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A CurtainUp Review
Inventing Mary Martin
By Joyce Friedland

". . .as David Krane and I worked through the vast array of brilliant songs that Mary sang in her career, we found that we were inventing much of the material to give it a new shine. And when we looked for a title, we realized that Mary, too, had invented and re-invented herself, all the while remaining Mary Martin."—Stephen Cole
Inventing Mary Martin
Emily Skinner (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)
Mary Martin as she appeared in the original stage production of South Pacific was a unique talent. No one could reproduce the bell-like clarity of her voice, or slip imperceptibly from tomboy cute to sexy romantic in the way that she did. As soon as she walked onto the stage, even if it were a "crowded room," her extraordinary talent made her the focus of everyone's attention.

Stephen Cole, who conceived and wrote this tribute, realized that he could not clone Martin's talent and charisma. Instead, he collected more than twenty songs that Martin sang mainly in her stage career, to create a revue directed by him and Bob Richard. Three female vocalists (Cameron Adams, Lynne Halliday, and Emily Skinner) sing more than twenty songs, with Jason Grae, who narrates, adding his own excellent voice and nimble dance movements. Photos of Mary Martin in her iconic roles provide another visual dimension to the revue. Although there are some photos showing Martins early years, very few allude to her personal life'to keep it a show about the many facets of her professional life.

In a well-crafted number called "Shapes," Graae, wearing a one-size-fits-all gray sack dress, conceived for this production by costume designer Patricia McGourty, uses an assortment of accessories to shape the garment into any of several "looks" that the fashion designer Mainbocher had created for Martin's stage performances. Being campy without going over the line into slapstick, Graae belts out the music while changing from one silhouette to another. Although Graae has had a busy career, primarily in musical comedy, it wasn't surprising to hear several people in the audience ask, "Where has he been all my life?"

In "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair," Cameron Adams fills the stage with her exuberance and fancy footwork. Lynne Halliday holds her own in the ensemble numbers, but her "A Cockeyed Optimist" solo seems strained. The most exciting member of the trio is Emily Skinner who sings in her own sultry, cabaret-style voice and doesn't attempt to imitate Mary Martin's sound, in such solo numbers as "Swattin' the Fly," "I Got Lost in his Arms," and "Flaming Agnes." She's particularly wonderful as she vamps around on stage, singing and playing the role of an ordinary matron who dreams of being "Flaming Agnes."

The inclusion of some of the less well-known songs is questionable, and, even more so, the decision to not have fewer but more complete songs, rather than so many limited to snippets. Maybe this would bother me less and I would have enjoyed this revue more had my memories of Mary Martin's performances not been so strong. However, there's no way that I could "wash" the real Mary "out of my hair."

Inventing Mary Martin by Stephen Cole
Directed by Stephen Cole & Bob Richard
Music Director:Lawrence Goldberg
Music Arranger: David Krane
Cast: Cameron Adams, Jason Graae, Lynne Halliday, Emily Skinner
Musicians: Lawrence Goldberg (Piano), Perry Cavari (Percussion), Bob Renino (Bass)
Choreography: Bob Richard
Scenic Design: James Morgan
Lighting Design: Mary Jo Dondlinger
Costume Design: Patricia McGourty
Sound Design: Janie Bullard
Projection Design: Justin West
oe Stage Manager: Bernita Robinson
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
York Theatre Company at Saint Peter’s (Entrance on East 54th Street, just east of Lexington Avenue)
From 4/15/14; opening 4/27/14; closing/ 5/18/14

Reviewed by Joyce Friendland at April 25th press preview
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