Married couple Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley highlight Lincoln Center's American Songbook series.
Marin Mazzie was most recently seen and heard on Broadway in Kiss Me, Kate, for which she received a Tony Award nomination; she was also Tony-nominated for Passion and Ragtime. Danieley, who sang the part of the Ziegfeld Tenor in the all-star benefit Actors' Fund benefit concert of Funny Girl on September 23, played the title role in the 1997 revival of Candide and was one of the original sextet who went The Full Monty. The couple's fifth wedding anniversary falls this month.
THEATERMANIA: Your American Songbook evening consists almost entirely of duets. How did you choose the program?
JASON DANIELEY: We made a list of all the duets we knew. There are so many to choose from and so many popular ones that people sort of expect to hear. We didn't want to do just those, so we made a list of "expected" and "unexpected" songs.
MARIN MAZZIE: We asked a lot of people their opinions, and there were things that we knew that we wanted to do.
TM: I understand that among the selections are "Just in Time" and "People Will Say We're in Love," in addition to medleys of songs by Irving Berlin and Stephen Sondheim.
MM: Yes. In the Sondheim section, we put together five songs to tell the story of a relationship. Within that medley are the only two solos we're doing the entire evening: We begin with "Happiness" from Passion, then Jason does "Good Thing Going," then we do "Too Many Mornings," and then I sing "Not a Day Goes By." We end with "Move On." The songs follow a relationship...
JD: ...in the Sondheim way of disintegration. [They both laugh]
TM: Speaking of relationships, how did you two meet?
JD: We met in a production of The Trojan Women, A Love Story at the East River Park Amphitheater, [the venue] where the Public Theater started in the 1950s.
MM: It was with a company that no longer exists -- En Garde Arts. Except for a lot of concerts and some readings, the only other show we've done together since then was Candide with the San Francisco Symphony this past summer.
JD: I got to sink my teeth into it again. Marin played Paquette. Among the cast were George Hearn as Dr. Pangloss, Rita Moreno as the Old Lady, and Jennifer Welch-Babidge as Cunegonde. It was done with the orchestra onstage, just as they did Sweeney Todd with George Hearn and Patti LuPone the year before. It was a different script than we performed on Broadway -- much raunchier, with [some] different songs. I had to re-learn the whole piece and I felt it was a little more fulfilling.
TM: The Broadway production in which you starred was short-lived.
JD: But it was a great learning experience. I was 25 and starring on Broadway. Three months later, I was back on the unemployment line.
TM: You both recently worked in London -- Marin in Kiss Me, Kate and Jason in The Full Monty. Was that by coincidence?
MM: It was a stroke of luck.
JD: I think if we wanted to try to make it happen, it wouldn't have happened.
TM: How did you enjoy playing Malcolm MacGregor and Lilli Vanessi in those shows?
JD: The Full Monty was a great time from day one -- the reading here in New York and, subsequently, doing the show in San Diego, New York, and London. The book [by Terrence McNally] is so rich and the music [by David Yazbek] is so much fun.
MM: Who wouldn't love playing Lilli? It's a great role, a great opportunity for me -- especially after playing Clara [in Passion] and Mother [Ragtime], these Victorian, tight-laced ladies. It was nice to let my hair down and do something really fun and funny. I adored working with [director] Michael Blakemore, and with Brian Stokes Mitchell here and Brent Barrett in London.
TM: Jason, I read online a letter that you wrote to Kathleen Freeman [who played Jeanette in The Full Monty] after she died. It was a lovely tribute.
JD: There were a lot of ups and downs during that show but the major heartbreak for everyone involved was Kathleen's death. Oddly enough, she was the last person cast when we were in San Diego; another woman who was going to be playing the part backed out, and Kathleen drove from Los Angeles to San Diego to audition. So many women played it after that and did wonderful jobs, but Kathleen just had the essence of that character. She referred to herself as "The Seventh Monty." We knew she wasn't well but we didn't know what was wrong. She found out that she had lung cancer and [then] she was having radiation every day, coming to the theater, and doing the show.
TM: Marin, you were born in Rockford, Illinois. Were you an only child? And when did you know you wanted to be in show business?
MM: I have an older brother; he works for ABC. I knew at about the age of five that I wanted to perform on Broadway, though I had no idea what that really meant. It was because of listening to all the show albums. Later, I apprenticed at the Barn Theatre in Augusta, Michigan. Tom Wopat had been an apprentice there years earlier; he came back to play Billy Bigelow in Carousel and I played Carrie. That's how I got my first agent.
TM: Jason, where are you from originally and when did you realize that you wanted to be a performer?
JD: I was born in St. Louis, Missouri. I started singing at the age of four in my dad's church, but I was involved in sports and didn't really get a taste for singing until I was in high school. I have two younger sisters. One of them, Corrie, is in the business; she's working on her master's degree at the University of Illinois.
TM: One thing you two married folks have in common is often-mispronounced surnames.
MM: Mine is Italian and it's pronounced "MAY-zee." Jason is not Italian, but everyone wants to make him Italian. They say "Dan-YELL-ee" when it's actually "DAN-yull-ee," which is Irish.
TM: Marin, I've read that Jason reads reviews and you don't.
MM: I don't read anything. I won't read this interview, but Jason will -- and he'll tell me if I sound good or bad.
TM: Is there a role that's given you the most satisfaction, thus far?
JD: I was really lucky. The first show I did in New York that had much recognition was Floyd Collins. I played Homer, which is the kind of role you strive to have if you're supporting in a musical. I had a wonderful time doing Candide and Full Monty, but I think the role is still out there somewhere -- I don't think it's been written yet -- that's truly, truly satisfying. I can't wait to see what it is.
MM: I feel blessed in all the roles I've been able to play. At certain times, each of them has meant a great deal to me -- the whole thing of life mirroring art and vice-versa. Mother [in Ragtime] had a great impact; that woman and that show have a very special place in my heart. What I admired most was her selflessness. I admired Lilli for being strong-willed and I loved developing Clara.
TM: You've been quoted as saying that people either loved Passion or they just didn't get it.
MM: I didn't see it at the Kennedy Center [in the Sondheim Celebration this past summer] but I was encouraged to hear how wonderfully it was received. That made me very happy. Sometimes, with Steve's things, hearing it more than once is helpful. He's always ahead of the times. Passion was my fourth time working with Steve. I did [the original] Into the Woods and I did Merrily We Roll Along twice: the very first revival in LaJolla in 1985 and the production at the Arena Stage [in D.C] in 1990.
TM: Besides American Songbook, what other projects are upcoming for the two of you?
MM: And we're also working on starting a family!