It took actor-singer James Naughton until he was 57 years old to release his debut solo album, the aptly named It's About Time, in 2002. But by then, he had been a performer for more than 30 years. His primary work was dramatic acting on-stage, but he earned his two Tony Awards for singing roles in musicals, and he was best-known to general audiences for a long list of television appearances as well as character parts in a dozen feature films. By the late '90s, he had begun to focus more on a one-man show that culminated in his debut album.
Naughton, the older brother of actor David Naughton (and later the father of actors Greg Naughton and Keira Naughton), graduated from Brown University in 1967 and the Yale School of Drama in 1970, after which he moved to New York to pursue his career. He made his New York debut in a production of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night. His first film appearance came in 1973 with The Paper Chase, and his subsequent feature films have included Cat's Eye (1985), The Glass Menagerie (1987), The Good Mother (1988), The First Wives Club (1996), and First Kid (1996). He has appeared in many made-for-television movies as well. Also in 1973, he was cast in a co-starring role in the television series Faraday and Company. It lasted only one season, but he was back the following year in a small-screen series version of Planet of the Apes that ran from September to December 1974. He has also been a regular on other short-lived TV series: Making the Grade (1982), Trauma Center (1983), and Raising Miranda (1988). But his most successful efforts in series television have been as a guest star, sometimes as a continuing character in several episodes. Such multiple appearances include Who's the Boss? (1985), Brooklyn Bridge (1991-1993), Ally McBeal (1999-2000), and Big Apple (2001).
Naughton made his Broadway debut in a musical with I Love My Wife, which opened on April 17, 1977, and had a successful run of 857 performances before closing on May 20, 1979. He appeared on the original Broadway cast album released on DRG Records. A decade passed before he got another chance to star in a Broadway musical, but he again made the most of it. Playing a hard-boiled detective in the movie-within-a-show in City of Angels, which opened on December 11, 1989, he won the 1990 Tony Award for Leading Actor in a Musical. The show ran a healthy 878 performances before closing on January 19, 1992, and he appeared on the original Broadway cast album released by Columbia Records. His third Broadway musical was a revival of the 1975 show Chicago that opened on November 14, 1996, and was still running six years later, though he had long-since moved on. For his portrayal of the shyster lawyer Billy Flynn, he won the 1997 Tony Award for Leading Actor in a Musical.
In June 1998, Naughton mounted his first one-man show, James Naughton Live at the Manhattan Theater Club, later adapted into James Naughton: Street of Dreams, which was produced by Mike Nichols. It consisted of Naughton's performances of show tunes, standards, and newer songs by contemporary singer/songwriters, interspersed with stories and personal remarks. After a lengthy run Off-Broadway, he toured the country with the show. In the spring of 2002, he returned to New York to appear at the prestigious Café Carlyle with a revamped version called James Naughton: Back to the Street from April 16 to May 4. All of this led up to DRG's release of It's About Time in October 2002.