DeWitt became a pop culture fixture after her turn in the sitcom “Three’s Company,” in which she played Janet Wood, the brainy brunette who served as the counterpoint to Suzanne Somers’s ditzy Chrissy Snow. After a long absence, she returned to acting, but eschewed television in favor of theater. She’s performing in the North Shore Music Theatre’s “All Shook Up,” beginning Tuesday.
‘I started in the theater when I was 13. . . . I consider the theater my home. That’s where it started, that’s where my heart lies.’
Q. This is a musical that features all Elvis music. So, are you an Elvis fan?
A. I knew his music from the time I was 6 or 7 years old. He had a lot of courage to be making the kind of music he was making at the time. It would have been impossible for me not to notice.
Q. Do you get a chance to sing and swivel your hips around in the show?
A. I don’t do too much hip swiveling. My character is the nemesis trying to restore decency to her town, which means no rock music. I do get to sing and dance.
Q. Do you have experience in the realm of singing?
A. Yes. I started in the theater when I was 13, and I think the first play that I did was a musical. I consider the theater my home. That’s where it started, that’s where my heart lies.
Q. Your home may be the theater, but everyone knows you from “Three’s Company.” Do you still get stopped by people who want to talk about it?
A. I hear it all the time. People tell me it was their weekly family get-together. It’s very sweet. Many times when people want to talk about the show, what they talk about is how their families sat down together to watch.
Q. I was one of those loyal watchers when I was a kid. But at the time the show was on, it was not liked by the critics.
A. It was a mixed bag. There were those who loved it, got it, and understood that we were trying to do a contemporary version of a 16th-century farce. There were those who found it a bit racy, and it’s hysterical now because people ask me, “Why aren’t there wholesome family shows like that anymore?”
Q. I remember thinking it was a bit naughty when I watched as a child.
A. As is typical in classic art, a lot of sex is mentioned, and there’s lots of innuendo everywhere, but no one ever gets any. The game is afoot. There’s lots of misinterpretation and doors slamming. This was a place for people to go for 30 minutes that was totally safe. They knew that no matter what disaster happened, at the end of the episode everything would be fine again.
Q. You stopped acting for a few years after “Three’s Company.” Were you burnt out?
A. There had never been a time in my life that I had not been working and Hollywood’s a very interesting place. I had not intended to go there. I was a theater person, I was headed to New York. When the show was over, I wanted to take a little time to ponder. What I didn’t know was that it would become a 12- to 15-year journey into what I call the art of being human. There came a point when I had traveled around the world and studied with different spiritual teachers looking at the great religions of the world.
Q. After that lovely spiritual talk, I feel guilty because I want to ask you about Mrs. Roper’s caftans and crab apple necklaces.
A. Oh no honey, don’t feel guilty. When you decide you’re going to join a project, it’s all about the gift you’re giving the audience. If you find a way to laugh, that’s a fantastic gift. So the fact that our wonderful costumer would put Audra [Lindley, the actress who played Helen Roper] in these extraordinary caftans and then, later, Don Knotts in ridiculously funny outfits was all part of anything that we were willing to do to make people laugh.
Q. After having such a fun time on the show, it must have felt good to reconcile with Suzanne Somers after not having spoken for 30 years.
A. The word reconcile is hard for me. She battled with the show’s producers over contracts. John [Ritter] and I had nothing to do with that. Over the years the press made something out of it that it never was. It was hard for me because we never had an argument in our lives, we never raised voices to each other, we never had a dispute. So I was happy to go on her Internet show and celebrate “Three’s Company.”
This interview was edited and condensed. Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe
.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.