PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Marni Nixon

PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Marni Nixon Maybe the moviegoers of the 1950's and 60's didn't know Marni Nixon's face, but they certainly knew her voice. Her pipes were lipsynched to by several film stars including Deborah Kerr ("The King And I" and "An Affair To Remember"), Natalie Wood ("West Side Story") and Audrey Hepburn ("My Fair Lady"). All of this went uncredited, as was common in those days. Nixon was paid and she went on with her career, achieving her first singing credit as Sister Sophia in "The Sound of Music" and, more recently, lending her voice to Grandmother Fa in Disney's "Mulan."
Marni Nixon and Sally Ann Howes in The Dead.
Marni Nixon and Sally Ann Howes in The Dead. (Photo by Photo by Joan Marcus)

Maybe the moviegoers of the 1950's and 60's didn't know Marni Nixon's face, but they certainly knew her voice. Her pipes were lipsynched to by several film stars including Deborah Kerr ("The King And I" and "An Affair To Remember"), Natalie Wood ("West Side Story") and Audrey Hepburn ("My Fair Lady"). All of this went uncredited, as was common in those days. Nixon was paid and she went on with her career, achieving her first singing credit as Sister Sophia in "The Sound of Music" and, more recently, lending her voice to Grandmother Fa in Disney's "Mulan."

Today, approaching 70, Nixon's still getting kudos for her current turn as Aunt Kate in The Dead, playing through Feb. 20 at Broadway's Belasco Theatre. And she's found a kindred spirit in the music teacher character she plays; she's a music teacher herself.

Playbill On-Line: Have you been on Broadway before?
Marni Nixon: I did a Broadway show in the fifties called The Girl in the Pink Tights, in 1953, I think it was. I had a very small part. Then the rest of the things I've been doing have been all over the country and Off Broadway. I've been so involved in musicals and lots of chamber opera and my own shows, that I just hadn't noticed I hadn't done anything on Broadway.

PBOL: You have been on TV -- you have four Emmys; you've been in movies; you've recorded with great conductors and done theatre. Of all these different things, what section of your career have you enjoyed most?
MN: I think, in the past, what I've enjoyed most is doing opera, chamber opera and symphony concerts and recitals with classical music and also some theatre with operetta material. But there are highs. Like doing the revival of My Fair Lady at City Center. Doing that show, which is the most magnificent, great piece of art, you forget about the category. You just feel like you're a part of something that is really paying off and is so wonderful. I must say, this show, The Dead...I'm so elated all the time when I'm on there -- because of the piece, because of the direction and because of the actors that I'm working with. The ensemble experience is just...I think it's very unusual.

PBOL: What was it like that first time seeing someone like Natalie Wood or Audrey Hepburn open her mouth and have your voice come out?
MN: The first really big one was "The King And I" with Deborah Kerr. It was a better job than doing chorus work to subsidize my concert career -- or doing jingles for commercials. I just thought of it in terms of the challenge of really trying to make [my voice] sound exactly like Deborah Kerr. So I was very proud of my job. It was only after "My Fair Lady" that I really realized the value of what I had done -- that I sang the lead. I thought, I should have done this myself. I started thinking, I don't want to do this again. This is not the right thing to do. But there're different perspectives. Once I said no more, then I was busy doing my own things. Later on, as the years have passed, why not do more dubbing? Last year, I did "Mulan." I did Grandma Fa. That was a little different thing than dubbing for an actor because the voices are really in sync with you. But I wouldn't mind dubbing any more. PBOL: Was there any credit you were embarrassed to have on your resume?
MN: Oh, no. Even I did a movie -- I can't mention names -- but let's say some movies are better than others. If you don't feel proud of something you did, don't talk about it.

PBOL: Has anything embarrassing ever happened to you on stage?
MN: I remember once in concert going on with someone who was playing the harpsichord whose back was to the audience. She was facing upstage. It was an older lady and she evidentally went to the bathroom and tucked her dress into her pants. She turned her back to the audience and there she was with her bloomers out. That was really embarrassing! You couldn't do anything because there she was sitting and it was very serious music. It kind of wrecked the concert. In my opera debut, when I did the opera Elecktra, I played a handmadien. My very first note, someone stepped on my foot and I went "Eeeeeooouuuuu!"

PBOL: Now that you're settled in the Belasco, have you seen the infamous ghost?
MN: We're trying to find some people who have really seen the ghosts. There are supposed to be two: a man with a red coat and a woman. That's what they say.

PBOL: I figure since you're in The Dead, perhaps the dead will rise for you.
MN: Exactly. [laughs] Well, who knows?

-- By Christine Ehren