BWW Review: MARIN MAZZIE'S SUNFLOWER POWER HOUR Moves Audience at 54 Below
"I wonder if anyone is as loved and as beloved as Marin, and the answer is no."
That was David Hyde Pierce at Marin Mazzie's Sunflower Power Hour last night at Feinstein's/54 Below. The 90-minute special event was a variety show created by Jason Danieley as a benefit to raise funds for The Cancer Support Community, an organization that everyone should know about and support, for there will probably come a time in the life of each of us when we will need it. The CSC was an invaluable help to Mr. Danieley and his wife, Marin Mazzie during her time living with cancer, and continues to be a help to families in need, and though the evening was all about Marin and the CSC, it was not a memorial. Beautiful memories were shared, songs both funny and touching were performed, but this celebration of the loved and beloved Marin Mazzie was simply a part of the ongoing feast of love for a woman who will always be remembered and treasured by all.
After a rousing performance of "I Believe in You" Mr. Danieley spent a few minutes speaking to the completely sold out room about his wife, one year after her passing, and about the important work being done by The Cancer Support Community. Discussing the name of the evening, Marin Mazzie's Sunflower Power Hour, Danieley explained that the sunflower, Mazzie's favorite, always turns its face to the light. The cheerful blooms filling the room, this was a night designed for festivity -- turning the proceedings from education to entertainment, Mr. Danieley offered the microphone up to a woman who has never had a difficult time bringing the funny, Debra Monk. Shoulders adorned by a sunshine yellow feather boa, Ms. Monk brought her inimitable comic timing and beautiful Broadway belt to one of her signature tunes "Everybody's Girl" -- but not without saying that Marin ("She was a down and dirty broad and I LOVED her for that!") had once sung the tune ("I never got to hear her sing it but I wish I had I would've stolen everything she did!").
Mr. Victor Garber was on hand to share stories about a "somewhat questionable" production of Merrily We Roll Along that he did with Marin in 1990 that also starred David Garrison and Becky Ann Baker (on hand last night with husband, Dylan). "It is impossible to describe Marin's ability to make a song that you know well sound like you never heard it...every time she sang it. It was infuriating." Equating that skill with the way she lived her life "to be in the moment in a way few of us ever achieve."
Returning to the stage with a story about loving Victor Garber on cast albums while growing up (much laughter as he tried to backpedal the age reference) and, upon moving to New York being told "You look like Victor Garber," Danieley welcomed to the stage Liz Callaway "Marin and I have been known to share some dirty evenings with her and her husband, Daniel... share some dirty MARTINIS with her and her husband, Daniel." Rolling with the flow, Callaway took the mic with an effective "You didn't have to correct that part" before informing an adoring crowd that Marin "could drink me under the table." Her inimitable voice untouched by the passage of time, Liz Callaway brought to her audience pure joy with Be A Lion, about which she said: "This song IS Marin."
Karen Ziemba worked with Mr. Danieley in Curtains, and with Ms. Mazzie in And the World Goes Round and Bullets Over Broadway, so her history with the family is a long one. The irrepressible Ziemba, remarking that Marin "lights up the room" spoke of their long friendship before sharing a song from their first show together, the Kander and Ebb revue, that "became Marin's anthem when she was healing". The quiet, tender, sweet arrangement of But the World Goes Round drew sighs and smiles from the audience as they watched Ms. Ziemba scale the heights as the song grew bigger and grander with emotional and vocal enormity worthy of the aria and of Mazzie.
Levity was up next in the form of some hilarious stories from Susan Stroman, most notably about a time when two women at the intermission of Bullets Over Broadway praised "I LOVE the woman playing Helen Sinclair" ... "Oh, yes, that's Marni Mazel! I never miss a show with Marni Mazel." The following day Ms. Stroman went backstage at Bullets Over Broadway to give some notes to her leading lady and there on her dressing room door was a star, over which was a sign that read MARNI MAZEL. The star and sign remained for the run of the show. "She really was able to Ring Them Bells" - Susan Stroman on Marin Mazzie.
Danieley returned to the stage with an upbeat and infectious "With a Song in My Heart" that swelled until his vocal and physical performance would not be contained - finishing with a flourish, Danieley accepted his audience's adulation, but told them "I wasn't doing that for you. I'm glad you liked it." We knew who he was singing it for, and we did like it.
With a cheeky and innuendo-laced intro, Danieley asked Howard McGillan to the stage and the longest running Broadway Phantom spoke lovingly about the Danieley's, neither of whom he ever worked with, outside of the concert world, but with whom he had a dear friendship. McGillan's musical offering "All That We Had Was Time" was penned by the evening's musical director Joseph Thalkin, with Barry Kleinbort, and was a personal request from Danieley and probably never sounded prettier than it did last night, in that legendary tenor.
Spacing out the serious talk for the evening, Mr. Danieley returned to the stage to discuss Tina's Wish, another organization with which he works that is dedicated to finding an early detection test for ovarian cancer. September is ovarian cancer awareness month, the month Mrs.Danieley passed and the month that Danieley chose to return to the concert stage with his new show A Heart To Heart, as well as Marin Mazzie's Sunflower Power Hour. It is, naturally, important for the artist to make it known that the final concert performance that the Daneiley's made, Broadway and Beyond, has been made into a cd and dvd, proceeds of which will be donated to Cancer Support Community, Tina's Wish and The Actor's Fund, all worthy charities. Jason Danieley may not single-handedly bring an end to ovarian cancer, but he is definitely leading the charge - appropriate, as he bears an uncanny resemblance to Errol Flynn, who played General Custer on film. It is time to elevate awareness of and treatment for ovarian cancer, and Mr. Danieley is using every bit of his platform to do both.
A discussion about cancer requires a little humor in response, and who better to bring the humor than David Hyde Pierce, the man with the most impeccable comic timing in the business? Starting out with "A Buddhist Monk said this: Even when we are thrown into despair we should constantly be mindful of the people that stood up straight amidst their despair. And this example can give us strength". The profundities DHP shared with the audience were touching, but he knew they were waiting for the funny. And funny, they got, when he gave out with the classic Kander and Ebb tune Sara Lee, made even more hee-haw-larious by the return to the stage of Debra Monk. Two greater, more delicious, vaudevillian hams, you will never see - the audience was in gales of laughter that was worth the price of admission.
Before bringing his final entertainer to the stage, Danieley asked Linda House, the President of the Cancer Support Community and an oncology nurse, to step to the stage and talk about the organization. Ms. House gave a most human and accessible talk to the audience in which she shared stories and facts, described what CSC does, and offered that "I'm not going to ask for money. I'm going to ask you: if you know someone today who has cancer, I want you to tell them about us. I'll give you my business card, it has my cellphone number on it." Linda House and The Cancer Support Community are going to change things, make no mistake. There are people out there who are working, and working hard, to affect a change in the medical community and the needs that need to be met, and these people are among them.
The final guest artist on this magical and inspirational night was Donna Murphy, a close friend to the couple for many years, who offered that, by stepping onto the stage, she was making her 54 Below debut. She has been asked but "I didn't have my act together... I still don't have my act together... but here I am and it's because I think that this was just the moment that I was meant to step on this stage for the first time." Ms. Murphy really opened up to her audience, recounting how she and Marin Mazzie met through the Sondheim play Passion ("Marin was singing and I was in awe. It was like gold that was coming out of her. That voice. She was golden."). As their friendship turned to sisterhood, they traversed the highs and lows of life, including the journey that Marin shared with Donna's late husband, Shawn Elliott, during their individual cancer diagnoses. Not surprisingly, Ms. Mazzie and Mr. Elliott would text each other dirty jokes while at their chemotherapy sessions (which Mazzie preferred to label Healing Therapy). It has been said that artists who set foot on a stage need to be willing to open a vein, and that is precisely what Ms. Murphy did last night, simply by talking to her audience with open honesty and uncompromising humanity. Then Donna Murphy sang for the adoring and absolutely silent, completely still audience a song from a musical she and Marin both acted in at different times, but a song neither of them ever got to sing: "No One Is Alone". 54 Below servers and management came in from the kitchen, lining the walls to watch. All movement stopped. All was silent. Once, and only once, in this writer's life has there been such stillness in a venue, and that was when, at his 80th birthday party, His Holiness The Dalai Lama gave a talk to his guests. It was a magical moment, a Marin Mazzie Moment.
Taking the stage once more to close out the evening, Jason Danieley performed a powerful and emotional "You'll Never Walk Alone" before saying his thank you's and his goodnights; Naturally, being the professional that he is, Danieley prepared an encore - one with heart and a great deal of pep: his latin-beat "You Gotta Have Heart" was the perfect way to send out into the night an audience that was wiser about cancer, more invested in good health, and happier than the moment that they entered the wonderful world of Marin Mazzie's Sunflower Power Hour.
To learn more about Cancer Support Community visit their Website
To learn more about Tina's Wish visit their Website
All photos by Stephen Mosher