The King and I closes this Sunday, and I could not conclude my running account of the production without checking in with Marin Mazzie, who has played Mrs. Anna for the past two months. A few minutes into our conversation, Mazzie, who has thrilled Broadway audiences in such shows as Ragtime, Passion, and Kiss Me, Kate, says flatly, “The King and I has been the most emotional and joyous I’ve ever felt onstage.”
The flood of feeling, she says, comes from many things: the beauty of the production, the warm welcome she has received from the cast, the chance to work with director Bart Sher and her royal costar, Daniel Dae Kim. Emotion also flows, she says, “from coming back after having been what I’ve been through.” Mazzie was diagnosed in May, 2015, with ovarian cancer, and spent the rest of that year going through chemotherapy, surgery, and the general process of healing.
“Doing 8 shows a week,” she said, “has been a process of regaining my strength, physically and vocally.” The experience, she adds, “has been an adrenaline rush from day one.” There have been the normal adjustments. “Every show requires a change in your daily routine,” she confesses, “but I’ve been a little more aware of it this time. I’ve been eating smaller meals, for example, because I wear a corset.”
Not that this is her first time in tight-fitting costumes: she’s done Bullets Over Broadway, Man of La Mancha, Kismet, among other flights of historical and dramatic fancy. “It’s true that I’ve worn plenty of corsets in my career,” Mazzie says, “but Anna’s ball gown is something special. It weighs forty pounds. I’ve named it Esmeralda, and, even though she’s given my back a real workout, during the run of the show we’ve become friends.”
No matter the back stress: The King and I has furthered Mazzie’s healing. “In many ways, I’ve been lucky that Anna is not a huge vocal challenge. We lowered some keys to accommodate my range, but otherwise the part has been a good fit. It’s given me a chance to strengthen my voice.”
The New York Times praised Mazzie’s portrayal as Mrs. Anna for its “astute comic timing,” which comes across especially well in the number “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?” “I have such fun with that,” Mazzie says. “She’s on a rant, and she gets to say things we’ve all felt at times, after we’ve left a party or a dinner and we think of remarks we wish we’d made at the time.”
Mazzie has also been lauded for the wisdom she brings to Anna. “She is the most mature of the great Rodgers & Hammerstein heroines,” Mazzie says. “But even with all her experience there must have been moments when she was as afraid as her young son. She was a widow and coming to a daunting new place. “
What were the challenges and pleasures of coming into a production that had been running for more than a year? “The challenges and pleasures commingled,” Mazzie says. “Whenever new blood comes on the scene there’s a different energy. I hope that Daniel and I have given a boost to the production.”
“Getting to Know You” is a key number for Mrs. Anna in The King and I, and so for Mazzie herself the past two months have been a process of acquaintance. “Everyone has been so loving and embracing,” she says. “I didn’t have the long process of initial rehearsal and previews and tech to learn about my colleagues. In many ways, I’ve gotten to know them onstage.” She adds: “One of my favorite parts of the musical is the second-act ballet. That gives me time to watch the cast and to marvel at their talent and at the splendor of the production.”
Mazzie’s gratitude runs deep. “This role came to me the day before I found out I was in remission. I felt as if the universe were taking care of me.” She will next involve herself in a couple of new projects but she says the residue from The King and I is likely to stay with her for a while. I expect that everyone involved with this magnificent show – to whom I extend my own deep thanks -- would voice a similar sentiment.
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.