The writer/director Stephen Cole felt the performer Mary Martin was fading from people’s consciousness. Her outstanding shows were; “Peter Pan”, “Sound of Music” and “South Pacific”. He decided to work with musical supervisor/arranger David Krane “to re-invent much of her material to give it a new shine”. The cast consists of three women and one man, Cameron Adams, Lynne Halliday, Emily Skinner and Jason Graae. Jason Graae is the dominant narrator.
We get little information about Mary herself. For example, she was living in her native Texas with her husband and child, the adult TV. star Larry Hagman. She left them to pursue a career in Hollywood. We learn nothing more about that dramatic action. To be fair, perhaps a “revue” only needs to highlight bits and pieces of her songs and shows. But I was interested to learn more about her.
The cast all has professional Broadway voices and impressive resumes. I especially remember Emily Skinner on Broadway as one of the very talented leads in “Side Show”. At that time, I thought she could have her own Mary Martin kind of career. But it seems to be a crap shoot as to who makes it and who doesn’t.
Martin saw Ethel Merman on Broadway. She went on to sing these Merman show songs at parties. She then performed them as the lead on the road tour. How did she pull all of that off? She got a special Tony for this out of town work. Later, in 1960 Mary won a Tony for “The Sound Of Music”. She beat out Ethel Merman in “Gypsy”. Merman is quoted as saying: “Mary’s okay, if you like talent”.
There is humor sprinkled throughout the show, but some of it is very dated. The male narrator often portrays a caricature of a gay man. He walks through the audience to the stage wearing butterfly wings. He says: “My contract said I’d have to wear a dress, but not be a fairy!!” He also does a long take off on one of Mary’s TV appearances in which she depicted changes in women’s fashion. It was a broad interpretation, less about Mary and more about a gay charade. I guess this was part of the “re-invention”.
I found some of the re-invention of songs disturbing. Cameron Adams sings the classic upbeat “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair” as a ballad!
The wonderful three-piece band was featured Lawrence Goldbergon piano, Perry Cavari on percussion, and Bob Renino was on bass. The choreographer was Bob Richard. I particularly enjoyed the numbers beautifully danced by Cameron Adams.
But all in all I think, sometimes it’s best not to fix what wasn’t broken.
INVENTING MARY MARTIN – Conceived, Written and Directed by Stephen Cole
WITH: Cameron Adams, Lynne Halliday, Emily Skinner, Jason Graae
Music Supervision and Arrangements by David Krane, Music and Lyrics by legendary songwriters, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein, Vernon Duke & Howard Dietz, Kurt Weill & Ogden Nash, Noёl Coward, Irving Berlin, Jule Styne & Carolyn Leigh, Howard Dietz & Arthur Schwartz, and Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt, among others.
Choreography by Bob Richard.York Theatre at St. Peter’s. 54 Street East of Lexington Avenue – Tickets: $67.50 212 935 5820