- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2005

In our tabloid-obsessed nation, a few may wonder what became of Kathie Lee Gifford, the very successful co-host of Regis Philbin of TV’s female-friendly “Live With Regis and Kathie Lee,” which morphed into “Live With Regis and Kelly.”

She didn’t turn to drugs or alcohol. She didn’t retreat to a convent. She didn’t divorce her husband. She is drawing on what once were called “traditional values” before such things became open to negotiation and personal interpretation. She is writing musicals.

This girl is plucky. She leaves one high-risk position and embraces another. She has reinvented herself. I like that. It beats becoming a victim. This is what the old song, “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again,” is about. Nothing is impossible, she has found.

Mrs. Gifford (oh, let’s just call her Kathie Lee) has penned the book and lyrics for a lovely little off-Broadway musical called “Under the Bridge,” opening Jan. 6 at New York City’s Zipper Theater on West 37th Street. The musical is based on Natalie Savage Carlson’s book, “The Family Under the Bridge.”

The storyline is simple enough. An old hobo (played wonderfully by veteran actor Ed Dixon in the preview I saw) lives under a Paris bridge in 1953. He seems happy until his space is invaded by a homeless woman (Jacquelyn Piro) and her three children.

The show has elements of “Irma la Douce,” “Oliver” “Les Miserables” and even a touch of “An American in Paris.” The musical is what we once called a decent show — before sleaze, bad language and coarseness took hold. This is a family-friendly production, reflected by the audience’s many children.

Not only did I cheer the show for its many virtues (the hobo and the homeless family redeem each other), I also quietly cheered Kathie Lee for hers. This is a woman who has felt the critics’ heat, especially from The Washington Post’s Tom Shales, who trashed her Christmas TV specials with invective usually reserved for child molesters and mass murderers.

Still, she kept coming back with more decency and traditional fare at a time when many entertainment moguls were seeing how low they could go. Good shows like “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Wicked” continue packing them in and making their backers millions, long after lower-quality shows have closed and incurred steep losses. But that doesn’t seem to get through to the R-rated crowd.

Kathie Lee was also trashed for publicly speaking about her children (some critics said she did so too much). If she had not talked about them, those same critics would have called her a lousy mother. She could not win with some critics, but with audiences she could.

Here is someone who is trying to sow good seed among weeds. She has created something charming with this musical. Audiences who care about the general moral and cultural decline cannot complain about the bad if they won’t support and patronize the good.

Kathie Lee, whose next project is a musical based on the life of 20th-century radio evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, has found a new career. She ought to be an example to many, not only in her professional life, but in the character she has displayed by refusing to lie down and professionally die after ending her successful career in television.

You go, Kathie Lee.

Cal Thomas hosts “After Hours” on Fox News Channel Saturdays and is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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