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Talking with the Actor: Mary Martello

July 17, 2008

Mary Martello talks about the Walnut, Les Mis, and a run in with Johnny Carson.

Ensemble member Mary Martello has played a number of big roles in theatres all over Philadelphia. We sat down to talk with Mary about her experiences with Les Mis:

WST: What do you think will be the biggest challenge of being a part of an ensemble cast that is so vital to the story?

I'm so excited! This is the finest, most professional cast I've ever had the pleasure to work with. A lot of people who are normally principals are in the ensemble. The ensemble really creates the mood and place and progresses the story in Les Mis. The music is so vital to explaining what is happening, especially since so much time passes.

WST: Have you worked with Mark Clements before?

I haven't had that pleasure yet, but I thought his production of Of Mice and Men was brilliant and so enjoyable. I was glued to my seat! Time passed and I didn't even notice. When a theatre person goes to see a show, something really has to draw them in and make them forget they are in a theatre and Mark certainly accomplished it that night. It was an incredible feat.

WST: Although you've played nearly every major stage in Philly, what is your favorite thing about working at the Walnut?

Everything!! The staff is so supportive and there is such frequent interaction. It doesn't matter who it is- everyone from front desk staff to the stage management- we all become family. The administrative offices and shop folks, maintenance and audience services- everyone works to create a supportive environment for us all to work in. It is a truly a gift to be in a place with such a great working environment.

The Walnut also has the ability to do such wonderful musicals. Many of the shows I loved as a little girl - I have gotten to perform them at the Walnut. Shows like My Fair Lady, Sound of Music, Damn Yankees- these are classic American musicals! And you can always count on the Walnut for such high quality productions. Walnut has the many resources and they consistently put them towards putting on great shows.

WST: With such a distinguished list of performances and roles, which do you prefer: Musicals or Dramas?

Most people think musicals are easier but really they require great focus, skill and concentration. I've done both and many times musicals can be harder in the sense that if you have to sing, you have to warm up a whole other instrument. Dancing requires preparation, even if you aren't a "dancer" You must be able to move with the music, carry a tune, and remember to act! If you are in the chorus, you have to work with other people, much like you would on a basketball team. Learning to work as one is one of the hardest things in the theatre!

Each show, whether it is a musical or not, has its own challenges. You can't write off an entire genre as invaluable. Each artist has their own training and skills and they all have their place in theatre. Really it comes down to which roles and stories you are drawn to.

WST: There is rumored to be a great Mary Martello, Florence Henderson and Johnny Carson story. Care to elaborate?!

I was eight years old and I was already singing and performing in Michigan. Florence Henderson was on tour with Sound of Music. She was hired to sing for a Christmas extravaganza for Oldsmobile. Johnny Carson happened to be the MC. I was offered the chance to perform and Florence and I sang a duet called Be Kind to Your Parents. I distinctly remember sitting in the hallway before the show and Johnny Carson said to me "Break a leg, kid" This was the first time I had heard this expression in my whole life, and I was so confused!! But coming from him, I didn't mind one bit!