BWW Interviews: Mary-Mitchell Campbell on ASTEP - A BIG FISH in Broadway's Charity Works Pond
If anyone has earned the title of "hardest-working woman in show biz," it might just be Mary-Mitchell Campbell. She's a music director and conductor, who's worked with Cy Coleman and Stephen Sondheim, with credits that don't quit - NEXT TO NORMAL, COMPANY, SWEENEY TODD, ROAD SHOW, and THE ADDAMS FAMILY among them. She's been on the faculties of NYU and Juilliard, and the accompanist for Broadway songsters like Kristin Chenowith and Jonathan Groff.
But it's her charitable works that put her in the spotlight, as well. Whether serving as musical director for various Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS benefit performances or for Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang camps, she's been more active in serving the theatre community and the public than most, but in 2005 she took another step on the road of community service to found ASTEP, Artists Striving To End Poverty, bringing the arts and the power of imagination to underprivileged children internationally. Currently she serves as the organization's executive director - along with her full-time musical career.
We recently caught up with the ever-busy Mary-Mitchell, who's been lauded for her charitable efforts as well as for her contributions to theatre (she earned a Drama Desk award for COMPANY) to ask her about her work for good and how she manages to do that at the same time as she handles her musical work, just before she entered into rehearsals for BIG FISH, which previews in September.
BW: You're known as a musical director - NEXT TO NORMAL, COMPANY, and SWEENEY TODD among your work. What took you into stage music?
MMC: I was sixteen, and I saw a performance of BABY - and I just decided that using music to help acting was much more interesting than just classical music alone. I was at North Carolina School for the Arts' high school program at the time. It was a school performance, and I was so impressed. That was my turning point. It was great.
BW: You've had those three shows and a number of other key ones - Lincoln Center's SWEET CHARITY, THE ADDAMS FAMILY, and playing for Carole King and Tony Bennett. What's been your favorite work, to date?
MMC: ROAD SHOW, actually, because I got to collaborate with Stephen Sondheim on newish work. We were rewriting together. He's incredible - you learn so much from him; he's so interesting, too. And BIG FISH is a highlight. There's this really amazing score, and there's so much imagination and heart.
Performing with people like Laura Benanti and Raul Esparza on concerts is also great. It's storytelling in its own form. And working with Cy Coleman [on GRACE: THE MUSICAL] was phenomenal. I was straight out of school and he took me under his wing. He was an amazing mentor and so incredible. And we were in Amsterdam - there's so much you learn about yourself and other people when you're working together in another country and learning how to deal with that.BW: Now, in theatre, you're working on Andrew Lippa's BIG FISH. What can you tell us about that?
MMC: It's a really, really beautiful story. I'm in love with the story and with John August, who created the original. And Susan Stroman, who's directing, is a genius. She is so visionary. It's great to create something new with her. Norbert, Kate, and Bobby [Norbert Leo Butz, Kate Baldwin, and Bobby Steggart] are incredibly talented and they're so lovely.
It's a wonderful story I think everyone can relate to about families trying to understand who they are. I think people will be incredibly moved by it.
BW: But let's talk about charity. It - and not just SWEET CHARITY - seems to be in your blood. You've been music director for Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall camps.