Call Answered: Mara Beckerman: "Charlotte Sweet in Concert" at Feinstein's/54 Below
Some of my favorite interviews are ones with the performers who were on Broadway in the 80s and earlier because theatre has changed so much over the years. I also love getting to speak to actors who are revisiting a show they starred in earlier in their career and get their "grown-up" perspective. That leads us to Mara Beckerman, the original "Charlotte" in the 1982 hit Off-Broadway musical Charlotte Sweet, written by The Algonquin Kid's Michael Colby with a score by Gerald Jay Markoe.
Now, Feinstein's/54 Below and the Second Act Series (Producer/Director Steven Carl McCasland and Producer/ Musical Director James Horan) is presenting Charlotte Sweet in Concert on February 27, with Mara as "The Narrator" and a terrific new cast bringing this show back to life. Set to star as "Charlotte" is Adrienne Eller, most recently seen in the National Tour of A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, Bethe Austin (star of Broadway's WHOOPIE! and original leading lady of Colby’s Tales of Tinseltown) as "Cecily MacIntosh," Justin Chevalier (The Last Séance) as "Ludlow Ladd;" Robert Cuccioli (Jekyll & Hyde) as "Barnaby Bugaboo;" Sandy Rosenberg (Mamma Mia!, The Scarlett Pimpernel) as "Katinka Bugaboo;" Eddie Korbich (The Drowsy Chaperone) as "Harry Host;" Alli Mauzey (Cry-Baby) as "Skitzy Scofield;" Michael McCoy (Phantom of the Opera) as "Bob Sweet."
Charlotte Sweet spotlights "Charlotte," a girl with one of the highest & most beautiful soprano voices in the world. Because of her father’s debts, she is forced to leave her Liverpool sweetheart, "Ludlow Ladd," and join "Barnaby Bugaboo’s" Circus of Voices: a troupe of freak voices including low-voiced "Katinka Bugaboo," fast-voiced "Harry Host," bubble-voiced "Cecily Macintosh," and "Skitzy Scofield" (with dual personalities & voices). These quirky characters and more will come to life once again for a one-night-only concert at Feinstein’s/54 Below on Tuesday, February 27 at 7pm. Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? I grew up in New York City. When I was probably around six or seven years old my parents started celebrating mine and my sister’s birthdays with the gift of either mom or dad taking the birthday girl to see a Broadway show. The Sound of Music was my first show, Oliver! the next year, and each following year included another fabulous show. By the time I was eight years old I was taking dance and drama lessons at The Henry Street Settlement, and threw out my career choice of becoming a Veterinarian. I decided theatre was where I was headed….And I never looked back!
2. This February you are narrating the one-night-only concert version of Charlotte Sweet, which you originally starred in in 1982. What are you looking forward to most about revisiting this story? To be honest, I am so very excited to see another cast recreate it. I have such wonderful memories of the show and all it included. I have never seen any other production of it, though I know there have been some. I enjoy seeing how things change as different actors take on the roles.
3. Why do you think this story is still relevant today? The show is a melodrama. Good vs Bad. We are living in a rather stressful time right now. In past times of great stress people often turn to watching movies and theatre that deal with Good winning over Bad. That is probably why superhero movies are so popular currently, and why during the depression and WWII there were so many movie musicals. People want to see Good conquering Bad. It gives hope.
4. Do you think playing the title character in the original production will inform your choices as the narrator? I certainly think it could, though I am also looking forward to receiving direction and hearing what they are seeking in a narrator.
5. How do you think you will feel watching someone else play the character you created? I am looking forward to seeing and hearing someone else create the role. I had a very personal connection to the role that I don’t think anyone but the original performer can have, when you enter into a show as it is being created. But I have also taken on many roles in my career that I didn’t create and it’s always so fun to do that as well. So, I am very excited to see what Adrienne, and all the others, will do with the parts. I expect she will find some similar things and many nuances that never even occurred to me.
6. Did you give Adrienne any advice for playing "Charlotte" for this concert? Actually, no since I have never met or spoken with her.
7. What did you learn about yourself during the original run of Charlotte Sweet that you feel helped you throughout your career? I learned how sweet it is to be a success. And I also learned how there are many, many small steps and choices we all make, that we don’t recognize how important they are at the time, but will often lead us somewhere important. I was offered a job, years before Charlotte Sweet to go out of town to do My Fair Lady (with the lead role of "Eliza") or stay in town and do a production of Orpheus in the Underworld with the minor role of "Cupid." One paid (YAY!) and one was a showcase (no $...ugh). I chose to stay in town. It was that hard decision that eventually led to my doing Charlotte Sweet years later. Who would have known.
8. What did you originally relate to about "Charlotte"? After doing Ludlow Ladd Michael Colby and I stayed in touch. He told me one time that he was intrigued by my high voice and gave him an idea for a show. He was/is always coming up with ideas for shows. So, I really didn’t think anything of it.
Then one day he asked if I’d come down to a recording studio and help make a demo of some of the music with a few other people. I said sure. I love recording studios. But when I found myself singing about underwear, I really wondered what sort of crazy show he was working on. A few months, maybe a year later, he and Jerry asked if I could come do another demo. I don’t recall what this song was, but it also left me feeling this was not going anywhere at all. Then they called me in a third time, and this time I learned the piece “Lonely Canary.” Not only did I have to sing it, he wanted me to begin it with bird calls. He knew I could do those. Well, even without the silly bird calls, I LOVED the song. And I told them "If you ever do this show, let me know." The rest, as they say, is history.
9. What was it like to have to sing so high as "Charlotte"? Did that vocal demand take a toll on your voice? My voice is a high coloratura voice. So, I never really had difficulty getting those notes. In fact, Michael originally conceived the show after hearing my high notes when we were doing his earlier show Ludlow Ladd. But I did have to reduce the amount of talking I did every day. My regimen would often be to get a good night sleep; swim or take a dance class; spend time with a friend, or attend no more than one meeting or do one interview per day; eat very healthy (I stopped eating dairy due to the extra mucus it can cause on vocal chords); do a gentle vocal warmup before the show; and walk down from my apartment on the Upper West Side, to the theatre. One thing I will always remember is how dear Chris Seppe, who played "Charlotte’s" boyfriend, "Ludlow Ladd," would make me laugh as he would refer to my voice as a "voice of steel." I think he was amazed that I was able to continue to sing those notes each and every performance. What a wonderful and truly funny person and actor he was.
10. What is one story about your time in Charlotte Sweet have you not talked about before that you would like to share now? During the rehearsal process of the show the whole cast worked very hard to learn the music, and create our characters. Ed Stone had lots of amusing ideas he would constantly be adding into the show. Little quirky things that we would sometimes wonder, "huh, that’s sort of odd" but we did it. Right before we opened though we all seemed to share a sense of – "IS this going to work?" Then we opened up as a showcase and from the first night to our last we all experienced a really amazing thing. Even though we were all a little uncertain this would all hang together, it seemed as if something very magical happened as what we did went over the footlights into the audience. It not only worked, it was wonderful! Magical is how we referred to it. Michael Colby and Gerald Jay Markoe created a really magical show. Ed Stone added just the right amount of quirkiness, we actors gave it life and the audience found the magic!
More on Mara:
An actor for many years, Ms. Beckerman received a Drama Desk Nomination for Best Actress in 1982 for the title role in the Off-Broadway musical Charlotte Sweet. She transitioned from musicals to her own one-woman show as a storyteller/musician, traveling the country and conducting workshops in acting and storytelling. For the past 10 years her focus has been on music and movement for pre-kindergarten through elementary grades, utilizing her training in Orff Schulwerk technique and drum circle facilitation. She has made several recordings of her songs and stories: Storysong, Seeing With My Ears and Stone Soup, and has published two stories, The Fourth Candle in the anthology The Jewish Year, and Diamante De Corazon in Storytelling World. Mara Beckerman has nearly 25 years of teaching experience, with ages pre-K to adult and children of special needs, in private and public schools, and is currently the music and movement specialist at Harker School in San Jose, CA.