- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2000

NEW YORK As Marilu Henner tells it, the transformation occurred quickly. She was a college student in the morning and by the afternoon, a professional actress. That was when Miss Henner quit school in Chicago and took a job in the national touring company of "Grease."
"It was my last time on the road, and since then I have had this romantic notion of going back and doing a star vehicle," says the enthusiastic, talkative and, at 48, well-toned performer.
Romantic or not, Miss Henner has hit the highways again, nearly 30 years later, as Annie Oakley in "Annie Get Your Gun," a production from the folks who brought us the still-running Broadway revival of the Irving Berlin musical.
For Miss Henner, it is further reaffirmation of a Broadway career that was interrupted after her stint in the musical "Over Here" in 1974 and not resumed full throttle until she took over for Ann Reinking in the smash revival of "Chicago" in 1997.
In between, there were little things, such as maintaining a long run in the TV series "Taxi," writing several best-selling books about her commitment to good health and physical well-being and, more recently, having and raising her two sons, Nicholas, 6, and Joey, 4.
"The same way that I wanted to revisit my strong dance roots for 'Chicago,' I am revisiting my strong singing roots for this show," she says. "'Chicago' was a daunting show because of all the dancing, but I felt Roxie Hart was a character I could play. In 'Annie Get Your Gun,' I have to vocalize more. Plus, there is a very tomboy quality to me which is fun to do on stage."
Exuberance always has been part of her makeup. Miss Henner grew up in Chicago on Logan Boulevard off Western Avenue, in the heart of a mostly Polish-German neighborhood with a cast of what seemed like thousands.
"My family ran a dancing school in the back yard in a three-car garage," she says. "My mom was the neighborhood dance teacher, and everyone came and hung out at our house. The youngest students were 2 and the oldest were 80, including the nuns from the church next door who came over for stretch classes."
In the kitchen, Mom Henner also ran a beauty parlor where neighborhood women would get their hair done. The refrigerator was downstairs, replaced in the kitchen by a blue hair-drying chair for the family's second business.
With all the confusion, a career in show business seemed inevitable. Miss Henner, one of six children, grew up singing and dancing, so she knew all the Broadway musicals and did a lot of community theater.
In the early 1970s, one of the men with whom she worked, Jim Jacobs, wrote a little show about the students in his high school. The musical was done at the Kingston Mines, a theater on Lincoln Avenue, and Miss Henner got a part, playing the character of Marty. The show, of course, was "Grease," and although the musical was a big hit, she didn't go with the show to New York City after Broadway producers optioned it.
"My father had just died, and I wanted to stay with my family plus I was just starting college," she says. The success of "Grease" in New York made her change her mind about that national tour and a serious career in show business.
"Once I became an actress, I stayed an actress," Miss Henner says. "Over Here," a World War II musical that starred two of the three Andrews Sisters, led to commercials and TV work. They eventually brought Miss Henner to Los Angeles and "Taxi," which still follows Miss Henner around thanks to the cable network for old TV shows, Nick at Nite.
"I love it. Everything comes back, and 'Taxi' has really held up and looks as fresh as ever. I meet all these little kids who say, 'Aren't you still doing that show?' They weren't even alive when 'Taxi' went off the air."
While she was doing "Chicago," Miss Henner wrote her first health book.
"I don't do a big workout every day, although I break a sweat, usually by playing tag with my boys. They run me ragged."
Diet also plays a big part, she says. The no-no's: meat, sugar, dairy and caffeine. What's left? Pasta, grains, fish, salads, vegetables and even cookies made with honey instead of sugar, Miss Henner says with a conviction that has found its way into her health books and her Web site.
"When my parents both died in their 50s, I became obsessed with learning about the diseases they had my mom died at 58 of arthritis, and my father had a heart attack at 52," she explains.
"I had been like a yo-yo dieter. After my father died, I put on a lot of weight. I decided it was not about my body. It was about my health. I started reading everything I could, books on food and health and human anatomy, and found a program that worked for me. There has been no looking back. Now I'm down to 120 pounds.
"It's not just the quantity of your life how long you live it's how vibrant you are. Most people don't even know what healthy feels like."

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