by Nancy Rosati
Mary Stout's Broadway career has spanned 20 years, and what a career it's been. Specializing as a character actress, frequently at ages far advanced from her own, she’s portrayed Aunt Sadie in My Favorite Year, The Duchess in Me and My Girl, Peggotty in Copperfield and Enid in A Change in the Heir. On June 10, 2001, she closed out her run as Mrs. Fairfax, the delightful housekeeper in Jane Eyre, after being a part of the production for six years. Mary has also toured extensively in such shows as Beauty and the Beast, Nine, The Pirates of Penzance and has even played Mrs. Claus in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
Fans of AMC’s “Remember WENN” know that she was Eugenia Bremer for all four seasons. Rupert Holmes was so fond of her work that he kept her character in the show, even when Mary herself was with Jane Eyre in Toronto. When she got a break from Eyre, Eugenia was conveniently brought back on screen without missing a beat. She has also appeared in a handful of films, including Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown, and most recently has done vocal work in Disney’s animated Hunchback of Notre Dame and Aladdin
I had the unique opportunity to speak with Mary in her dressing room a few days before the closing of Jane Eyre. She was understandably reflective when she spoke about the experience of the past six years, and where she wants to go from here.
Nancy Rosati: Tell me a little bit about your childhood.
Mary Stout: I was born in West Virginia but I was raised in Ohio. There were just two siblings, my sister and me. My dad played the trumpet so I think that’s where I got my love of music. My sister sings and acts too. Both of us were inspired by having that born into us.
NR: Did you want to be an actress?
MS: No, I wanted to be a singer. I told my second grade class that when I grew up I wanted to be an opera singer, and everybody laughed.
NR: Did you even know what an opera singer was at that age?
MS: I think I did, but I was surprised that they knew enough to laugh. My aunt had all those great old Victrola records and I had listened to them. I spent a lot of time imitating Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music and all that stuff. I did a little high school acting. That was sort of where I started thinking, “Ooo ... I like this,” but I never really got to play any good parts. It wasn’t until I got to college.
NR: Did you major in either music or theater?
MS: I was a Music Major in Music Education because my dad wanted me to be a teacher. He thought that I had to pursue something ... (laughs) that had some sort of consistency to it, I suppose. I went to Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. I dropped out of the Music Ed program pretty quickly because I wanted to perform and they had no Performance degree at all. In a way that was good because it made me keep my music training going. I always took voice lessons and choir. I kept up a lot of my music courses but I was beginning to drift toward theater. I think my school now has a degree in Performing, but they didn’t at the time, so I went into Speech Education - not Hearing Impaired or anything like that, just Speech. I found that it was a very easy curriculum and I had an affinity for speaking. That way I would be able to get a teaching degree in something that I knew, and knew I could teach. I was able to do all the theater that I wanted and all the music that I wanted.
I was a debater the first two years - why, I’ll never know! I was a terrible debater, just terrible. I was really good at reading the first affirmative speech (laughs) but then everything would go down the tubes after that.
NR: You’re better if someone writes the words for you?
MS: Yes. Then I got into Speech activities and I would do interpretation and drama. It was all related. So I gave myself my own little Arts Education. It took me five years but I certainly got to do a lot of shows and play a lot of different parts. My big role in college was my junior year when I played Mama Rose in Gypsy at age 21. I was a little imitative of Ethel [Merman] in places I’m afraid, but it was something I’m still very proud of.
NR: Once you left college, where did you go?
MS: While I was in college I started doing summer stock. I was smitten. I was living with my grandmother and my aunt and it was very difficult. My grandmother died and I was taking care of an invalid for a few years. It was too much for me at that age, to have that kind of responsibility. I found myself going off
I started doing dinner theater. My first job, we left summer stock on a day off and we went to Nashville, Tennessee to audition for a dinner theater company. They had four or five dinner theaters so you could get a little tour. You could do a show for six months. I auditioned and was hired on the spot to replace an 18 year old who was going off to college. She had spent the summer doing this tour of Neil Simon’s The Good Doctor. I trailed her for a week, learned her part, and then took over. Her name was Cherry Jones. Isn’t that funny? I’ve told people since, “Listen, if Cherry’s not available, we’re so much the same type ... (laughs)”
NR: You’ve been doing character roles forever. Did you ever want to be the ingenue just once?
MS: One time. One of my favorite shows that I did when I was younger was a musical called The Grass Harp based on the Truman Capote novella. I played the character role, Babylove, the first time I did it. Then a few years later, they revived it at the same theater and I said, “I want to play Dolly” which is the role that Barbara Cook originated. She’s an ingenue, but she’s an “older woman ingenue.”
NR: (laughing) And you were about 25 at the time, right?
MS: Exactly. It’s a lovely role and I loved playing it, but I’ve never been so bored in my entire life.
NR: Really? You’d rather be Ado Annie than Laurey?
MS: Absolutely! I was bored!
NR: They get the pretty songs ...
MS: Yeah but who cares? (laughs) That’s the only time I truly played something like that. It was just “not fun!” I just didn’t get the buzz from it. It’s much more fun getting the laughs.