popular this go-around than it was in the seventies?

"I think it was very prescient 20 years ago, and no one could quite have imagined 20 years ago ... that every lawyer worth his salt [would have] his own cable TV series. And we're [now] very well acquainted with the intermarriage with tabloid journalism and the law." Thicke plays the sleazy, money-grubbing lawyer Billy Flynn, who can turn any crime into a publicity bonanza.

And to all his fans who want to revisit the comforting dad that Thicke played for seven years in prime time, he has a book coming out next spring called How Men Have Babies. "It's a humor book from the man's perspective on the diary of a pregnancy." If anyone knows what it means to be a father, certainly it is Alan Thicke -- a real dad to three children, and television dad to many more.

-- Lee Williams

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