Jazzy Jeff Goldblum heads to Pittsburgh, then off to be the Wizard
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Jazzy Jeff Goldblum heads to Pittsburgh, then off to be the Wizard

The West Homestead native is in concert on June 1 at the Benedum Center

In 2019, Jeff Goldblum spent time with audience members, some he knew from childhood, with the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra at Carnegie Library of Homestead. (Photo by Sharon Eberson)
In 2019, Jeff Goldblum spent time with audience members, some he knew from childhood, with the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra at Carnegie Library of Homestead. (Photo by Sharon Eberson)

When Jeff Goldblum talks about returning to Pittsburgh, the phrase that comes most readily to mind is, “There’s no place like home.”

In fact, it’s hard to get a question past his own curious questioning, which knows no bounds when it comes to getting reacquainted with his hometown.

Goldblum, the West Homestead native, Hollywood blockbuster magnet and soon to be seen as Wicked’s Wizard on the big screen, is in town Saturday, June 1, headlining a one-night-only concert of Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, at the Benedum Center.

Goldblum was a piano-playing Pittsburgh teen when he caught the acting bug and left at age 17 to find fame and fortune. He found both, from the bright lights of Broadway to the jungles of Jurassic Park to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and so much more.

He will soon add to his long list of iconic characters two heavyweight screen roles: Zeus, King of the Greek Gods, in the Netflix series “Kaos,” and, because of the wonderful things he does, the Wizard of Oz in the buzziest movie musical of the year, “Part One of Wicked.”

We’ll get to that later.

First, Goldblum wants to know all about what’s happening in Pittsburgh, a week ahead of returning to the Benedum stage for the first time in 20 years.

The concert is presented by Pittsburgh CLO, which also brought him to town in 2004 to play the title role in “The Music Man.” (Check out his 2006 mockumentary-style film, titled “Pittsburgh,” for more on that visit.)

Goldblum last came through town in 2019, for two shows with the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra at the Carnegie Library of Homestead Music Hall. Their third album, “Plays Well With Others,” was released last year, and included collaborations with artists such as Freda Payne and Kelly Clarkson.

In a phone conversation on May 23, Goldblum revealed that a “two-sided single” with Haley Reinhart, “Lover” and “Tattoo,” would be released before he was due in Pittsburgh, and a fourth album is due later this year.

Goldblum says this and then isn’t sure he should, but doesn’t take it back. It comes at the tail end of the answer to, How would you describe your music? Is it jazz? Jazz and American Songbook …?

“I should really ask our band members and [bass player] Alex Frank, what best represents us, but we … certainly do the standards. We do some blues notes, I guess, classics and that kind of thing. Coming up on [record label] Decca once again, our fourth album should come out in February, after ‘Wicked.’ I don’t know if I’m supposed to be disclosing that information but anyway, we’ve been recording away, and I’m excited about it. I think we’re doing better than ever.”

He is also excited, he says, that on this trip, he will take an extra day to dig into his local roots. His sister, artist Pamela Goldblum, will join him for a tour of the old neighborhood and other sightseeing adventures.

Also attending the concert will be the now 90-year-old jazz pianist who nurtured his talents on the keyboards.

“Listen to this,” Goldblum says. “Frank Cunimondo, my first jazz piano teacher in Pittsburgh, I got in touch with him and he’s coming to the show and bringing some of his current students! I haven’t talked to him since I was 16!”

Without skipping a beat, he follows immediately with, “I don’t know if you want to talk about Kaos, this thing that I did that comes out in August, but certainly I’ll bet you have some interest in ‘Wicked,’ these two-part movies in which I play The Wizard of Oz. Oh my gosh, wait till you see Cynthia Erivo and Ariana Grande! And [director] John Chu, who brought ‘In the Heights’ to the movies in a spectacular way, I think he has done a bang up job with them. But wait a minute, wait a minute. The orchestra, oh, we were talking about the CLO Orchestra, and how they don’t get enough credit and they’re wonderful musicians there …”

Time is fleeting, and Jeff Goldblum has taken the reins of the conversation.

And honestly, when Jeff Goldblum is on a roll, why would I, or anyone, stop him?

He skips from Pittsburgh CLO to his childhood, attending camps and classes at Chatham University and Carnegie Mellon University, and the Tam O’Shanter art classes he enjoyed with his sister at Oakland’s Carnegie Music Hall, led by Joseph Fitzpatrick. And then he moves on to music influencers such as Erroll Garner, the shows that came into the Downtown Nixon Theater and the Leona Theater on Eighth Avenue in Homestead … He gives me an opening after recalling his first Pittsburgh CLO show, when he was 13: a 1965 production of “Camelot” that starred Pernell Roberts, of the TV Western “Bonanza,” as King Arthur.

I ask about how he manages sleep, what with touring and recording with the band, filming, and being the father of two young sons.

“I’m not afraid of a good darn nap in the middle of the day,” Goldblum says. “And with these kids, they wake up at 6:30, and starting at 7, I have to be fresh as a daisy to go through their piano lesson with them.”

The 71-year-old Goldblum and his wife of 10 years, former Canadian rhythmic gymnast Emilie Livingston, are parents to Charlie, 8, and River, 6. Dad’s enthusiasm, always bubbly, overflows when he talks about his sons.

Their mother posted a remarkable video of Charlie at the piano on Instagram, saying, “He loves his speed, rapidity and holy sox! Don’t comment on the fact that his feet are almost as big as mine …”

Asked about it, Goldblum says, “Geez, I’m getting choked up, just hearing you mention it,” and he does sound as if he is having a moment.

“I’m telling you, this morning, I watched him and I just marveled. You know how fast they grow. And he is getting big as a house. It seems like only yesterday he was a baby, and the way he plays is very touching and amazing. I’m wonderstruck by it. I mean, you can go on YouTube and see people at 4 doing virtuoso stuff, but he’s not playing 10 hours or even two hours a day. But he does his work enthusiastically, and he’s a good boy, and he plays nicely, doesn’t he? I get a big kick out of it. And River, too. River plays beautifully. He’s a very special kid. Both of them.”

Goldblum himself began taking the piano seriously when he was older than his sons, he notes. Before he left for Pittsburgh for New York, though, he found gigs at small clubs, although he was not yet old enough to drink.

When he was last in town with the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra – a band named for a former Pittsburgh neighbor – he performed two shows just blocks from where he grew up.

In that relatively small auditorium, he stood in the audience, back to the stage, and as people formed a semicircle around him, he would point and say, “I know you from Hebrew School! What’s your name? Did we go to high school together?” Goldblum graduated from the old West Mifflin North High School, Class of 1970.

Much of Goldblum’s Pittsburgh past is well-documented, including his love for the local sports teams. In 2004, the city officially designated July 13 as Jeff Goldblum Day. He also has lent his voice as a greeting to audiences at the Carnegie Science Center Buhl Planetarium & Observatory.

On the national scene, aside from his acting, Goldblum has become known for the sartorial splendor covering his 6-foot, 4-inch frame.

He says he owes his contemporary fashion sense (you can check it out on the Insta account @goodasgoldblum) to wanting to boost his red-carpet looks and meeting stylist Andrew Thomas Vottero on the set of a GQ fashion shoot in 2014.

With his “Wicked” castmates, Goldblum was a standout at the 2024 Met Gala, which finally brings us to a quick rundown of what to expect from the film.

The question was: You’ve played a ton of iconic characters, and now, the Wizard of Oz. How did you feel about taking on this role?

And the answer, in the stream of consciousness you’d expect …

“Oh boy. Oh boy. Well, I’m a big musical theater fan. I’m a music fan. A jazz fan. I did a couple of musicals, but I have had spectacular times in the theater watching some things. For instance, I’m here in Florence, right now” – he was in Italy filming a new project – “and, did you see ‘Light in the Piazza’ by any chance?”

I did.

“Oh my God. I was on Broadway doing this play called ‘The Pillowman’ and ‘Light, the Piazza’ had come out and I felt kind of mushy and in a certain place, and I hadn’t seen the show, but I got that CD and I gathered what it was about, and I’ll tell you, that just knocked me out. And then I saw it and I was in tears the whole time. Well, anyway, I saw ‘Wicked’ when it came out. I saw Kristin Chenowith and Idina Menzell, and it got me in the deepest way.”

We pause here to avoid a spoiler, assuming that not everyone knows the stage musical that has been going strong on Broadway since 2003.

“They approached me for it, and I took my kids and wife who’d never seen it, in London, where I was at the time. And I’ll tell you, seeing it through their eyes, it was in an maybe in an enhanced way, I just was very moved during the whole thing and crying.”

Goldblum previously worked with composer and Carnegie Mellon alum Stephen Schwartz on the 1998 animated musical feature “The Prince of Egypt” (he voiced Aaron), “and we had this Pittsburgh connection.”

Pop singer Grande, who plays Glinda in “Wicked,” also has a connection – she came to see “Pillowman” “when she was just a kid,” and he has a picture they took together.

“She and Cynthia Erivo, when you see them do these parts, oh my God, they are just amazing. And John [M. Chu], I said, did a great job. And Michelle Yeoh, fantastic! And Jonathan Bailey! I’m very excited about it. And oh my gosh, I of course saw Joel Grey do the part, and then Ben Vereen has done it. So anyway, it’s a humbling responsibility. But I hope I did OK. I certainly worked hard on it, and tried to do my best.”

An with that, we were sharing one or two more Pittsburgh landmarks, and saying goodbye.

The conversation had begun a half-hour earlier, with Jeff Goldblum saying he had done a bit of homework on me, and that we crossed paths in New York in the 1970s – our common ground: my first celebrity interview was the late actor Raul Julia, and Goldblum’s first Broadway play starred Julia, as a “citizen of Verona and Milan” in Shakespeare’s “Two Gentleman of Verona” …

Before I could ask a question, he dropped a comprehensive list of topics he’d happily address, and many we never could quite get to, but we covered a lot in a stage, screen and music career spanning nearly 50 years, and coming back on June 1 to where it all started, as Pittsburgh piano man. PJC

Pittsburgh CLO presents Jeff Goldblum & The Mildred Snitzer Band at 7:30 p.m. June 1, 2024, at the Benedum Center, Downtown. Tickets: Visit https://pittsburghclo.culturaldistrict.org/production/95271 or call 412-456-6666.

This preview of Pittsburgh CLO presents Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra previously appeared on the website onStage Pittsburgh.

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