Mara Davi is currently starring as Joan in the Broadway production of Dames at Sea at the Helen Hayes Theater, a tap-happy gem of a show that celebrates the golden era of movie musicals with dazzling dances, spectacular songs and delightful dames.
Davi returns to the Great White Way having appeared as Judy Haynes in Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, as Janet Van de Graaff in The Drowsy Chaperone and as Maggie Windslow in the Original Revival cast of A Chorus Line. Her other New York theater credits include Death Takes A Holiday (Roundabout Theatre), No, No Nanette, Of Thee I Sing (Encores). In Washington DC, she received Helen Hayes nominations for Signature Theatre’s production of Beaches and Irving Berlin’s White Christmas at the Kennedy Center. Her regional credits include My Paris (Goodspeed), Ever After (Paper Mill Playhouse), Kiss Me Kate (Barrington Stage), Animal Crackers (Williamstown Theatre Festival, Goodman Theatre), The Toxic Avenger (Alley Theatre), Thoroughly Modern Millie (Sacramento Music Circus), Dancing In The Dark (Old Globe) and she toured in 42nd Street. Davi has guest starred on Mysteries of Laura,The Good Wife, Taxi Brooklyn, Smash, Blue Bloods, and has appeared in the films Kensho at the Bedfellow, New Year’s Eve and Every Little Step.
I met Ms. Davi at The Steinberg Awards a few weeks ago when she and my filmmaking partner Garth Kravits (currently in rehearsal for Buck’s County Playhouse’s holiday production of It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play) had an impromptu Drowsy Chaperone reunion. Below is my interview with Ms. Davi.
Chang: Dames at Sea, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, The Drowsy Chaperone, No, No Nanette, 42nd Street, Of Thee I Sing and Thoroughly Modern Millie, all shows that you have worked on, are period pieces. You mentioned that your talents are ideally suited for these kinds of shows. Can you elaborate?
Davi: These period pieces are my roots. Watching the golden era movie musicals of the 1930s-50s was what made me want to pursue a career as a performer. I studied Fred and Ginger, Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Audrey Hepburn, Judy Garland, Ruby Keeler, Debbie Reynolds, all the greats. I studied their style, their physicality, their vocal patterns, their comedy, their grace. I love the music from this era: Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Gershwin; this was my playlist growing up. Also, I love tap dancing, always have. It brings me so much joy to make music with my feet. So whenever I do a show in the style of this classic era, it feels like a homecoming to me.
Chang: Who is Joan in Dames at Sea and what actress/singer/dancer inspired you as you developed your character?
Davi: Joan is a long time chorus girl who keeps the peace when things are falling apart at the theatre on Opening Night. She is a mother hen to the new ingenue, and keeps the diva of the show in her place with her witty wise cracks. Joan’s namesake is Joan Blondell, so I closely studied her work as I created Joan. I also threw in a lot of Ginger Roger’s scrappiness, sexiness and spice.
Chang: As someone who has been performing from such an early age, what was it like when you made your Broadway debut in the Original revival of A Chorus Line?
Davi: It was truly a dream come true to be a part of the revival of A Chorus Line on Broadway. The older I get, the more I realize how incredibly special it was. There were moments when it was intimidating because we had big shoes to fill and a lot of people watching to see how we would do it. But I was young and fairly oblivious to all of that, so I was able to just enjoy the ride: singing At the Ballet (one of my favorite songs in all of musical theater), meeting Broadway legends who came to see the show, performing on the Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Tony Awards. All I can say is, I’m so grateful to have been a part of it.
Chang: What was it like stepping into The Drowsy Chaperone?
Davi: Oh my goodness, I just love that show so so much. It’s one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen. I loved the story, the music, and most importantly, the cast. True class acts, all of them. It was daunting to be stepping into a role originated by Sutton Foster, but the cast welcomed me so warmly and made me a part of the family. It was as much fun off stage as it was on. I want to do it again!
Chang: You were nominated for a Helen Hayes award for Beaches. What appealed to you about that project?
Davi: I loved the character of Bertie (Hillary in the film). Her relationship with CeeCee reminds me of a relationship in my own life, so it was really fulfilling to get to express that kind of sisterly love on stage every night. Also, I’d been playing a string of fierce, sexy women, so it was great to change it up and play the more subdued, grounded leading lady.
Chang: What has been your most favorite role to date and why?
Davi: That’s pretty much impossible to answer. I have truly enjoyed every role I have played. At this current moment, I would pick out Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie. Not only was it an incredible part to play, but I did it at the Music Circus in Sacramento, where I grew up, so my whole family and a bunch of friends and teachers were able to come and see the show. Also, Sarah “the Blind Librarian” in The Toxic Avenger. Oh my goodness, this show is so so funny, and the music is killer. We’re still hoping a Broadway run is in its future.
Chang: Tell me more about your band.
Davi: My band, Mara and the Bitter Suite, is a folk rock band started by my friend Adam Waite and myself. He writes the music and I write the lyrics. Our debut album, “Unspoken,” is available on iTunes and Amazon. The band is on hiatus right now as we are all focused on other creative endeavors, but I’m so proud of the album. One of the songs, When I, actually speaks to my love of old movie musicals.
Chang: Any dream roles?
Davi: No dream roles right now. I’m looking to create something new for stage, TV or Film. Surprise me!
Davi: So many, but here I’ll mention Rupert Goold (King Charles III, ENRON) and Steven Hoggett (Curious Incident, Once, Black Watch). Hi guys! HUGE fan of your work!
Chang: What’s next on your plate?
Davi: Dames at Sea is running at the Helen Hayes Theater through January 3rd, and then I’m off to LA for pilot season!
Dames at Sea stars John Bolton as The Captain/Hennesey, Mara Davi as Joan, Danny Gardner as Lucky, Eloise Kropp as Ruby, Laurence Olivier Award winner Lesli Margherita as Mona Kent, and Cary Tedder as Dick. The original 1968 production of Dames at Sea launched the career of the young ingénue playing Ruby, Bernadette Peters. The Dames at Sea company includes Tessa Grady, Kristie Kerwin, Ian Knauer and Kevin Worley.
With a book and lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller, music by Jim Wise, orchestrations byJonathan Tunick, and music supervision and vocal & dance arrangements by Emmy Award winner Rob Berman, Dames at Sea is directed and choreographed by three time Tony Award nominee Randy Skinner.
Dames at Sea features scenic design by three-time Tony Award nominee Anna Louizos, costume design by two-time Tony Award nominee David C. Woolard, lighting design by Tony Award winner Ken Billington and Jason Kantrowitz, and sound design by Tony Award winner Scott Lehrer.
Dames at Sea is produced by Infinity Theatre Company (Anna Roberts Ostroff & Alan Ostroff), Martin Platt & David Elliott, Patricia M. Roberts & Bert C. Roberts, Carl Berg, Louise H. Beard, Julie Boardman/Sarahbeth Grossman/Minerva Productions LLC, and Douglas & Steven Maine/Chris & Dawn Ellis.
Dames at Sea will play its final performance at the Helen Hayes Theater (240 West 44th Street), Sunday January 3, 2016, at 3pm. DAMES AT SEA will have played 32 preview and 85 regular performances, having opened Thursday, October 22, 2015. Click here for tickets.
Lia Chang is an award-winning filmmaker, a Best Actress nominee, a photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Examiner.com, Jade Magazine and Playbill.com.
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