- Associated Press - Friday, October 9, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) - Two-time Tony Award-winner John Cullum has gotten the ultimate stage honor - a theater named after him.

The American Theatre of Actors and The Araca Group said Friday that the off-Broadway repertory theater company’s largest venue, on 54th Street in Manhattan, will be renamed in Cullum’s honor on Oct. 16.

Cullum, 85 and ever bashful, said Friday he felt overwhelmed and added it was a little spooky. “People who get theaters named after them are usually dead,” he said, laughing.

The renaming of the 140-seat Chernuchin Theater will take place, fittingly, following a performance of “Urinetown” by the Fracture Theatre Co. The Chernuchin was the theater where “Urinetown,” starring Cullum, began before later going to Broadway.

“I can’t think of a more appropriate theater for me. I feel right at home in that theater,” said Cullum, best known on TV as the bartender Holling in “Northern Exposure.”

The actor said he’ll find it hard to resist visiting his new theater. “They’ll probably call on me to do a few things, and if I can do them I’ll try to help out there - and try to live up to my reputation,” Cullum said. “It’s a totally new experience for me.”

Cullum recalled joining the “Urinetown” company at American Theatre of Actors in 2001, with all the actors and actresses sharing the same dressing room, separated by a sheet. “It was a very close-knit company. In fact, it was too close,” he said. “We all got to know each other very well.”

He said initially he was treated coolly by the “Urinetown” company. He was getting strange stares and no one would talk to him. The director, John Rando, then told him they felt surprised the Tony-winner was doing this off-beat satirical, off-Broadway musical. “I said, ‘Listen, this is going to be a hit,’” he said. “They didn’t think a star would do it.”

Cullum received Tony Awards for “On The Twentieth Century” and “Shenandoah.” His other credits include “Casa Valentina,” ”110 in the Shade,” ”Show Boat” and “The Scottsboro Boys.”

The American Theatre of Actors consists of 50 actors, 20 playwrights and 10 directors. Among the stars who have worked there are Dennis Quaid, Bruce Willis, Danny Aiello, Dan Lauria, Chazz Palminteri, Kevin Spacey and Edie Falco.

After the theater company officials informed Cullum that they wanted to name of their three theaters after him, the actor told them he would accept only if they took time to reconsider the honor.

“I said, ‘I just want to give you the chance to back out on this,’” he said. “There are so many extraordinary people who have their names attached to theaters and to have my name attached to it astonished me.”





Mark Kennedy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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