It’s been a hot second since I’ve written here, but the passing of one of my very favorite performers awoke the muse. If you’ll indulge me…
We all have those voices we’ve grown up with. For many it was Aretha. For others, Whitney or Prince. For me, it was a very small handful of women – among them, Marin Mazzie.
Those reading this likely know who Marin is – for those who don’t, you can read this beautiful tribute article.
Marin and I go way back. Let me start from the beginning.
Growing up in a small town in northern Michigan, before the internet age, my very specific music choices were informed by whatever the Camelot Music in the Alpena Mall had in their tiny “Soundtrack” section – a section that occasionally housed whatever random cast recording they had mixed within “Dirty Dancing” and the latest John Williams score. I’d pretend I was looking at the “pop” section, quickly scan the Soundtrack section for fear of being spotted by a potential classmate, grab whatever looked good, and covertly check out.
In fact, I did this so often, the lovely (and, I’m sure, understanding) cashier told me once she could order whatever I wanted. I waved her off – because that basically confirmed what I knew deep down inside: I was a raving SHOW QUEEN.
At any rate, Stephen Sondhim’s Passion was one of those Camelot recordings. Desperate for a new show to discover, on multiple trips I kept pulling out the cast recording, reviewing the sensuous cover and reading the cryptic song list. Not knowing a thing about the show, other than the guy who wrote Into the Woods wrote it, I kept looking at it, and putting it back. It felt too adult – too somber. I wanted belting and sparkles (not much has changed, really).
But one rainy Sunday afternoon, I caved in.
Listening to that cast recording in my bedroom — from the first track to the end — was a hypnotic experience. And, as a glorious byproduct, it made me aware of Marin Mazzie and Donna Murphy.
Marin played Clara – which, in Italian, means light, clarity. And just from her voice, she embodied this. But there was something else – she wasn’t just another bright soprano. She had an earthiness to her voice that I’d never heard before. Like a belty Helen Reddy with legit training.
I was instantly in love. Who WAS this woman?
Then came Ragtime. My biggest regret is when it was trying out in Toronto in the mid ‘90s, I chose to see Phantom (again). I didn’t know better. But I got the concept recording while there out of curiosity, which featured one of the very best 11 o’clock numbers I’ve heard to this day – “Back to Before.”
And it featured that voice I’d fallen in love with a year or two prior – but with a remarkable belt, which was used to great effect as her character, a turn of the century housewife, got woke and walked out on her racist ass husband.
Making the discovery that this powerhouse performance came from the same woman who played the delicate Clara floored me.
Now – how do I explain this? I’m sure many of you fellow show queens who are my age or older (I’m 39 this November) can relate to the private experience of becoming obsessed with a performer or a score and literally having no one to truly share it with. Sure, I had friends who appreciated musicals, but not to my extreme degree. Desperate to share my passion, I trained myself to hold back, because I’d easily dominate a conversation talking about, say, the difference between the London and Broadway productions of Sunset Boulevard, or how Judy Kuhn hit a high C in Les Miz, but also belted in Chess.
As a result, discovering a performer like Marin felt like a profoundly private experience. Like I held a secret to another dimension that I was lucky enough to slip into by hitting “play.”
At any rate, Marin quickly became my Jam. And, lucky for me, her career was, to put it mildly, prolific. A few of my favorite performances:
My biggest regret (I’ve many, it seems) is never having seen Marin perform in person. However, I did have an unexpected moment with her a few short years ago.
In 2012, her amazingly talented husband, Jason Danieley, starred as George Seurat in Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s award-wining production of Sunday in the Park with George. I was at press night, a night where ChiShakes hosts a classy reception. As I chatted with my friend in the back of the lobby following the show, out strolled Marin and Jason, holding hands.
I turn around, instantly flummoxed.
Here, standing in front of me, is the women whose voice I’ve fallen in love with for over two decades. She sees me wide eyed and stops. On cue, I blurt out some things at her face, which has a genuine look of surprise, and I shake her hand.
I then remember it’s Jason’s night, and turn and congratulate him, with a clear expression of embarrassment. They laugh, and proceed to the party. Of course, I couldn’t keep my eyes off them all night, and Marin just beamed up her husband with such pride the entire evening.
Cancer f*cking sucks. I lost my sister to cancer. It’s pointless and random and can break your spirit. Marin took it as an opportunity to educate and fight. She spoke about the importance of BRCA blood tests for early ovarian cancer detection, and was awarded a Phyllis Newman Dame Award for her efforts.
I don’t know Marin, yet I loved her with all my heart. Journey on, and much love and light.