The gifted actor Robert Guillaume, who died Tuesday at the age of 89, had a brief time in a Baltimore spotlight during the years when his career focused primarily on theater.
Guillaume starred along with the late Nell Carter at Baltimore Center Stage in the 1971 world premiere of “Fire in the Mindhouse,” a musical that did not exactly light up the world.
Guillaume arrived at Center Stage (it was located on North Avenue at the time) as an established actor on the New York scene, making his Broadway debut in the short-lived 1961 musical “Kwamina.”
He would go on to earn a Tony Award nomination in the 1976, black-cast Broadway revival of “Guys and Dolls” before making his mark on television in “Soap” and “Benson.”
Guillaume was one of five cast members in “Fire in the Mindhouse,” a work with music by Lance Mulcahy and lyrics by Amond Borget that left Baltimore Sun theater critic R.H. Gardner unimpressed. He called it “a curious mixture” of about 30 songs and “recitations of poetry, compounded largely of platitudes and non sequiturs, and the sort of capers reminiscent of the drunk who dons a lampshade and becomes the life of the party.”
But Gardner did single out for praise “the voice and commanding presence of Robert Guillaume,” as well as Carter, “whose vibrant voice is reason enough to listen to any song.”
And what of the audience’s reaction to the new piece? It “might be described as a semi-standing ovation,” Gardner wrote. “A few, myself included, simply looked dazed.”