WINSTON-SALEM — If you see a familiar face from 1970s TV around town over the next week or two, you’re not hallucinating: actor Ted Lange, aka “Isaac, Your Bartender” from the show “The Love Boat,” is in town preparing his latest production for the National Black Theatre Festival.
Lange is directing “Twelfth Night: Or, What You Will, Mon,” a playful adaptation of William Shakespeare that will be performed for free during the festival next month, with three showings Aug. 1-3 at Winston Square Park. The festival runs July 29 through Aug. 3.
Lange, 71, has been a fixture at the NBTF since the very beginning, appearing in the 1989 production of “Willie & Esther.” Since then he has been back to nearly every NBTF, he said, first as an actor and later writing and directing a variety of plays.
For the first few years after “The Love Boat” went off the air in 1986, Lange resisted being known for his role as Isaac. But by the 1990s, he learned to accept his place in pop culture, especially after seeing how much it meant to people.
“It’s light comedy, it’s romantic, it’s an ode to falling in love,” he said. “Who doesn’t want to fall in love? It’s got a light touch. It’s Cary Grant-style comedy.”
Looking back on his stint on the show, which aired from 1977 to 1986, “We had a great time, I made a lot of money, became famous and made a lot of great friends.”
Lange has been fascinated with adapting Shakespeare since he was 13 and in junior high school in Oakland, Calif., when a teacher showed him the potential of reinventing the Bard’s works to reach new audiences. For “Twelfth Night,” he is keeping the text and its iambic pentameter intact but turning the island setting of Illyria into a Jamaican-style island with reggae music — like “No Woman No Cry,” “Is This Love,” “Red Red Wine” and “3 Little Birds” — incorporated into the score.
“They all fit to the plot, which is wonderful,” Lange said. “So far, the cast goes right along with me. They see the thing that we’re doing, and they love it.”
Other Shakespeare-inspired performances he has directed include “Richard III” and a prequel to “Othello” that was part of the 2017 NBTF. He said that his compatriots in the theater community have nicknamed him “The Brown Bard,” a moniker he enjoys.
Lange keeps in touch with his old “Love Boat” cast mates, including Gavin MacLeod, Bernie Kopell, Jill Whelan, and Lauren Tewes.
He and Fred Grandy, who played Gopher and now lives in the Charlotte area, recently performed together in the play “I’m Not Rappaport,” about two elderly men who spend their days talking on a bench in Central Park. Lange and Grandy hope to reunite in the near future and take the show off-Broadway.
And Princess Cruises, the cruise line featured on the show, has a channel on its ships that streams reruns of old episodes of the show, Lange said.
The line also serves a cocktail Lange created called “The Isaac.” It calls for 2 ounces of white rum, 2 ounces of pomegranate syrup, a half-ounce of fresh lime juice, a splash of club soda, lime slices and pineapple-leaf spears.