Celebrated Broadway actress Mamie Parris (“Wicked,” “Cats,” “School of Rock”) sat down with the Oconee Performing Arts Center’s Board Chair Margie Eddy-Forbes.
You have such impressive career credits, what brings you to Lake Country to sing with OPAS on Sept. 10?
First of all, thank you for having me. I’m thrilled to be here! I have had the good fortune to work with your Artistic Director, Doug LaBrecque, on several occasions. He told me all about OPAS and some of the new and exciting things happening here and invited me to be a part of the season. Part of the joy I have in performing comes from the opportunity to travel, so visiting an area that’s new to me is always exciting. I’m looking forward to getting to know Lake Country!
What was your favorite moment or some of your favorite memories of working alongside Andrew Lloyd Webber?
Andrew Lloyd Webber is such an icon of musical theatre, it’s thrilling just to be in a room with him, but when you have an opportunity to collaborate with him, it’s immediately evident that his iconic status is well-deserved. He’s a brilliant musical mind. I remember one particular moment, during the technical rehearsals for School of Rock on Broadway, a musical phrase in a brief reprise I sang was not quite sounding the way he wanted. Rather than relaying a message to send to someone down the line, he and I went down to the band’s lair (in a rock and roll show, I think the band would prefer “lair” to “orchestra pit” don’t you?) and he talked out the orchestration with the instrumentalists and gave quick adjustments to the feel and small tweaks to the written arrangement while I sang along. It was really an exciting moment for me to not just see the magic-making, but to be a part of the magic-making as well.
Tell us a little about your vocal training? How did you or do you bridge the gap between your operatic training and your work as a celebrated Broadway belter?
In my opinion, having a healthy technique in any genre of training benefits your singing across the board. Singing classically helps me maintain a healthy “belt” sound and vice versa. I was quite fortunate to have good teachers early on. In New York City, I studied under a wonderful instructor named Wendy Sharp, who advocates a “one voice” technique. This means that as a young performer, I became comfortable vocalizing through my mid-range so I could minimize any sense of a vocal “break”. This technique helps me control the placement of my “belt” notes in a way that reduces strain and provides me with options for the kind of sound I want to produce.
Do you enjoy working with the other singers, Madison Claire Parks and Bronson Norris Murphy? How about the director Doug LaBrecque?
Never heard of ‘em! Kidding, of course. I adore them! Bronson and I starred together in the US premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Unmasked and hit it off immediately. He really is as handsome, charming, and kind as he appears onstage. Madison and I recently sang together for the first time and became fast friends. Like Bronson, she is not only a lovely person, but an incredible talent. I can’t decide if her voice is more butter or silk. Heavenly. Doug is a riot. You may not know it, because on the surface he’s all business, but he’s got a great sense of humor, which is such an asset in this business.
How does singing with a symphony orchestra like you will do for OPAS differ from performing a song in a Broadway musical?
There are many similarities in my preparation. I want to tell a clear story, take the audience on a journey. I want to move them through music in a way simply speaking will not achieve. As an actor, the difference is doing all that work in a four-minute song, as opposed to the full context of a two-act musical. As a singer, the difference is the incredible sound I have supporting me. On Broadway these days, it’s rare to have an orchestra of more than 12 or 15 pieces. Singing with a symphony orchestra is so artistically fulfilling because you’re hearing the full depth and breadth of the piece. The music tells a fuller, deeper story when it’s afforded the language of a full orchestra. For a performer, it’s really exciting.
You played the green witch Elphaba ("Defying Gravity") in WICKED and Grizabella(“Memory”) in CATS, is there added extra pressure knowing these roles have been played by other talented singers?
There’s always pressure when you take on a role that is so well known, but I find it is less due to previous performers, and more due to the experiences audiences expect. Audience members arrive at Wicked knowing that the songs my character sings should sound exciting and that the friendship represented onstage between Glinda and Elphaba is important and moving. I always wanted to make sure I gave the audience everything they expected and more. In the case of Cats, it was an immense honor to be trusted with the iconic song “Memory” because it is special to so many people (myself included). But I also feel the weight of that responsibility. I strive to create a character and a story that lives so clearly that the audience will be drawn to the song in a new way. The song is thrilling and inspiring, and it demands excellence from its interpreter. I am determined to deliver.
The Oconee Performing Arts Society and Artistic Director Doug LaBrecque, present “BROADWAY SINGS FOR OPAS” on Friday, Sept. 10, at 7:30 p.m., Festival Hall. For tickets call 706-467-6000 or visit www.opas.org. Oconee Performing Arts Society is a 501(c)3 organization. The OPAS mission is to entertain, enrich, and educate by providing high-quality fine-arts programming to the Lake Area Community. OPAS is located at 4980-A Carey Station Rd. in Greensboro, GA 30642.