By Marilyn Lester
When a bevy of eight talented women are assembled to pay tribute to icon Mary Martin, there’s reason to crow. The launch of the eighth season of The Ziegfeld Society was written and hosted by David Kaufman, author of a new biography, entitled Some Enchanted Evenings, The Glittering Life and Times of Mary Martin. Between Kaufman’s narration, slides, film clips, and song, the magic of Martin was as well communicated as could be short of having the living, breathing diva herself onstage.
The festivities began with a piano overture, played with gusto by Mark York, driving force behind The Ziegfeld Society. Thence unspooled a procession of glorious gals, some in glam attire and some in costumes suggestive of Martin’s roles on the musical stage. Chelsie Nectow was up first, performing “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” the tune that shot Martin into literal overnight fame in 1938’s Leave it to Me. It was, Kaufman writes, a performance that was an “innocent-yet-teasing rendition” that “would help shape and define Martin’s persona both on stage and in life: one of studied innocence, personal naiveté.” Karen Akers, that magnificent storyteller and chanteuse, performed “That’s Him” (One Touch of Venus) and later, “Before I Kiss the World Goodbye” (Jennie), which Kaufman identified as the song that most likely sums up Martin’s philosophy of life.
Reminding us of how exquisite are the scores of Martin’s Golden Age musicals, Candice Oden performed a sure-as-shootin’ medley of songs from Annie Get Your Gun, Erin Cronican sang an upbeat medley from South Pacific, Chelsie Nectow presented a high-flying medley from Peter Pan (a role very close to Martin’s heart), and Meg Tolin-Piper was on the money with a medley from The Sound of Music, which few people realized was commissioned by Martin as a star vehicle for herself. Lesser known songs from Martin’s more obscure outings were beautifully sung by Virginia Wing: “Mountain High, Valley Low” from Lute Song, and Marcy Degonge Manfredi with “There’s Music in You” from the 1953 film, From Main Street to Broadway. Another great storyteller of song, Karen Ziemba performed a blazing rendition of “Flaming Agnes” and a lovely “My Cup Runneth Over” both from I Do! I Do! – Martin’s last musical.
A special treat was a clip of “The Shape” from a 1953 television show in which Martin demonstrated her significant capacity for comedy. To close out Some Enchanted Evenings, a clip of Martin singing “Neverland” featured the chorus of eight singers accompanying the star in unison. The saga of Mary Martin’s life began in Weatherford Texas in 1913 and ended in 1990. To experience Martin in person, it is said, was to experience something extraordinary. Communicating this wonderment, providing cohesion and keeping the celebration moving at a brisk pace, was achieved through the sharp directorial talents of Walter Willison.
Some Enchanted Evenings: The Glittering Life and Times of Mary Martin, September 17, 3 pm at Lang Recital Hall, Hunter College (69th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues).
Photos: Maryann Lopinto