BWW Interview: Margaret Edwartowski is Detroit Dreamin' as she Pens and Stars in World Premiere Musical of CALL ME CASS at The Berman Center For The Performing Arts
Margaret Edwartowski has been told her whole life that she looks like the late pop singer Cass Elliot, or, perhaps best known onstage, as "Mama Cass" of the Mamas and the Papas.
"People would always come up to me and say, 'You know who you remind me of..." Edwartowski says. "Once I learned about her and started reading about her, I tried to emulate her. She was smart, resilient and very talented."
And Edwartowski is certainly that. A graduate of Wayne State University, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in acting, Edwartowski was a mainstage favorite with Detroit's Second City Troupe for five years in the late '90s and from 2004-2006. She performed and wrote in ten revues and taught improv comedy classes. During that same time, she also became a founding member of the Planet Ant Theatre in Hamtramck, Michigan. While she is now the Executive Director of Y Arts at the Boll Family YMCA in Detroit, Edwartowski continued her fascination with Cass Elliot. She took to her keyboard to craft what will now be the world premiere musical Call Me Cass, opening at the Berman Center for the Performing Arts in West Bloomfield, Michigan, on October 13-14.
With Edwartowski playing Mama Cass, Call Me Cass is a jukebox musical, featuring a cast of eight and live band that chronicles Elliot's life from adolescence and leaving home through her untimely death at the height of her career. It features over 20 songs from The Mamas and the Papas, The Big Three, The Mugwumps and her solo career. Edwartowski has been drafting the script for over eight years.
"With the process of writing and rewriting taking this long, it's probably far-fetched that she was 33 when she died and I'm now playing her at age 46. Let's just say, we're taking creative license," she laughs.
And Edwartowski says it's been a converging of relationships from her past, coming together to make this show a reality. Mama Cass is being produced by The Berman Center, a part of the Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Metropolitan Detroit, which is run by Edwartowski's college roommate, Elaine (Hendriks) Smith. It's being directed by Jamie Richards, her good friend of nearly 30 years and it had its first staged reading seven years at the Ringwald Theatre in Ferndale, Michigan where Edwartowski and Richards were involved with the staged reading's director, Joe Bailey.
"The thing that's really interesting about this writing and discovery process has been that I've had some of the same experiences and feelings that Cass did. It's weird that I wrote scenes and moments that are really much from my life in terms of how people view women of size in the entertainment industry and how underappreciated they can be," says Edwartowski. "Look at the roles they're relegated to, it's an inequality thing. If you look at shows like the "Honeymooners," the "Flintstones" and "King of Queens," there's always the big guy with a hot wife. So, it was exciting to write a really great role for a big woman to play. Cass Elliot was amazingly brilliant, super-charming and a lovable person."
And, ironically, even though Edwartowski wrote the script, she took the day off from work on the day of this interview to learn her lines.
"I started off kind of cocky, saying to myself, 'of course you know it," she laughed. "But I want to be a decent example to my cast and be true to my words. This is a sizable script and I don't think about the brass tacks of a production when I write, so I didn't think about how much time on stage this character actually spends. She's only off stage for about seven minutes and, not being in my '20s anymore, it's hard to remember."
As a traditional improv comic, Edwartowski said she hasn't been an actor in a scripted show in about 10 years.
"I'm part of a really talented cast with amazing voices and a fantastic band. What's funny is that I've been doing black box and small theatre stuff for my whole career and to be able to premiere this show at the beautiful, large Berman Center is an amazing opportunity."
Performances of Call Me Cass, written by Margaret Edwartowski, are at 8 p.m. Saturday, October 13th and at 4 p.m. Sunday, October 14th. Tickets are $33 -$38 and can be ordered online, in person or via phone by calling (248) 661-1900. Group discounts are available for groups of 10 or more. The Berman Center for the Performing Arts is located at 6600 W. Maple, West Bloomfield, Michigan, inside the Jewish Community Center.
The cast consists of: Margaret Edwartowski (Cass Elliot), Kelly Rossi (Michelle Phillips), Kevin Kaminski (Denny Doherty), James Holton (John Phillips), RJ Cach (Male Ensemble #1), Stephen Blackwell (Male Ensemble #2), Stefanie Bainter (Female Ensemble #1), Kristen Lange (Female Ensemble #2). The show is directed by Jamie Richards.