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A CurtainUp Review
Inventing Mary Martin
By Joyce Friedland
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."