Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band will make their Ravinia debut June 13. | Getty Images photo
Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band, 8 p.m. June 13, Ravinia Festival, 418 Sheridan Road, Highland Park, $22-$65. (847) 266-5100; ravinia.org
Lt. Dan is coming to the Ravinia Festival.
Gary Sinise, known for his role as Lt. Dan Taylor in the 1994 hit movie “Forrest Gump,” is finally bringing his band to the town where he grew up, to the venue where he once worked. When asked why it has taken so long, the Highland Park High School graduate replied, “I’ve wanted to play at Ravinia for a long time. I worked on the ground crew, raking leaves, taking out the garbage.”
But for nine seasons, Sinise’s time was at a premium as he was busy playing Detective Mac Taylor on the CBS show, “CSI: NY.” Plus, he has been deeply involved in touring with his band, which he co-founded in early 2004 with Chicago-based musician, composer and professor Kimo Williams.
Sinise became closely identified with his the Lt. Dan character, but the idea of a band evolved almost a decade later, he explained when reached by phone in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife, Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble member Moira Harris, and their children Sophia, Mac and Ella. “After ‘Forrest Gump’ I did some USO tours as an actor,” he explained. “I’d be introduced as Lt. Dan. I’d greet the troops, sign autographs, that sort of thing.” He cited legendary actor Bob Hope, who spent decades traveling the world entertaining United States service men and women, as his inspiration.
Sinise has always enjoyed playing the guitar, but music was put on the back burner as his acting talent developed, first in high school and later at Illinois State University. Sinise is among the founders of Steppenwolf Theatre Company along with Terry Kinney and Jeff Perry. The core of the Tony Award-winning company, which began in 1975 in the basement of the now-demolished Immaculate Conception School in Highland Park, also included John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf, Alan Wilder, H.E. Baccus and Sinise’s wife.
Fast-forward to 2003 and Steppenwolf’s production of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” when Kimo Williams was commissioned to do the music for the Tennessee Williams drama in which Sinise played Stanley Kowalski. Sinise moved to Los Angeles in 1987, but he and Williams began playing together “just for fun” when Sinise was in Chicago. Jam sessions led to charity gigs and soon Sinise believed he could give more to the men and women attending USO shows.
“Instead of just shaking hands, I thought they would like some music,” Sinise said. “So we began taking the band on our tours. We’ve been to Afghanistan several times, and at least half a dozen times to Iraq. After Ravinia we’re going again to Okinawa, Japan.”
In “Forrest Gump” the Lt. Dan character lost both his legs in the Vietnam War. That role touched Sinise deeply and through his Gary Sinise Foundation he also has begun doing concerts to raise money for an organization that builds Smart Homes, residences that have been adapted for use by individual veterans who have sustained severely disabling injuries.
“Gary has a special connection to Ravinia,” said Ravinia Festival’s CEO, Welz Kauffman. “He’s a true hometown boy, an alum of Highland Park High School, which, of course graduates its senior class from Ravinia’s pavilion stage each summer. “... Not only did Gary work here back when he was he was building what would become his own legendary theater company, he used to steal our toilet paper to stock Steppenwolf.”
He and Sinise met about a decade ago when Regis and Kelly telecast their gabfest from the festival, with Kauffman and Sinise as guests.
“[Gary] got the biggest laugh by returning all the toiletries he ‘borrowed’ from us on live, national television,” Kauffman said. “He owned the place that day, and I have a feeling he’s going to own this place on June 13.”
Dorothy Andries is a local free-lance writer.