Crazy for Mazzie

First, to clarify a few things: in another era, Marin Mazzie would be the biggest kind of Broadway star (think Ethel Merman or Carol Channing) and composers would be falling all over themselves to write shows for a singing actress who can do everything from broad comedy to heart-wrenching drama, all the while hitting the most glorious notes imaginable..

Another clarification: her first name is not pronounced like the county north of the Golden Gate Bridge. It rhymes with Sharon. And her last name rhymes with hazy.

So why isn’t Marin Mazzie (you said it correctly that time, good job) a monumental star? The simple answer is that Broadway doesn’t create those kinds of stars anymore. In the world of contemporary Broadway, Mazzie is among the best of the best. She sang naked in Sondheim’s Passion, hated men with glorious vehemence in Kiss Me Kate and heralded the dawn of a new age in Ragtime.

Currently, Mazzie is getting big laughs as the Lady of the Lake in Monty Python’s Spamalot on Broadway, but she’s taking a break to do her cabaret act at San Francisco’s Empire Plush Room June 12-17.

She was supposed to share the bill with her husband of nearly 10 years, the singing actor Jason Danieley (The Full Monty, Candide), but he’s in the new Broadway musical Curtains, and what with all the Tony Awards hullabaloo, he couldn’t get away.

So we get Mazzie on her own, and it just so happens she had an already prepared cabaret act waiting in the wings.

“I actually created this show for the Osher Jewish Community Center in Marin,” Mazzie says on the phone from her New York home. “I think that was about three years ago. David Loud, my musical director, and I needed to put something together, and we looked for music we love and can learn quickly.”

So what they did was create Yes, It’s Today, a collection of songs by Hello, Dolly! legend Jerry Herman and Cabaret and Chicago songwriting duo John Kander and Fred Ebb.

“I’ve worked with all three of them, and this is my tribute to them,” Mazzie says. “I’ve loved all of them, and all their music my whole life. It’s a really entertaining evening with lots of hits and stuff you might not know.”

Herman’s lightness is played off of Kander and Ebb’s darkness in intriguing pairings such as “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret with “Before the Parade Passes By” from Dolly or “Time Heals Everything” from`Mack and Mabel with “Isn’t This Better,” a Kander and Ebb song written for the movie Funny Lady.

If you saw the Kander and Ebb revue And the World Goes Round at the Curran Theatre in 1992, you saw Mazzie in the cast along with Karen Ziemba (who’s now partnered with Mazzie’s husband in Curtains).

“That was one of the first times I’d ever really been in San Francisco,” Mazzie recalls. “We were there for a month, and I just fell in love with the city. I remember it being a wonderful experience, with great audiences. On New Year’s Eve, we took over a piano bar, and our pianist, Jim Moore, played, and we sang show tunes until 4 in the morning. Those were the days when I could do that sort of thing.”

Mazzie had such a wild run on Broadway, with show after show after show, that she decided to step away from the eight-show-a-week grind. She was gone for about three years and spent a good deal of time in Los Angeles pursuing television work.

“I relished that time off,” she says. “The whole TV thing was new to me, and I actually enjoyed living in L.A. The business is completely different and the lifestyle is completely different. In New York City alone, whatever you do, it takes energy just to walk outside. In L.A., it’s sunny, you get in the car, and you’re in your own little pod.”

But when Mazzie came back to New York, and especially after taking over Lady of the Lake in Spamalot last September, she realized she missed Broadway.

“I didn’t miss singing every day,” she says. “But when I started in the show, I realized how much I had missed it.”

Unlike meatier roles in Ragtime and Passion, Mazzie says playing a crazy woman in a Monty Python comedy has its challenges and its rewards.

“To be in a show where, literally, people just laugh for two hours, that’s a pretty damn good thing,” she says. “At the end of the show, we sing `Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,’ and we all feel a little hopeful. Then we go home, see the news and read the papers and don’t feel so hopeful. But then we sing it again the next day.”

Next September, Mazzie and her husband are taking an actual vacation — no concert dates, no recording, no show business of any kind — to celebrate their tenth anniversary.

“Being married and being in the same business, we constantly strive to keep our lives about us,” Mazzie says. “We connect, we check in, we don’t sit and talk business all the time. We have a life together, and we constantly remind ourselves that we always need that. Obviously, sometimes it’s easier than others. Right now, it’s really hard to have time together. He has Sunday nights off, I have a show. But we do both have Mondays off.”

Mazzie says she and Danieley joke in their act (which they’ve recorded, “Opposite You,” on PS Classics) that being married 10 years for actors is like anyone else being married for 60.

For information about Mazzie’s cabaret act, visit

Review: `The Passion of the Crawford’

Last year, I reviewed Lypsinka’s fantastic The Passion of the Crawford, which returns to San Francisco’s Empire Plush Room tonight for a run through April 22. Below, in honor Lyp’s return, is my original review.

Lypsinka resurrects Crawford with Passion
three stars Dazzling

John Epperson has become a cult star without saying a word.

In the guise of his drag character, the fabulous Lypsinka, Epperson parades around onstage lip synching to an expertly produced sound collage full of movie dialogue, obscure cabaret singers and other esoterica.

We all think we can lip synch, whether it’s with a hairbrush in front of the bathroom mirror or pretending to “sing” one of our hit singles on TV (hello, Ashlee Simpson). But as Lypsinka, Epperson lip synchs to perfection. With his painted lips, exaggerated expression and flawless style, he raises the act of mouthing words and lyrics to an art form.

It’s been nearly five years since Epperson performed in the Bay Area, and he makes a welcome return in his new show, The Passion of the Crawford, at San Francisco’s Empire Plush Room.

This time around, Lypsinka is doing things a little differently. She’s inhabiting one character for the entire show: movie legend and wire hanger hater Joan Crawford.

When it comes to campy fun, there’s no bigger, juicier target than Crawford, Mommie Dearest herself. But Epperson and director Kevin Malony wisely refrain from adding laughs, because Crawford provides plenty on her own.

The soundtrack for his Passion is taken primarily from a recording made at New York’s Town Hall in 1973 when Crawford sat down for an onstage conversation with John Springer, host of the “Legendary Ladies of the Screen” series.

Apparently Crawford, then in her late 60s, was terribly nervous about the appearance, but she had known Springer for years, and after a tremendous ovation from the adoring crowd, relaxed into the interview and proved to be both interesting and funny.

For The Passion, Epperson basically re-creates that interview. Steve Hasley plays Springer, and Epperson, in a gorgeous, bejeweled black gown and upswept red hair, is a wonderfully expressive Crawford.

It’s a tribute to both Hasley and Epperson that their lip-synching skills are so good that it’s easy to forget they’re not actually speaking.

And because the interview is presented almost in its entirety, we really get a sense of Crawford. For almost an hour, she bemoans the lack of dignity in 1970s Hollywood, tells stories about Greta Garbo, Johnny Garfield, Clark Gable and others.

About Bette Davis (with Crawford below), the co-star she came to loathe while working on Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Crawford said, “We must have challenges. Otherwise, we don’t grow. I think Bette Davis, in Baby Jane, was one of the greatest challenges I’d ever had. I meant that kindly. I had more control and learned more discipline. … No, no, let me explain that please. Bette is of a different temperament than I. She has to yell every morning. And, so, I just sat and knitted. I knitted a scarf from Hollywood to Malibu.”

When asked if there were any good roles out there for her, Crawford said: “They just don’t write for us any more. Barbara Stanwyck feels the same way, we talk about it. Not often, because I don’t live in the past. I live in today preparing for tomorrow.”

When Crawford, who had a reputation for being a control freak, dispenses wisdom, the result is unintentionally funny.

She instructed young actors to “learn to breathe, learn to speak, but first learn to feel” with all the earnestness of a yoga teacher.

Epperson embodies Crawford in a straightforward way without too much exaggeration, and the result is not only believable but also quite fascinating.

The soundtrack does break away from the 1973 recording a few times — to a Christmas Eve radio broadcast with Joan and her kids, to songs Crawford sang in early films — and for the last 15 minutes or so, Epperson hauls out some truly bizarre recordings, including Crawford reading from the Desiderata, a meditation urging peace with God.

The prayer-like recording is the centerpiece of a manic sound collage that recalls the Lypsinka performances of old, complete with ringing telephones, movie dialogue (including delicious bits from Crawford’s final, horrible picture, Trog), shrieking, barking and nightmarish glimpses into Crawford’s tortured psyche.

If only poor Joan had remembered to breathe, speak and feel.

For information about The Passion of the Crawford, visit