The Amazing Marin Mazzie

The following is an interview with Marin Mazzie, currently staring as Mother in the Broadway production of Ragtime at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts. She received a Tony nomination for her portrayal of Clara in the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical Passion, and repeated her role in the film version for PBS, now available on videocassette. Other Broadway credits include: Into the Woods (Rapunzel, Witch Cinderella), Big River (Mary Jane Wilkes) and the City Center Encore production of Out of This World (Helen).

Off-Broadway, Marin played Helen/Dido in the Trojan Women, A Love Story; she also played off-Broadway and on the national tour of Kander and Ebb’s The World Goes Round.Marin’s regional credits include: Nellie in South Pacific at Pittsburgh CLO; Beth in Merrily We Roll Along at the La Jolla Playhouse and Arena Stage; and Sarah in Guys and Dolls at the Denver Center. Her recordings include: Songs from Ragtime (RCA), Passion (Angel), Out of This World (DRG) and I Was Looking at the Ceiling, and Then I Saw the Sky (Nonesuch). She is married to actor Jason Danieley. For our celebrity interview this month, I thought it would be a good idea to pick someone whose singing demonstrates some of the principles discussed in the Bel Canto/Can Belto article. As I surveyed the current Broadway offerings it was clear to me that Marin Mazzie’s performance of “Back to Before” in the new hit musical Ragtime is not only heart-stopping in its dramatic intensity, but also a fine example of the artistic use of the belt voice in musical theatre.
SOS: Marin, do you make a conscious distinction between classical technique and Broadway “legit” singing? How do you classify your voice: soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto?
MM: Basically, I am a soprano. I started singing at the age of 12, and worked for a seamless technique with no breaks. I was not taught how to belt. I just began to use more chest and figured it out for myself.
SOS: Everyone wants to sing “Back to Before” the way you do. On the cast recording you sing the first verse in what I would call a belt-mix. In the second verse you bring in more vocal intensity, but to my ear you use the same singing technique. In the bridge you sing with even more intensity. The C# on the word “wrong” in the phrase “or they might have been wrong” is still mixed. However, the “A” on the word “strong” in the phrase “unafraid to be strong” is belted. Do you make a distinction between your belt, belt-mix and classical voice? Do you think in terms of the sound, style, emotional content, or do you consciously and specifically change your technique to create varying voice qualities?
MM: I do not analyze the song technically. The vocal sounds I make develop with my understanding of the emotional contend of the song.
SOS: To maintain the belt sound, you modify some of the vowels. For instance, in the last word, “be-fore” your pronunciation of the final vowel is close to an “ah”. Is this a conscious change?
MM: While working out the song with the musical director, he asked me to change some of the vowels, but I never made changes for technical reasons. If the director or musical director wants me to make a change in vowel color, I re-evaluate the emotional content and the vowel change happens automatically. Everything comes from the emotion. The technique subconsciously serves the emotional needs.
SOS: I would say that is the definition of an artist singer. The technique is secure, flexible and second nature so that the singer is uninhibited in the interpretation of the song. Marin, your performance in Ragtime is both moving and inspiring. Thank you for your time and words of wisdom.
-Bill Reed