Sunflowers—Marin Mazzie’s favorite—lined the lip of the stage at the Gershwin Theatre October 25 as the theatre community celebrated the life of the Tony Award nominee, who passed away in September at the age of 57. Family (including husband Jason Danieley, with whom she frequently shared the concert stage), former co-stars, writers, friends, and fans gathered in the theatre that houses the Theater Hall of Fame, into which Ms. Mazzie was inducted last year, as an informal receiving line formed in the aisle. Shortly before the ceremony started, Brian Stokes Mitchell (a three-time Broadway leading man to Ms. Mazzie) could be seen making Danieley laugh; Donna Murphy (the Fosca to Ms. Mazzie’s Clara in Passion) greeted Ms. Mazzie’s mother, Donna Mazzie.
LaChanze opened the service with a performance of Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It is (To Be Loved by You),” setting the tone for an afternoon that, while emotional for many, ultimately offered more cheer and light than tears. More songs would fill the house between anecdotes. Few tunes came from Ms. Mazzie’s catalog, though it was clear they held a special significance; they were for Marin Mazzie—less of Marin Mazzie.
Friends, like NBC’s Robert Greenblatt (a high school classmate) and Tony winner Debra Monk, recalled Ms. Mazzie’s uncanny and sometimes shocking blend of elegance and bawdiness, from mortifying nuns with a rendition of A Star Is Born’s “Evergreen” at graduation mass to bluntly telling an On Your Feet! cast member “I’ve got cancer” in a refusal to dance in the aisle.
Others, like childhood companion Helen Brooks and her brother Mark, offered glimpses into some of Ms. Mazzie’s earliest days as a performer, the former boasting that she was among the first to hear her perform “Ring Them Bells,” before it became one of her signature numbers, as they’d sing along to Liza With a Z at 12 years old. Her brother cited “Let the Sunshine In,” by way of The Flinstones’ Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm, as her first go-to song.
In addition to reflecting on witnessing her remarkable craft on the stage, Murphy and Ragtime writer Terrence McNally shared a closeness they felt with their friend by the battles with cancer that bonded them. Murphy, whose husband Shawn Elliott passed away in 2016 after fighting the disease, discussed adopting the term “healing therapy,” Ms. Mazzie’s preferred, lighter take on her chemotherapy while living with ovarian cancer. McNally, who himself was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2001, referred to Ms. Mazzie as his “cancer buddy,” thinking back in awe at her resilience and commitment to the stage in the darkest of times: “theatre had always been our finest armor.”
Before the final remarks from Danieley and longtime friend Martin Moran, Cancer Support Community President Linda House announce that the organization’s Founders Award for Empowerment, which Danieley and Ms. Mazzie received in 2016, would be permanently renamed the Marin Mazzie Award for Empowerment in 2019.
Danieley’s sentiments continued upon themes that permeated the remarks of those who spoke before him: Ms. Mazzie’s warmth, compassion, and fierce dedication and support to those she loved. He recalled how she would encourage him to say with conviction that he is his own person, his own artist. That became a mantra she shared: “You are Jason Danieley.” “You are Meghann Fahy.” “You are Molly Ranson.” Closing his remarks, he quoted a letter penned by William Maxwell to their shared friend, composer Ricky Ian Gordon: “’Having absorbed everything we loved and admired about them, we take them inside, becoming henceforth two people: ourselves and the other.’
“So even as Marin said to me, ‘You are Jason Danieley, that’s who you are,’ I can now beg to differ and conclude that I am Jason Danieley, and I am Marin Mazzie.”
Danieley then sang a song by Gordon he would perform with his wife: “We Will Always Walk Together” from Dream True, its lyrics echoing the notion of becoming henceforth two people: “No matter how the day may start, no matter how the night might end, you will always be inside my heart; you will always be my friend.”