DIVA TALK: Chatting with Marin Mazzie, "The Playbill Broadway Yearbook" and Casting Evita

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Chatting with Marin Mazzie, "The Playbill Broadway Yearbook" and Casting Evita
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Marin Mazzie
Marin Mazzie Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Marin Mazzie is three for three; that is, for the three roles she has created on Broadway — Clara in Passion, Mother in Ragtime and Lilli/Katharine in the revival of Kiss Me, Kate — she has been rewarded with a Tony Award nomination for each. As wonderful as she was in the Sondheim and Porter musicals, it was her performance in Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens' Ragtime that lingers most in my memory. Although many in the cast were dazzling, it was Mazzie’s portrayal of Mother that was the driving force of that epic musical. Not only was Mazzie in gorgeous voice — she poured out soft and gentle tones one moment and big and soaring ones the next — but she managed to be touching in every scene she played. And, her second-act show-stopper, "Back to Before," was simply thrilling.

In addition to her theatre work, Mazzie has also created an acclaimed concert evening with husband Jason Danieley, whose Broadway credits include the revival of Candide and, more recently, The Full Monty. Originally presented at the American Songbook series at Lincoln Center, Mazzie and Danieley recently recorded their act, Opposite You, which will be released on the PS Classics label in January 2006. The duo will also be bringing the show to several venues around the country this year.

Now, Mazzie is ready to tackle her latest theatrical role, Lily Garland in the upcoming Actors' Fund of America benefit concert of On the Twentieth Century. The star-studded cast of the Sept. 26 concert at the New Amsterdam Theatre will also boast Douglas Sills as Oscar Jaffe, Christopher Sieber as Bruce Granit, Brad Oscar as Oliver Webb, Brooks Ashmanskas as Owen O'Malley and Jo Anne Worley as Letitia Primrose.

I recently had the chance to chat with the multi-talented Mazzie, who spoke about her theatrical work, her concert act and the upcoming Actors' Fund of America benefit.

Question: How did you become involved in this year's Actors' Fund concert?
Marin Mazzie: They called me up and asked me to do it. [Laughs.] Q: Have you ever worked with Seth Rudetsky, who is the concert's musical director, before?
Mazzie: I haven't worked [with him], but I've known him for so long. When I was on Rosie [O'Donnell's talk] show — Ragtime and all those years — he was still [working] there. I have been on his Chatterbox a couple times. [Laughs.]

Q: Have you ever been in a production of On the Twentieth Century before?
Mazzie: On the Twentieth Century was the very first show I did in summer stock, my very first professional show. I wasn't Equity yet — I was an apprentice . . . I played Imelda, the woman who comes in at the beginning and can't sing, and then I was in the chorus. It was actually myself and Jonathan Larson — this is where I knew Jonathan from, the Barn Theatre in Augusta, Michigan. It was the first professional show for both of us.

Q: Are you L.A.-based now?
Mazzie: I'm sort of both [L.A. and New York based]. I've been out here a lot in the last few years [for] pilot season, and I've been doing some sitcom work. I'm trying to really be out here. It's been something that I've wanted to do.

Q: You've been on "Jake in Progress" and "Still Standing." Do you enjoy that medium?
Mazzie: I do. It's very different. Especially sitcom work is a lot easier than doing eight shows a week [on Broadway]. But part of the reason I wanted to transition into television is, honestly, to have more of a life, to have more of my life and my husband's life, although he's in New York right now. It's crazy, the actor's life. Also, just the timing, there hasn't been anything on Broadway that I've wanted to do — there hasn't been a role that's really enticed me to come back [and say], "Yeah, I'll give a year of my life and eight shows a week," because it's really a huge commitment. It does take up your life. There just hasn't been a role that I've felt I've wanted to spend that much time with.

Q: I think, especially if you're a singing actor, working on Broadway is even harder because you have to be so concerned about your voice.
Mazzie: Oh, completely, your whole day is about having to sing the notes at night. I'm not a paranoid person, but the reality of it is, yes, you have to be able to sing the songs at night. You have to do some resting and lots of water and only talking on the phone so much. That thing of maintaining for a long period of time, the month after month after month. And getting sick — once one person gets sick in the theatre, everybody gets sick — and the whole nightmare of that.

Q: And now, with the internet, it's even worse, because then everyone writes about who's out of the show.
Mazzie: Oh, I know. People get sick — it kills me. People get sick, it happens. I've been there, we've all been there. When you can't sing, you can't sing, and there isn't a lot you can do about it. Everybody's human. It's like a sports injury — when a football or baseball player pulls a hamstring, they can't run. They can't be in their "baseball show" that night. [Laughs.]

Q: With these benefits, I'm always impressed by actors who learn a whole show for one night. Did that go into your decision as to whether or not to take this role?
Mazzie: I love this role. To me, it was just so great to sink my teeth into it even for two weeks of rehearsal. I love doing the stage. I love being onstage. So, having the opportunity to play it even for one night — it makes it very exciting. One shot, and that's it! [Laughs.] It's sort of daunting, but it's also a huge challenge.

Q: Have you seen any of the other benefits the Actors' Fund has presented?
Mazzie: I had seen the Funny Girl [concert] because my husband was in it, which was so great and really fun . . . It is special because it's only one performance.

Q: This summer you performed in a lot of the Stephen Sondheim birthday tributes. What does his music mean to you, and what were those experiences like?
Mazzie: His music — it's just of the soul. It's just such a huge part of my career, and I've always felt very blessed to have been associated with him and to have been able to originate [a role] in one of his shows. So, being able to pay tribute to him is always a wonderful honor. In the Hollywood Bowl one that we did, I got to sing all songs I had never sung. I sang "In Buddy's Eyes," which I absolutely love; "There's Always a Woman" from Anyone Can Whistle, really fun; and then I sang with Carol Burnett and Eric McCormack — she did "Not Getting Married." That was great — fun to do stuff that you haven't done before. . . .That night was very special, with a wonderful, wonderful group of people. One great thing after another, and the support around the whole event — everybody being there for Steve — and for what it ended up being, a benefit for ASCAP and this whole program that they started for kids. And, the night ended with 300 kids singing "Our Time" outside under the stars. It was really pretty emotional, I have to say.

Q: I think my favorite performance of yours was as Mother in Ragtime.
Mazzie: I think that's probably my favorite when I think about it. That character meant so much to me — she still does. Just someone that I admire, and I loved playing her and being her.

Q: And, you were involved in Ragtime from the beginning.
Mazzie: Yeah, basically the beginning. It was a big journey in many ways — up and down! [Laughs.] Through a year in Toronto, which was really hard, and an L.A. company opening before we opened in New York. Then, opening in New York and having what happened to Livent. It was a lot, but the show is just one of the most brilliant shows written, and I can't tell you how many people talk to me about Ragtime. It's touched so many people's lives and still does, and so I feel very proud to have been a part of it.

Q: One of your other big roles was as Lilli/Katharine in Kiss Me, Kate. You did the show here and in London. What was the London experience like?
Mazzie: The London experience was, unfortunately, tainted by 9/11. September 11 was our second day of rehearsal. But I have to say it was also an amazing time to be there because I felt so supported by that country and by people who had — now they've been through the bombings recently — [experienced] not only the IRA but World War II [and] the Blitz. There was just unending support . I would get in a cab — people would know you're American the minute you open your mouth — [and they] would talk to you, ask you how you were, and ask anything about what was going on. So, it was a hard time to be away — because Jason was doing The Full Monty on Broadway — but we also felt very embraced by the city and by the people.

There was one article that was written at the time, talking about when Oklahoma! came over from America, the healing that helped during World War II, and Kiss Me, Kate kind of being a healer for even the country that hadn't suffered 9/11. But there we were still bringing our music and our art form to them. I thought that was a special thing that someone wrote.

Q: You also have a concert act that you do with your husband. . .
Mazzie: We actually just recorded our album, which is coming out in January on PS Classics.

Q: Tell me about the genesis of the concert act.
Mazzie: The concert started when the American Songbook series asked us to put together a duets concert for an evening there. It was certainly something we had been talking about doing, but because we had both been working so much we hadn't had the time to stop and throw an act together. So, then Ira Weitzman approached us about doing it, and we said yes, so then we had to do it! We got together with David Loud, who's our music director and vocal arranger extraordinaire, and just started brainstorming on what we wanted it to be. It evolved into what it is now — the album is called "Opposite You," which is the title song, a Lynn Ahrens-Steve Flaherty song. It's the first time it's ever been recorded. . . . The duets part has remained the same, but we've added solos. We've done it around the country and had to expand it. What didn't get on the album, which is one of my favorite things in the act, is the opening number, which is a ten-minute segment of every duet you think we're going to sing. It's a great arrangement that David did of so many famous duets — from "Almost Like Being in Love" to "People Will Say We're in Love." We couldn't do it [on the CD] because it's not necessarily something to listen to, it's more something to watch. It wouldn't have translated to just a listening [experience].

Q: What's it like performing onstage with someone you're married to?
Mazzie: It's so great. Last year we got to do two shows together out here [in California]. We did 110 in the Shade at Pasadena Playhouse and Brigadoon at Reprise!, and that was the first time we'd ever played opposite each other since we met. It's really great because it's the person that you know the best and trust the most. We also really know how each other works. Obviously, there's no sort of figuring out how to work with somebody. I can basically say anything to him. [Laughs.] "I don't like the way you're doing that" to "I love that you're doing that." It can run the gamut, which is very comfortable. And, doing the concert has been a great thing for us because it's given us an opportunity to travel around together, travel to a lot of places that we love and perform and be together.

Q: What's it like performing somewhere where you might not be as well known as you are in New York?
Mazzie: I don't really think about it. The audiences are always so wonderful and responsive. And, I think, whether they know you or don't, once you open your mouth, they're excited you're there. We always try and have a great program for wherever we are. I also sometimes find it surprising places that we go where there are people that do know who we are and have seen shows. That's where I experience people that have seen Ragtime or listened to it or been touched by it. That's what I always find amazing and encouraging about theatre — that we're still reaching out to other parts of the country.

Q: Were you able to see any Broadway theatre this season?
Mazzie: I saw Pillowman, which I loved. What a wacky, freaky play. He writes such great things. Light in the Piazza — love, love, love. Spamalot — had tons of fun. Those are the only ones I crammed in. I'm going to hopefully try to see some things when I come back.

Q: Do you have any other projects in the works?
Mazzie: I have a bunch of concerts coming up in the fall and probably some more TV appearances.

[Tickets for On the Twentieth Century are priced $75-$2,500 and are available by calling (212) 221-7300, ext. 133 or by e-mailing ccooke@actorsfund.org. For more information visit www.actorsfund.org.]

Because I had nothing whatsoever to do with either the concept or execution of the first annual "Playbill Broadway Yearbook," I can say this: it's terrifically impressive. I hadn't realized how comprehensive the tome would be. In its 400 pages, the book chronicles every show that played on Broadway during the 2004-2005 season. There are hundreds upon hundreds of photos — not only headshots of all the actors appearing in each show, but beautiful color production photos, backstage photos, photos of the crew and front-of house staff, photos from opening night and anniversary parties as well as photos from such yearly events as the Gypsy of the Year Competition, the Broadway on Broadway concert, Broadway Bears and Broadway Bares. What I found most enjoyable, however, is the "Correspondent" section, where one person from each show served as a correspondent for the "Yearbook," offering inside information about his or her fellow cast members. Correspondents wrote about opening-night memories and gifts, celebrity visitors, backstage rituals, favorite moments in the show, off-site hangouts, memorable ad-libs, cell phone rings, fan encounters and more. Those who served as correspondents included company managers, wardrobe supervisors and other backstage personnel, but the majority of writers were cast members, including Melissa Errico (for Dracula), Denis O'Hare (for Assassins), Capathia Jenkins (for Caroline, or Change), David Burnham (for The Light in the Piazza) and Maureen McGovern (for Little Women), to name but a few. Here's just a sampling of some of the writings of the correspondents:

Rent's Karmine Alers writes in the "Tales from the Put-in" section: "Erica Munoz was going on for Mimi and had a series of disasters. During her rehearsal with Norbert Leo Butz, the candle set her hair on fire. Then, in the same scene, she brought her head up suddenly and cracked Norbert's tooth. Then, that night, in the performance, when she was coming out of the door to do 'Out Tonight,' she fell over the bar and nearly fell to the stage. She had to hang on and then climb back up onto the platform. This all happened in a single day."

Little Women's Maureen McGovern writes in the "Memorable ad libs" section: "I have been known to render an unusual line or lyric on occasion. We've come to call these 'Marmeeisms.' After learning several versions of 'Here Alone,' one night, instead of singing 'Counting days/praying for news,' out of my mouth came 'praying for rain.' Don't ask me why. Poltergeists, I assume! As I left the stage, some of the crew were doing a rain dance!"

Dame Edna's Gorgeous Ednaette Teri DiGianfelice writes in the "Record Number of Cell Phone Rings" section: "Only two, but Edna confiscates the phone and talks to whoever is calling. Also, if Edna sees someone rummaging through their purse during the show, she will take it and try to find out what was so interesting in there."

Dracula's Melissa Errico writes in the "Accidents" section: "Once, during tech, the automation of my desk was accidentally set to go nine times as far in the same amount of time. In other words, I suddenly was on a set piece that was going 50 mph. I flew off and so did the furniture. I lightened the moment and said to the crew, 'Ah, crazy woman driver!'"

It is truly an amazing keepsake — you will not be disappointed. For more information or to purchase a copy of "The Playbill Broadway Yearbook," visit Click here.

Evita was the show that began my life-long obsession with the musical theatre and its leading ladies, so the prospect of an entirely new production — announced for London in 2006 with direction by Michael Grandage — is extremely exciting. Two names have already been mentioned in the London papers; reportedly, the creative team is interested in Tony Award winner Idina Menzel or Madonna — who starred in the "Evita" film — for the title role, which was created on record by Julie Covington, in the West End by Elaine Paige and on Broadway by Patti LuPone. There are many women who I think would be wonderful in the role, but if I were casting, I'd give special attention to Eden Espinosa and Alice Ripley. Although she wasn't shown to greatest advantage in the recent musical Brooklyn, I became an admirer of Espinosa when I heard her sing two songs at Joe's Pub: "Get Here" and "Meadowlark"; she also thoroughly impressed when I saw her go on as Elphaba in the Broadway company of Wicked. And, then there's Ripley, who could probably deliver the score as excitingly as anyone out there. If her "Rainbow High" — which she sang at a Broadway Chatterbox event a few years ago — is any indication, Ripley would make a phenomenal Eva. Those are my thoughts — e-mail me yours.

Jekyll & Hyde's Christiane Noll will make her operatic debut in September with Washington, D.C.'s National Opera. Noll will be part of an evening titled Trilogy, which features three acts of three famed operas: Act II of Umberto Giordano's Fedora, Act IV of Giuseppe Verdi's Otello and Act III of Franz Lehár's The Merry Widow. Noll will play Valencienne in The Merry Widow opposite the Danilo of Plácido Domingo. The cast will also feature Leslie Mutchler as Hanna and Corey Evan Rotz as Njegus. Heinz Fricke will conduct the orchestra. The Merry Widow will be performed in English with English supertitles. Trilogy will be presented Sept. 24 at 7 PM, Sept. 27 and 30 at 7:30 PM, Oct. 2 at 2 PM, Oct. 6 at 7:30 PM and Oct. 9 at 2 PM. Washington National Opera performs at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. For more information visit www.dc-opera.org.

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

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