Mary Testa
(© David Gordon)
Mary Testa
(© David Gordon)
Broadway veteran Mary Testa has received Tony Award nominations for her work in On the Town and 42nd Street and has appeared on Broadway in Guys and Dolls, Xanadu, Marie Christine, Chicago, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Currently, Testa is starring in the Transport Group's world premiere production of Michael John LaChiusa's new musical Queen of the Mist, in which she plays Anna Edson Taylor, who set out at age 63 to become the first woman to spill over Niagara Falls in a barrel. TheaterMania recently chatted with Testa about creating this iconic role.

THEATERMANIA: When did you first hear about this production?
MARY TESTA: About five years ago, Jack Cummings III, who is Transport Group's artistic director, gave Michael John LaChiusa and me this book to read called Queen of the Mist. I read the book and cried for three days. It was the same with Michael, who also lived near Niagara Falls. It took a while for the whole production to pan out. We did a workshop last year. I love Michael John and his material, and that they created this role for me.

TM: What kind of research went into the role?
MT: I read all about her. I read the book and saw a reenactment, on the computer, of her going over Niagara Falls. I am using my own instincts as well.

TM: How would you describe Anna?
MT: Anna is very much ahead of her time; the show takes place between 1900 and 1920. She is a genius and a loner. She was inept at forging close relationships. People didn't understand her. She had a husband who died and a son who died six days after he was born. And then she became the one woman who outwitted Niagara Falls. She chose this path.

TM: Why did she decide to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel?
MT: She had no money - she ran through everything her mother left her - and she was at the end of her rope. She had nobody to help her and did this out of desperation. It was a way to be infamous and rich, and to go down in history.

TM: What went through her mind after she survived?
MT: She was in shock and had to recuperate in a hotel. She thought things would be great, but they weren't.

TM: What kind of barrel will you have on stage?
MT: Everyone is asking that! We are going to use lights. It's not a real barrel; it's more artistic than that.

TM: What have you learned from this production?
MT: So far, I have learned to trust my instincts and pace myself. I also learned to be a better collaborator than I was to begin with.




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to watch a clip reel from Queen of the Mist