DIVA TALK: Chatting with Drowsy's Mara Davi Plus News of Peters and Bundy

News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Mara Davi
Mara Davi

MARA DAVI
It's been some year for Mara Davi, the young singer-dancer-actor who made her Broadway debut in September 2006 in the Tony-nominated revival of A Chorus Line, which continues to play the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. After impressing audiences with her performance as Maggie — and her especially high belting on "At the Ballet" — the triple-threat was offered the chance to step into another award-winning musical, The Drowsy Chaperone at the Marquis Theatre. Davi, who was also seen in the City Center Encores! production of Of Thee I Sing, is now playing Drowsy's Janet Van De Graaff, the young starlet who must choose between love and her show-business career. Davi, who boasts a rangy, crystal-clear belt, is equally impressive in her latest role, dazzling in the show-stopping "Show Off" and proving herself a splendid comedic actress. In fact, the entire Drowsy experience, infinitely funny and surprisingly touching, remains as wonderful as ever. Tony winner Beth Leavel and Tony nominee Danny Burstein, who created the roles of, respectively, the Drowsy Chaperone and Aldolpho, remain standouts. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with the charming Davi, who spoke about her two Broadway roles; that interview follows.

Question: Before we get to Drowsy Chaperone, I wanted to go back to A Chorus Line. Tell me about the audition process for that show. I know there's going to be a documentary, but what was the experience like for you?
Davi: Well, I was one of the lucky ones — even though it was still intense. A lot of my friends have their stories about auditioning nine or six months before they got the call. I had been out of town doing White Christmas, so I didn't come in until the very end [of the audition process]. Actually, before I did White Christmas my agent said to me, "I don't know how much I can do for you because you're not living in New York yet, but how would you feel about auditioning for Maggie in A Chorus Line?" I said, "That would be amazing. That's a role I've always wanted to play." And so she said, "Okay, that's the one thing I'll submit you for." So when I came back from doing White Christmas, it was January, and I went to an invited call. There were 16 or 18 girls there that were all very similar to me, all there for Maggies and Bebes. It was really intense.

The documentary cameras were right on top of us the whole time, and we had to dance the jazz and ballet combination two at a time. When we were told whether to stay or leave, the cameras were right in our faces. And, fortunately, I got to stay and sing and read that day. I was told that six days later I would be coming to the final callback. I really didn't have that much time to waste. However, in that short amount of time, I got a note from Binder Casting saying, "If you don't get your leaps in the air and your turns sharper, you're going to be cut right away." So, it was the most frantic five days of my life, going to dance coaching and taking more dance classes and renting out a space every day to practice these routines and just get them up to par. That actual day was very nerve-racking because I had no idea if, at one point, my leap wouldn't be high enough and they would send me out the door. But they didn't, so I got to stay and sing that day on the stage of the Broadhurst. And then the next day, which was the day before I was leaving to fly back to California, I got the call from my agent to come into her office, and she told me in person that I was going to be in my first Broadway show.

Mara Davi in A Chorus Line.
photo by Paul Kolnik

Question: What was your reaction?
Davi: My reaction was shock and excitement followed immediately by, "I have a lot of work to do!" [Laughs.] That's usually my reaction. The excitement comes later, once the work has gotten underway and I'm able to relax and enjoy the fruits of the labor. Early on I'm just thinking, "Okay, it's time to start working. It's time to go to class; it's time to work on everything." But I was thrilled that night. I called my mom first, of course, followed directly by my boyfriend, who is now my fiancé. And then I proceeded to walk down Broadway and do a couple of bell kicks as I went down the street. I finally felt like I was part of the city, so I did a little dancing down Broadway. Question: Was A Chorus Line an influential show for you as a young performer?
Davi: It really was. Growing up I listened to the [cast recording] all the time. A Chorus Line and 42nd Street — those two things together were Broadway to me. When I imagined coming to New York, I imagined that world. It was either the world of the 1930s, rehearsing for a show in the chorus, or it was that world of the 1970s, really raw and honest and just kick-your-butt hard. That's still what I picture. There are times when I'm in the city, and I catch a glimpse of that world I imagined, and it fills me with excitement that I'm actually here. Maggie, especially, that was the part that I always wanted to play. Rachel de Benedet was one of my idols growing up... We were doing a regional theatre [production] in Colorado, and I was singing backstage. And, before she politely told me to be quiet, she said, "You know, you should really play Maggie in A Chorus Line someday." So that put the bug in my ear, especially coming from her. Since that point, the role [is the one] I've always wanted to play in that show. Question: How did making your Broadway debut live up to your expectations of what it might be?
Davi: We really got the royal treatment with A Chorus Line. I think there is probably no better way to debut in a Broadway show. Our experience as a group was incredible — with our preparation up to that point, working with Bob Avian and Baayork Lee. We all had become such a family. To experience the opening that we did, the reception that we received from our fellow performers who were in the audience on the gypsy run and on opening night [and] to meet the original members of A Chorus Line was just so special. At the time it was exciting, but looking back now, I can just see what a unique opportunity that was and appreciate it even more.

Question: Did you get to talk to the original Maggie?
Davi: I did not get to talk to Kay Cole. She has been in Los Angeles the whole time. She's always busy working, but I did get to meet Kelly Bishop, who I adore from watching "The Gilmore Girls" as much as from growing up with A Chorus Line. She had some very, very kind things to say, gave me a big hug, and took a picture with me. I was a little starstruck. It was quite incredible! [Laughs.]

Question: Was it a difficult decision to decide to leave to do Drowsy?
Davi: Yes and no. At first we were talking about my leaving the show early, and that I just could not have done. I had made a commitment not only to the show, but also to my cast to stay the entire time [of my contract], and I wanted to finish that year out. But by the end of the year, I was ready for a new creative challenge and especially something like Drowsy, which really is my genre. It's where I feel most at home — it's what I grew up with more than anything else, and I really wanted the challenge that this show had to offer. . . . Fortunately, A Chorus Line will always be around on Broadway or regionally, [and] it's certainly something that I hope to do again.

Question: How did the Drowsy offer come about?
Davi: It was so very cool! I actually auditioned for it two years ago when they were first auditioning. I was fresh out of my non-Equity tour of 42nd Street, so it was really my first chance to audition for a Broadway show, and it was incredible. I met [director-choreographer] Casey Nicholaw. He was so nice, and the audition went very well, but then, two weeks later, I heard that Sutton [Foster] got it, and I said, "That is totally okay by me!" Sutton Foster, she is one of my idols. Come to this past January, I get a call from my agent saying, "They want you to come in and audition to be Sutton's replacement. They remember you from two years ago." I couldn't believe that that actually does happen — that casting directors do remember you. I went in and had a private session with Casey, and we just had a blast. I went through the material, which I love so much. I sang "Show Off," and we just laughed and had a good time. He was so kind, and [musical director] Phil Reno was there, and he was so fun, too. . . . I just left feeling really good and got a call a few weeks later saying, "Let's work this out. Let's figure out how it will work out with A Chorus Line." That was very thrilling; however, then we had to figure out the details, so there was a good month where I didn't know if it would actually work out. But they said they'd wait for me to be done with A Chorus Line, and I'm so grateful that they stuck it out so that I could do it now.

Mara Davi in The Drowsy Chaperone.
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: What was the rehearsal process like for Drowsy — sometimes when you replace someone in a show, you don't get that much time.
Davi: It's true, and I've never replaced before, so I didn't know how prepared I would be come opening night. I had about 12 rehearsals spread out across three weeks, and I also had been practicing my tricks beforehand — backstage at A Chorus Line and at Chelsea Piers, working on gymnastics and baton twirling and rope spinning. I tried juggling, but that didn't work out. So just the twelve days of rehearsal, but fortunately when it's spread out, there isn't that much material to go over. It was more about finding the character in my own body than it was the actual scene work, which isn't that much. I got to work with Beth Leavel and Troy [Britton Johnson] the final week before I opened. I had one put-in rehearsal with the cast on the Friday before I opened on Tuesday, and that was it. I had the whole weekend to be like, "Am I really opening in this show on Tuesday?" Three days of nothing, so I just practiced at home and kept it in my mind. Opening night was just a whirlwind. I thought it ended up going so well with just adrenaline pushing you through. It was very exciting. Question: How would you describe the character of Janet?
Davi: Janet is a dramatic, gorgeous starlet who is so conflicted about her life. [She's] trying to decide between staying on the stage, which she loves — she loves the spotlight, whether she wants to admit it or not — and her love of Robert Martin. This role is a very special one in that I'm not only Janet Van De Graaff, but I play Jane Roberts as well. That's where the challenge comes in. Jane Roberts is also a starlet on the stage, the Oops Girl, and so this is really her first Broadway appearance — at least in my story — and she looks up to Beatrice Stockwell so much and is not competing with her but trying to respectfully give her her space but at the same time make her mark on the Broadway stage. So, we have Jane Roberts making her way through the show and also playing the role of Janet Van De Graaff at the same time.

Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show?
Davi: It changes all the time. I'm such a huge fan of the show that I still feel like an audience member listening to it backstage and cracking up. But as far my track in the show is concerned, right now my favorite moment is the end of "The Monkey Song" when I get to ride down on the elevator in this beautiful lavender robe. When I saw the show, I thought, "That is a starring moment!" Then to get to do that every night — oh, it feels so good! [Laughs.]

Question: What do you think is the message of Drowsy or what does it mean to you?
Davi: Personally to me, I think it is so poignant about the theatre particularly and what it can do for anyone who loves it — how it can carry them away, how it can involve you and make you laugh and make you cry. And, as the Man in Chair says that the show Drowsy Chaperone does it for him, I believe that this show does that for the audience as well. There are so many different genres of theatre. There are these movies turned into musicals, there's the dramatic Sweeney Todd stuff, and this one is just a good old-fashioned comedy that just carries you away, and you can't help but laugh and cry at it. Of course, this show is universal as well. I believe it's been said before that Drowsy appeals to anyone who is passionate about anything and how that passion can carry them out of anytime they're feeling blue. But I really feel that it is a gift to the theatre community about theatre itself.

Mara Davi "shows off" in The Drowsy Chaperone.
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: What do you think happens to Janet afterwards? Do you think she really gives up show business?
Davi: [Laughs.] I haven't thought about that! I feel like she gives up show business, but I don't think Janet can ever really get out of the spotlight. I would imagine she becomes the head of any society function, that she's the president of any charity banquet or foundation. I think that in her new society with Robert, she still takes the lead and is always the most fashionable.

Question: How do you find the physical demands of Drowsy versus A Chorus Line?
Davi: It is quite a break, actually. It's surprising to me. I thought it would be just as demanding, and truly the numbers — especially "Show Off" — are demanding and do keep you in good shape, and vocally it is demanding. However, [having] the opportunity to go offstage and take a break and let it all loose for a minute and get a sip of water makes a huge difference. A Chorus Line isn't exhausting because of the dancing — it's exhausting because you are onstage the entire time. I didn't realize that so much until I was put into this show, and those little breaks have become gifts from God. [Laughs.]

Question: Going back a little bit, where were you born and raised?
Davi: I was born in California, raised in Colorado for 14 years, and then brought back to Northern California for high school and Fullerton for college.

Question: When did you start performing?
Davi: I've been dancing since I was three, and I did my first show when I was ten. I was in Annie.

Question: Who did you play in Annie?
Davi: I was Duffy.

Question: Who were some of the performers that influenced you growing up?
Davi: Julie Andrews is my idol. I think she's beautiful. I also loved Bernadette Peters growing up, and then most recently, ever since Millie, Sutton Foster has been my idol. Question: Have you gotten to meet her?
Davi: I've met her only once, but I hope to spend more time with her in the future.

Question: When did you know that this would be your career? When did it change from a hobby to something you knew you would spend your life doing?
Davi: I feel like I've known it my whole life. Really, truly. There was a point in my childhood where I wanted to be a movie star, until I realized that musicals like the ones I knew from the movies were only done on the stage. Since that point the stage is what I've wanted to do. I started doing work at the local Equity theatre when I was 11 years old. It's always been, in my mind, a career.

Question: Was your family supportive?
Davi: They really were. I think it was a surprise to them because both my sister and I ended up falling in love with theatre, and it's not something that my parents did or my grandparents, but we've all been finding our way together and learning the ropes together, and they are behind us a hundred percent.

Question: Is your sister also in New York?
Davi: She's in Hong Kong right now working at Hong Kong Disneyland, but she does have a bedroom at our apartment waiting for her when she gets back into town.

Question: What's your sister's name?
Davi: Melody.

Question: Do you have any other projects in the works at the moment?
Davi: Just focusing on Drowsy and talking with my managers about the future — looking forward with excitement. [I'm] hoping to do some more cabaret as well. I did one at Ars Nova in April, and it was really a great learning experience and really life-changing actually, so I'd love to do more of that.

Question: What was it like performing in such an intimate space versus a big theatre?
Davi: It was really incredible to have a chance to go up there and just be me, [to] share myself and the songs that I love to sing. It really changed what I do onstage here every night. Climbing that mountain, knowing that I could do that and nakedly be myself up there for an hour and 15 minutes, made coming into this not seem like such a huge mountain to climb.

Question: What type of songs did you perform at Ars Nova?
Davi: It was a whole mix — musical theatre medleys and a lot of jazz. I love jazz, and it was my first time to really perform that, and then some rock songs. [I sang] an original rock song by Alisan Porter, who was Bebe in A Chorus Line.

Question: How long will you stay with Drowsy?
Davi: My contract is for a year, so that's what I know for right now.

[ The Drowsy Chaperone plays the Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway. Call (212) 307-4100 for tickets or visit www.ticketmaster.com]

DIVA TIDBITS
Two-time Tony Award winner Bernadette Peters, who will reunite with Gypsy co-star John Dossett for a Sept. 24 benefit reading of Love Letters, will offer concerts in several cities throughout the U.S. in 2008. Tour dates currently announced include Jan. 11 and 12, 2008, at the Myerson Symphony Center in Dallas, TX; Feb. 2 at the Staller Center for the Arts in Stony Brook, NY; Feb. 8 and 9 at the McCallum Theatre for the Performing Arts in Palm Desert, CA; Feb. 17 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, CA; March 8 at the Carnival Center/Knight Concert Hall in Miami, FL; March 15 at the Providence Performing Arts Center in Providence, RI; April 12 at the Cowan Performing Arts Center in Tyler, TX; April 15 at the DeVos Performance Hall in Grand Rapids, MI; April 26 at the Hilbert Circle Theatre in Indianapolis, IN; and July 26 at the Northern Quest Casino in Spokane, WA.

Complete casting has been announced for the 40th anniversary concerts of Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, which will play the Delacorte Theater in Central Park Sept. 22-24 at 7 PM. Diane Paulus will direct the three-night event, which will feature Spring Awakening's Jonathan Groff as Claude with Ato Blankson-Wood (Tribe), Steel Burkhardt (Tribe), Allison Case (Crissy), Lauren Elder (Tribe), Allison Guinn (Tribe), Anthony Hollock (Tribe), Kaitlin Kiyan (Tribe), Andrew Kober (Father/Margaret Mead), Megan Lawrence (Mother), Nicole Lewis (White Boys Trio/Tribe), Patina Miller (Dionne), John Moauro (Tribe), Darius Nichols (Hud), Karen Olivo (Sheila), Brandon Pearson (Tribe), Alisan Porter (Black Boys Trio/Tribe), Megan Reinking (Black Boys Trio/Tribe), Paris Remillard (Tribe), Bryce Ryness (Woof), Saycon Sengbloh (White Boys Trio/Tribe), Maya Sharpe (Tribe), Kacie Sheik (Jeanie), Theo Stockman (Tribe), Will Swenson (Berger) and Tommar Wilson (Tribe). The free concerts will feature a full orchestra. Hair co-creator Galt MacDermot will play keyboards, and Hair alumni will join the cast onstage. Tickets are free and will be available on the day of the performance (two per person) at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park beginning at 1 PM and at The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street (near Astor Place), from 1-3 PM. A limited number of supporter seats can be reserved for a tax-deductible donation of $250 or $500. These seats are available at the box office or by calling (212) 260-2400. For additional information call (212) 539-8750 or visit www.publictheater.org.

MTV will broadcast Legally Blonde — The Musical, which stars the Tony-nominated Laura Bell Bundy, Sept. 29 at 1 PM ET. The program will feature the broadcast of the entire musical as well as a behind-the-scenes look at the musical, which currently plays the Palace Theatre. The musical will subsequently air several times on the cable network.

Andrea Burns, who was recently seen in the Broadway-bound musical In the Heights at Off-Broadway's 37 Arts, will perform in concert at Joe's Pub later this fall. Burns' Nov. 5 concert will celebrate the release of her debut solo recording, "A Deeper Shade of Red," which is due on the PS Classics label in early November. The recording marries two of Burns' inspirations: musical theatre tunes and songs penned by women singer-songwriters of the 1970's. The singing actress' Joe's Pub concert, according to press notes, will also feature "hilarious stories from her childhood . . . tales of being raised in a Latin-Jewish household, the humiliations of motherhood, and other growing pains." Show time is 9:30 PM. Joe's Pub is located within the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. There is a $25 cover and a two-drink minimum. Call (212) 967-7555 or visit www.joespub.com.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.