I’ve often wondered if famous theater personalities like Carol Channing, Elaine Stritch, Ethel Merman, or Liza Minnelli were to audition for today’s Broadway shows, whether or not they would be taken seriously as legitimate performers. None of them had a particularly pleasant sounding voice, and yet they each possessed a certain unmistakably unique brand which has now become the stuff of theater legend.
Mary Martin was one such theater personality. Born in the southern town of Weatherford, TX her tom-boyish looks were far from the ranks of traditional beauty and glamour. And yet she was able to transform herself into a chameleon, earning a place among theater greats and breathing life into classic roles in Peter Pan, South Pacific, The Sound of Music, Annie Get Your Gun, and others. What caused her indelible mark within the musical theater world was her great ability to invent herself.
Currently, the York Theatre Company is paying homage to this unlikely leading lady in Inventing Mary Martin, an enjoyable four person revue which spans Martin’s illustrious career as Broadway’s darling. Jason Graae provides effortless charm as the evening’s narrator and host.
Starring alongside him is a bevel of three beauties whose songs run the gamut from Martin ’s signature songs to lesser known flops like “Swattin’ the Fly” and “I Shoulda Stood In Bed”. Both of the latter songs might well have been nixed. Sometimes, we can just assume that a show was less than stellar without proof.
In “Shapes”,Graae provides some gender bending fun about female fashion in the fifties. His timing is superb, but the bit wears thin quickly. Still, his natural knack for comedy and patter is terrific as he guides us through an otherwise joyous evening of song.
The always brassy Emily Skinner lets loose in “Flaming Agnes”, an audacious showstopper sung by a daring wife from Broadway’s “I Do! I Do!”. Skinner’s romantic, dreamy side is revealed with her gorgeous and lush rendition of “I Got Lost In His Arms” from Annie Get Your Gun. Cameron Adams and Lynne Halliday round out this stellar female trio with Martin’s signature song, “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” from the 1938 musical Leave it to Me! They also unite in a humorous and playful version of “The Lonely Goatherd” from The Sound of Music.
Written and directed by Stephen Cole and Bob Richard, the 90 minute Inventing Mary Martin is a theater lovers’ delight which will make you nostalgic for a time when stars were not packaged commodities, but rather self-made creations of broad talent.
Inventing Mary Martin is now playing through May 25th at The Theater at Saint Peters, 619 Lexington Avenue at 54th Street. For tickets, visit www.yorktheatre.org 212-935-5820.