PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Marin Mazzie and Brian Stokes Mitchell

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Marin Mazzie and Brian Stokes Mitchell
They may not have the decades-long track record of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne—an acting couple they indirectly parodied in the recent revival of Kiss Me, Kate. But they are the most enduring artistic marriage currently gracing the Broadway musical theatre.
Marin Mazzie and Brian Stokes Mitchell in Kiss Me, Kate
Marin Mazzie and Brian Stokes Mitchell in Kiss Me, Kate Photo by Joan Marcus

Brian Stoke Mitchell and Marin Mazzie first shared a stage at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in the towering epic Ragtime (which they also played in Toronto, prior-to-Broadway). She was Mother and he was Coalhouse Walker, Jr. Their characters didn't share much time in the story. That changed with Kiss Me, Kate, where they played the sometimes feuding, sometimes loving actors Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi at the Martin Beck Theatre. Mitchell began his run in Broadway's Man of La Mancha at the former Martin Beck—now renamed the Al Hirschfeld Theatre—with a different co-star: Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. But when Mastrantonio left the show, the first call made was to Mazzie. The pair met with Playbill On-Line in Mazzie's dressing room before a recent performance.

Playbill On-Line: Marin, do you have any history with the part of Aldonza?
Marin Mazzie: No. It was a record that my parents had when I was a kid and I listened to it a lot. The two songs I listened to were "One Pair of Arms" and "The Impossible Dream." I'd put on this blue nightgown of my mother's when I was eight and walk around singing, "One pair of arms is like another..." I did a lot of that sort of thing as a kid. It was my idea of what sexy was, because I figured it was a sexy song.

PBOL: Whose idea was it for you to assume the role of Aldonza?
MM: I don't really know. I guess it was the producers' and Brian Stokes'. They asked if I'd like to do the show and I said "Sure." It had been talked about in the beginning, but I was still doing Kiss Me, Kate in London and I was burned out. I didn't want to come back to eight shows a week. I basically took a year off. This came at the perfect time. I was ready to come back.

PBOL: I have to think that the producers thought the combination of you two on stage might do something at the box office.
BSM: [Laughs] Marin was on an incredibly short list of who I said could do this role in the beginning. Just a handful of people—this was before we knew of Mary Elizabeth [Mastrantonio]. But she was not available. We weren't able to get her then, but I'm glad we were able to get her now. We're back in the same theatre, but it has a different name. And we have different dressing rooms.
MM: We switched dressing rooms.

PBOL: I assume you two must enjoy working together, or otherwise you are both very tolerant of each other.
MM: [Laughs] No, we enjoy it. It's very fun.
BSM: You can look into a performer's eyes on stage and see if they're hooked into you and into the moment. We always seemed to be, ever since Ragtime. Immediately, we hooked in to each other.
MM: That was the first time we met.
BSM: I knew of her, but we had never worked together before. She has a great sense of humor. And she never misses a line. We have a boner award [for on-stage flubs] on this show and we had one in Kiss Me, Kate. Marin never got the boner award. I got many times?
MM: Brian Stokes is very good at it! PBOL: Do you think you two go about the job of acting in a similar way?
MM: I think we have different ways of approaching things, but they meld very well together. Especially when we were doing Kiss Me, Kate, and we were doing a lot of the background work that you do—who Fred and Lili were as human begins. We had such a good time, and it matched up well. [Indicating a framed set of old programs on the wall] Brian Stokes had that made for me on the opening night of Kiss Me, Kate. It's the three shows the Lunts did here at the former Martin Beck Theatre.
BSM: The roles of Fred and Lili were loosely based on the Lunts.
MM: So, we had a lot of Lunt things going on—their spirits in the theatre and all that. We both really believe in that sort of thing.

PBOL: It occurred to me that which each subsequent production you do together, Marin's part becomes more and more raucous. You started out very decorous in Ragtime.
MM: [Laughs] It's getting closer to what I really am!
BSM: Yeah, my parts are getting nicer. What's up with that?
MM: It's all about women having these journeys and people influencing their lives and their making a change. I always love that challenge. That always draws me to someone, whether it's someone from the Victorian era like Mother or someone who's a whore in Spain in the late 1500's.

PBOL: You're both married. Have your spouses ever been jealous of you two spending so much time together?
MM: His spouse is in the show—Allyson [Tucker]. And she was in Ragtime, too.

PBOL: She evidently wants to keep an eye on you.
BSM: Yes, she does! [Laughs] But, no, we both have pretty neat spouses.
MM: We have fun going out, the four of us. And we're trying to do a little of that now.
BSM: Unfortunately, when you're doing eight shows a week, especially roles like this—my wife says I go in my monk mode. You just don't visit friends. You can't go out and eat, you can't drink or party. It really is about the show.
MM: It takes over your entire life.

PBOL: Obviously, you two are skilled at musical theatre. Do you ever talk about what play you might do together?
MM: That would be fun to do.
BSM: We could do one of the Lunts' plays
MM: We'll have to talk about it.

PBOL: I was wondering about Paul Brown's huge metal set on Mancha. Do you ever have problems coming down that long flight of stairs?
MM: This set is dangerous.
BSM: I hold on to that railing. I come in with a bag over my head in my first entrance. Now, it's a two-way bag. I can see through it—not well, but I can see through it OK. So, I have my hands on the railing in case anything happened. You could really get seriously hurt on this set.
MM: When I came in, they said, "In this show, the set wins."

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