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IS THERE LIFE AFTER `WKRP'? YOU BETCHA

What do we know about Gary Sandy?

Well, he's cute. Too boyish to be an ace hunk, but the women wouldn't toss him out for eating crackers. Not with those jeans. Not with them as fully packed as they were when he was Stace Reddin and other soap studs du jour.And he made a great radio station programmer (jeans, again; tighter if possible) in "WKRP in Cincinnati," the CBS sitcom that ran from 1978 to '82. As Andy Travis, he exhibited a fine line in bemused double-takes as he dealt with his eager-beaver assistant Bailey, the oversexed receptionist Jennifer and the man-eating station owner, Mrs. Carlson.

Apres that? Well, you're not going to believe it.

The musical comedy stage.

Sandy bounced from the last days of "WKRP" to the final throes of Broadway's "The Pirates of Penzance," replacing Treat Williams (who replaced Kevin Kline) in the role of the Pirate King.

A life-changing experience.

Career-changing, at any rate.

"Barnum," "Grease," "The Music Man," "Chicago." Suddenly, his manly tones and hip moves were being heard and seen on stages across the country - including Phoenix, where he has been performing in "Bye Bye Birdie" at the Herberger Theater Center.

And not just in musicals. When the Broadway revival of "Arsenic and Old Lace" went on the road, Sandy went with it. Ditto the national tour of "Breaking Legs."

Theater is seldom the breeding ground of millionaires (unless you're a producer or an Andrew Lloyd Webber) but by 1991 the Dayton, Ohio, native was doing well enough that when he didn't like the concept of the "WKRP" revival, he was able to say no.

"What was the point?" he shrugs. "Put on a pair of jeans so people could say, `Oh, he's cute - but he's older and fatter.' Give me a break. No way it was it going to be as good as the original. It smacked too much of bringing back Beaver."

Comfortably slouched (in sweats, not denim) on a banquette in the revolving restaurant atop downtown's Hyatt Regency hotel, Sandy is glad he didn't say no to "Birdie" producer (and co-star) Molly Marie Davis. He likes what he sees outside the restaurant's windows and he's having fun keeping up with the teenagers who make up most of the "Birdie" cast.

"I like to think I'm a fairly high-energy guy on the stage," he says, eyes crinkling with amusement. "We'll see, won't we?"

Sandy is not given to belittling his skills.

"I'm a good actor. In musical comedy, you have a lot of great singers who aren't good actors. They have a hard time carrying the plot from beginning to end. Unless you're looking for superficial razzmatazz, you go for an actor."

Sandy counterpoints this speech - as he does everything he says - with expressive hand gestures and facial grimaces. When he gets to "razzmatazz," he does a three-second imitation of a song and dance man that has everyone at the table giggling.

Given his gregarious nature, he seldom turns serious; when he does, he turns sideways, profiling a nose suitable for minting on ancient Roman coins. He lays a finger alongside it, signaling a change in tone.

"I won't kid you. When I'm done, no one is rushing the stage with a recording contract. What I do best is what you might call fast patter. The cockiest statement I can make is that I can't imagine anyone better than me as `The Music Man.' That's my role."

He's finding the part of Albert in "Bye Bye Birdie" (created by Dick Van Dyke on Broadway and in the movies) a bit of a challenge.

"I can't say it's my favorite role of all time. The guy's not what you would call dominating. His mother and his girlfriend pretty much call the shots. But he's the character who keeps the show moving. How do you control the pace of the show without being a controlling person?"

He laughs. "Look, I know my limitations. I can be intimidated."

He offers an example. On Broadway, "The Pirates of Penzance" was done in the bombastic, swashbuckling style of an Erroll Flynn movie. Years later, a director friend asked Sandy to re-create the role of the Pirate King for the Michigan Opera.

"It was probably the most humiliating experience I ever had," he says, grinning.

"The other actors - all opera singers - stood up one by one and almost blew the walls out. I looked at my friend. He just shook his head, and smiled. They actually were scared of me. They could sing, but they had real difficulty in creating characters. I had that Pirate King nailed!"

He learned a lesson that day that's stood him in good stead.

"If you want to be successful, believe in yourself - then just go out there and do the job."