James Joyce’s The Dead: Marni Nixon interview part 1 | Quotidian Theatre Company

Stephanie Mumford

Quotidian Theatre Company opens its 15th Anniversary Season with its first musical, James Joyce’s The Dead. Richard Nelson and Shawn Davey adapt Joyce’s story about a family Christmas party and marry the story with music that draws from Irish tradition. To prepare for this production, Quotidian co-founders Jack Sbarbori and Stephanie Mumford, accompanied by QTC board member/actor David Dubov, traveled up to New York City in September to record a three-part interview between renowned opera and cabaret singer Janice Hall and singing legend Marni Nixon. Hall plays Gretta Conroy, the leading lady in Quotidian’s upcoming production, and Nixon originated the role of Aunt Kate in the Broadway production. Although Nixon has had a long and distinguished singing career, she will be forever remembered as the voice behind Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, Natalie Wood in West Side Story and Deborah Kerr in The King and I. Her fascinating autobiography, I Could Have Sung All Night, is available at Amazon. Stephanie Mumford recounts how this interview came about:

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Marni Nixon

As I noted in rehearsal blog 3, Quotidian’s production of James Joyce’s The Dead is dedicated to my mother, Lois Hempel. Mom’s all-time favorite movie was The Sound of Music, which actually featured Marni Nixon on screen as Sister Sophia. Those who may not recognize Marni’s face, or even her name, will most probably be familiar with the iconic  film performances of Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, Natalie Wood in West Side Story, and/or Deborah Kerr in The King and I. It was Marni who endowed those movie stars, from behind the scenes, with the glorious singing voices they used to thrill us all. “Ghosting” voices for these stars had its unique challenges and, ultimately, may have hurt her own career, as Marni revealed in interviews with the Chicago Tribune in 2008 and WNYC Radio in 2009. However, it was Marni’s onstage work creating the role of Aunt Kate in the 2001 Tony Award-winning musical of James Joyce’s The Dead that led us to meet with her in early September 2012.

Coincidentally, after Janice accepted the role of Gretta, she let us know that her friend, Marni Nixon, had been in the original production. I boldly inquired if Marni would consent to an interview with us and she graciously agreed. So, early one Saturday morning, Jack, David, and I boarded the Vamoose bus in Bethesda and headed up to New York City. We met Janice at a the Mont Blanc restaurant on 48th Street to finalize the questions we had prepared for the interview, and then we set out for our destination. Marni greeted us warmly in her studio, where she gives singing lessons, and which is adorned with a few Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, and an Academy Award nomination. Once again we reviewed the questions, during which Marni mentioned having seen a ghost walking about the audience while she was on stage at the Belasco Theatre. We asked her to mention that experience in her interview. I subsequently did a Google search and discovered that the Belasco Theatre is reportedly haunted by its namesake.  So, for that story and, more to the point, details about what went on at rehearsals with Christopher Walken, Blair Brown, Sally Ann Howes, Stephen Spinella, and Marni Nixon, we are delighted to share part 1 of our three-part interview with the delightful Marni Nixon.

~Stephanie Mumford

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Quotidian Theatre Company’s production of James Joyce’s The Dead runs Nov 16 – Dec 16. Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm, with one added 2pm performance on Saturday, Dec 15. All performances are held at The Writer’s Center: 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815. There is ample parking across the street (free on weekends), and the theatre is just five blocks from the Bethesda Metro Station on the red line. Tickets are $30, or $25 for students or seniors, paid for at the door by cash or check, please. Call 301.816.1023 or email quotidiantheatre@comcast.net to reserve.

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