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Inventing Mary Martin

A Broadway legend receives a well-deserved tribute at York Theatre Company.

Lynne Halliday, Jason Graae, Emily Skinner, and Cameron Adams in the York Theatre Company world premiere production of Stephen Cole's Inventing Mary Martin, directed by Cole and Bob Richard, at York Theatre Company's home at Saint Peter's.
(© Carol Rosegg)

Even if you're not old enough to have seen Mary Martin perform some of her signature roles on Broadway — Maria in The Sound of Music in 1959, the title role in Peter Pan in 1954 — you're probably familiar with some of the songs she made famous. The York Theatre Company's Inventing Mary Martin, directed by Stephen Cole and Bob Richard, pays homage to the Broadway legend in a 90-minute revue that will take fans down memory lane and give younger Broadway buffs a look into Martin's life and work.

Jason Graae serves as the show's energetic and comedic narrator and host. He guides us through the watershed events of Martin's life, such as her comfortable childhood in Weatherford, Texas, her stint in Hollywood where she first caught the attention Oscar Hammerstein II, and the Broadway shows and songs that made her a household name. Graae, Cameron Adams, Lynne Halliday, and Emily Skinner entertainingly, sometimes campily, perform music and lyrics by the likes of Irving Berlin, Noël Coward, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter, and many others, then top it off with "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," the song that made Martin an American darling.

All four performers offer a loving tribute to the many faces of Martin. Halliday sings "I'm a Stranger Here Myself" (from Martin's first Broadway success, One Touch of Venus) with an operatic seductiveness. Adams gives a fun rendition of "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair" (from South Pacific), and Skinner beautifully sings "I Got Lost in His Arms" (from Annie Get Your Gun; Martin won a Tony for her performance in the touring production, the only such Tony ever awarded). The show is most fun when the company joins together for ensemble pieces, such as the Peter Pan medley and "The Lonely Goatherd," from The Sound of Music.

Revisiting old favorites is what revues like this are all about, but Inventing Mary Martin also offers songs and performances that fans may not be familiar with. Among them are a couple of curious and amusing tunes from Martin's first two shows, Dancin in the Streets and Nice Goin', both of which were flops. Skinner performs the bizarre "Swattin' the Fly" with understated humor, and Adams and Graae have fun with "I Shoulda Stood in Bed." Not to be missed is Graae's hysterical reenactment of Martin's mime of the history of fashion, which she performed during 1953's Ford 50th Anniversary Show. Graae's spot-on imitation is one of the show's highlights.

James Morgan's set comprises picture frames whose images change as we move through Martin's life, informing the action taking place onstage, and Patricia McGourty's costumes, especially in the Peter Pan segment, remind us of Martin's versatility as an actress and performer. The show moves along briskly, with a few occasional lulls, but anyone with even a passing interest in Mary Martin and the history of Broadway will find something to like in this heartfelt tribute to one of the Great White Way's treasured performers.