Spotlight on Mary Stout

by Nancy Rosati   

NR:  Looking back on the past 20 years, did any of it go the way you expected?

MS:  I always liked to think that I was in control of my fate, but thatís not really true at all. Iíve been very, very lucky in that Iíve been able to live in New York, work probably an average of seven months a year without having to do anything else, except for occasionally spraying a little perfume at department stores. Unemployment has stepped in and helped out at times. At this point in my life, in terms of the last 20 years, I couldnít be more thankful in the sense that Iíve been a working professional in the business that I probably love.

NR:  Probably love? Youíre not sure?

Jane Eyre
As Mrs. Fairfax in Jane Eyre
MS:  I love doing it. Iím not sure I love the business side of it. Considering the events of the last ... Iíve worked on Jane Eyre for six years and itís been a roller coaster. Itís had a lot of ups and itís had a lot of downs. Itís always been a struggle. Itís always been heart-wrenching.

NR:  Do you mean that there have been difficulties all along, but the recent problems have just been more public?

MS:  Exactly. I thought that when we got to Broadway there would be a pot of gold sitting here. That aspect of it didnít happen, but in beginning to do a lot of soul searching in terms of ďWho am I? What am I doing in this business? Where is my place?Ē Iím learning a lot about the value of theater in everyoneís lives, and myself, and how it all fits in. Iím doing a lot of good work right now in terms of assessing the last six years of Jane Eyre. Even though itís a loss in terms of the show closing, I think that itís filled with a wonderful, rich tapestry of people and experiences, and people believing in something and being committed. Most of this cast have been in the show all along. We lost a couple along the way, but Iíd say at least half the cast was in the original Toronto cast. Itís been a long journey. Itís gotten better. The show has gotten much, much better. It really came a long way. It was a very different show in Toronto. It was the same length but itís much more developed now.

NR:  Is it very different now from when it opened in December?

MS:  Oh yes. Not in terms of the actual written material, but people who come see it now say, ďI donít know why I saw an early preview. This is a totally different show.Ē I think it just has to do with people investing their hearts and souls in things, which is wonderful. It can be hurtful but there are a lot of shows that have had similar journeys. Itís not unlike Side Show. That was a show where they felt very close, they had such a good cast, such a good group of people. They were so committed and believed that there was such a heart and soul in that show as well. Itís not at all unlike that. The producers were as passionate, the audience was very passionate. But neither show can go beyond a certain level, I think, because they canít figure out how to market them. I think thatís the bottom line. Our producers began to call Jane Eyre ďspinach.Ē

NR:  Why is that?

MS:  Because spinach is good for you. People know that spinach is good for you, but not everybody wants to try it. A lot of people just donít want it, so it became like marketing spinach if you really think about it. One of our producers said to me the other night, ďI think that 90% of our problem is marketing.Ē We began to take a lighter approach later in the run. This spring they started to think that we shouldnít take ourselves quite so seriously. They felt that if they had started that way right from the beginning, they might have been able to do it. I donít know. Who knows?

There have been disappointments for me this spring and theyíve been tough, but Iíll get through them and Iíll get right back out there and start doing it again. If you couple the journey that the show has made with the emotional journey the show itself embodies, itís a hard show. We were dealing with a roller coaster of a show in itself. Itís filled with a lot of emotion and doing it over a long period of time, thinking ďif we can just get ... Ē I was one of the people who believed from the get-go that it was going to make it to Broadway. I did. I was totally sold on it. I said, ďIf people can see me do this, theyíre going to take me seriously as an actressĒ because itís a classic and I worked very, very hard to make this character believable. I can always do shtick. I can always do comedy but I wanted her to be a real person, grounded in that period.

NR:  Do you think thatís going to make a difference now, or is it too early to answer that?

MS:  Itís too early. I relish having a little time off, although you never know about this business. Itís so classic, that maybe they wonít think of me in a contemporary way. Casting directors think, ďMary doesnít sing popĒ and I say, ďAsk me!Ē

NR:  You did a cabaret show called Lighter Than Eyre not too long ago.

MS:  I know, and I sang pop in that!

NR:  Why donít you tell me about that? Are you going to try that again?

MS:  Probably. I donít have anything on the fire yet but my music director called me and he said, ďI just loved working on it and I think we need to do something else.Ē Thatís coming from him and heís a busy man.

NR:  Would it be similar to the one you already did?

MS:  Similar, but maybe a little more intimate. I did Lighter Than Eyre as a benefit for the Marcia Shew Fund for Pediatric AIDS. I didnít want to make money on it, I just wanted a lot of people to see it. I did a fairly large venue - upstairs at Studio 54. Two hundred and forty people saw the show in the two performances. Thatís pretty big for a club act. I wanted to really mesh where I was in my career in terms of what I wanted to show. I wanted to do the funny songs that Iíve been singing for years.

I turned some corners on it. I did some ballads and some interesting things. I involved a lot of songwriters - it's great that people are willing to write for me, or give me songs. It was a little big for a club act. Thereís nothing wrong with that ... it was just a little bit more theatrical and I used it as a publicity event, to get myself out there. I think it was highly successful. We got some lovely notices and it was a good springboard for me. I need a little time to kind of sit back and decide where I want to go with this.

NR:  How about a CD?

MS:  Thatís a possibility. I have to get somebody interested. As for the cabaret act, the next venue will be a little smaller, not without some of the same material, but I want to make it a little more intimate. I want to take people on a journey, and if I can do that while doing the kinds of things that I know and have fun with ... About 16 years ago I did something and I talked about it in Lighter Than Eyre. A friend of mine was music directing and he said, ďItís like a therapy.Ē It was very ď'80s,Ē very ďangst-drivenĒ and this time I said, ďNo, I donít want to do that!Ē I want to have fun and I want to share the fun things that I sing.

Plus it gives me a chance to show that I can sing. I donít know if you know Polly Penís work at all. I did The Night Governess with her at the McCarter. Itís a very classic, very Victorian piece - another Victorian piece, but I was the matriarch, which was nice. Danny Gurwin was my son. Robbie Sella was my son. Danielle Ferland was my daughter. Here I was playing this old lady. I had a wonderful time. The first time I auditioned, Polly Pen came up to me and said, ďMary, I had no idea that you sang.Ē I think she knew I could sing shtick and character roles, but I donít think she realized that I really can sing. Iím not sure people would realize from watching Jane Eyre. So the act gives me a chance to show that.

NR:  What do you want to do in the future?

Remember WENN
As Eugenia Bremer in AMC's "Remember WENN"
MS:  More of the same. I would like to do more TV. I do enjoy television and ďRemember WENNĒ was a very big part of my life for a few years. When we did the first season I was out with Beauty and the Beast. I would fly home on Monday morning and film. I filmed nine episodes that way. I didnít have a day off for about ten weeks. I was a little busy. The second season, I was still out with Beauty and the Beast, nearing the end of my contract, and I got Jane Eyre in Toronto. I had to make a decision if it would be ďRemember WENNĒ or Jane Eyre. I got out of the Disney contract and decided that I wanted Jane Eyre more than I wanted ďRemember WENNĒ so on the TV show they gave my character a late night radio show. The producer, who was played by Bob Dorian, would refer to me but you never saw me. I went to Toronto and we obviously werenít coming in to Broadway that spring. They were getting ready to film the third season and I called Rupert Holmes on the phone and said, ďJane Eyreís not coming in.Ē He said, (imitating a clairvoyant) ďI see you walking in the doorĒ and he wrote me back in. They decided that the late night radio show had no ratings so I came back. Carolee Carmello had been playing the organist, and she said, ďOh, I want to be an actor anyway,Ē so she did more acting and I went back to the organ bench. It could not have been more wonderful for me. The last two seasons were delicious. I had such fun and Rupert wrote the best stuff for me. Heís such a fine writer.

NR:  Did you enjoy doing the Disney movies?

MS:  I loved that. I didnít work for very long. Hunchback was only about 20 minutes of work. I did a pilot of a show called Lunatic Theatre that FX is interested in. It was co-written by Jerry Seinfeld. Supposedly the buzz is that the president of FX is nuts about it. I did an episode of Criminal Intent, a new Law and Order series that will air in the fall. Iíd like to do a little more TV. Iíd like to do more theater, of course. And film, of course. Anything - and go on with this career, go on and learn more, and do more. Iíd like to do plays. Iíd like to do more serious work. Iíd LOVE to do something thatís more serious. Maybe that has shown through a little in Jane Eyre. I hope. It would be nice if thatís true. I donít know if people are going to pick up on that or not. You never know. But you know what? Iím being seen for something tomorrow and itís a play. The last thing I was seen for was a Romeo and Juliet, so maybe. But you see the realm Iím in right now. Theyíre thinking classic, theyíre thinking period work, which is something I have an affinity for. Theyíre thinking (indicating her costumes) long black dresses and black shoes. Iíd like to do varied things. Iíd like to do something happy, and something serious. As much as I think the business is not what I thought it was ...

NR:  Itís not what you thought it was? In what way?

MS:  When you get to this level, itís a lot more commercially ... (searching for the right word)

NR:  A lot more ďbusinessĒ and a lot less ďshow?Ē

MS:  Yes.

NR:  Iíve heard that from many people.

MS:  It makes me sad. But you know what? It is the business that I am obviously choosing, and I just need to learn from it and keep going, and keep growing. Being an artist is hard because itís an ephemeral business. One minute itís there and the next minute itís gone. Whatís important is what we as artists can carry with us to the next venture. Everythingís a learning experience, but I guess thatís true of almost any business. Itís hard ... and yet, it isnít. There are a lot of people who will be standing outside that stage door today after the show, and it lives for them. It really lives. One womanís seen the show 32 or 33 times so it means something to her.

NR:  Thatís wonderful. Thank you so much and I wish you and the cast the best for the remaining performances.

MS:  Thank you.

Jane Eyre may have closed, but itís certainly not the last youíll hear of Mary Stout. Iím eagerly anticipating her next cabaret act, seeing her create a new character, hopefully in something other than a long black dress, and maybe even a CD. One thing is certain - this extremely resilient woman will land on her feet and hopefully entertain new audiences for many years to come.