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Marin Mazzie - 54 Below

Marin Mazzie returns to 54 Below.

54 Below Headliner Marin Mazzie on Ragtime, Passion and the Show That 'Scared the Hell' Out of Her

54 Below Headliner Marin Mazzie on Ragtime, Passion and the Show That 'Scared the Hell' Out of Her
Marin Mazzie
Marin Mazzie on her three Tony-nominated roles, dysfunctional moms and more.

Marin Mazzie’s musical star turns have run the gamut from screwball comedy in Kiss Me, Kate and Spamalot to the riveting dysfunctional moms she played in Next to Normal and Carrie. “That’s why my show at 54 Below is going to be fun,” Mazzie says of her September 4-8 stint at the popular new theater district cabaret. “After Carrie, I said, ‘I want to laugh!’” With an array of possible Role Call choices, the three-time Tony nominee honed in on two Sondheim shows, Kate and three mothers (two troubled, one triumphant).

Role That Was My Big Break
“A defining role for me was Beth in Merrily We Roll Along at the La Jolla Playhouse in 1985, the first production outside New York. It was a fantastic cast—John Rubinstein (Franklin), Chip Zien (Charley) and Heather McRae (Mary)—and just a magical time working on a show we all fell madly in love with. Steve Sondheim and James Lapine and George Furth treated it as a brand new production, and they were there every day, working to make everything about the show more clear. It’s a fantastic score, and I got to sing ‘Not a Day Goes By.’ I was very young and couldn’t quite believe I was working with people I had idolized, and it also got me my first Broadway show, when [La Jolla artistic director] Des McAnuff later put me into Big River. I still look back at Merrily as one of the best experiences of my career.”

Role With the Best Costumes
“I’ve worn a lot of beautiful costumes, but I’m going to single out Kiss Me, Kate [1999, as Lilli Vanessi and Katharine; Best Actress Tony nomination] because we just lost Marty Pakledinaz [who died on July 8]. What was great about that show was the fact that we got to do two periods. It took place in the late 1940s, so my first entrance was in a Dior “New Look” jacket and skirt, with a hat and sunglasses—it was like, ‘Wow, that’s who this person is.’ When we switched to the world of Shakespeare, I had a wonderful bodice and skirt for ‘I Hate Men’ and a green brocade Renaissance dress that gets tattered as the play goes on. I also had a blue gray dress for when I say good-bye to Fred and the most stunning red dress anyone has ever worn. Marty was just a gift to actors. I loved him deeply, and I still can’t believe he is gone.”

Role Fans Ask Me About Most
“People still ask me about Ragtime [1998, as Mother; Best Actress Tony nomination], which is great because I loved that character so much. Mother was presented with a problem—finding Sarah and Coalhouse’s baby in the ground—and she did the only thing she felt she could do, which was take the baby in. That was quite a statement in 1907. I think she had the biggest journey in the show: She started out on that hill [in New Rochelle] in that white dress, thinking everything was fine, and then something happened that changed her life. I loved her strength and her sense of purpose and her determination to do the right thing. I still get passionate thinking about it—that one person can make a difference in the world.”

Role I Wish More People Saw
“I wish that Carrie [2011, as Margaret White] had been able to have more of a life because I really feel the show has meaning for young people today. It was about bullying, abuse, religious zealotry—all these issues that are still pounding us. Margaret could also fall under the category of the role I am least like. We’re both passionate and have strong beliefs, but hers just happen to be totally the opposite of mine! I did a lot of research about religious zealots, and it’s so foreign to me. Also, having to stab my daughter on stage every night was horrifying. There were times when I actually thought I had stabbed Molly [Ranson, as Carrie], and it scared the hell out of me.”

Role That Fulfilled a Dream
Passion [1994, as Clara; Best Featured Actress Tony nomination] was the first role I originated, and one of the most exciting experiences of my life. I will always be able to say that I originated a role in a Stephen Sondheim musical, and that means a lot. Some might look at Clara as just a shallow, beautiful woman, but she wasn’t: She was stuck in a time, 1865, when a married woman of a certain station couldn’t leave her husband. During the workshop, Steve and James Lapine wrote many different versions of the scene in which Clara asks Giorgio to wait for her until her child grows up. They wanted to make it a true love triangle with Fosca; Giorgio was truly torn. It was just a wonderful collaboration on a role developed for me.”

Role That Was the Most Challenging
“Diana in Next to Normal [2010] was really challenging to live with. I would wake up feeling incredibly sad, and it was hard to shake that feeling for the whole six months I did the show. I walked around every day looking at the world through her eyes, which helped me understand what mental illness does to people. I felt a big responsibility in that show—I knew how important it was to people who came, because it made them feel their voices were being heard. I can’t imagine having done Next to Normal with anyone other than Jason [Danieley, Mazzie’s husband in real life and in the show]. I felt so blessed to be up there with him because I had to go to the darkest places. He knows me better than anybody, so I could open those floodgates and he was ready for it.”

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