Five Burning Questions with Dames at Sea Star Mara Davi
November 18th, 2015
by Josh Ferri
If you’re at the Helen Hayes Theatre seeing Dames at Sea (and you should be at the Helen Hayes Theatre seeing Dames at Sea), it’s nearly impossible to take your eyes off Mara Davi. The true triple threat stars as Joan, a leggy dancer in the fictional musical and the love of sailor Lucky, and her big number with Danny Gardner, “Choo-Choo Honeymoon”, is the stuff dreams are made of.
Below, BroadwayBox talks with the Broadway leading lady about taking on Maggie in the first-ever A Chorus Line revival, playing the villain on TV’s Smash and keeping her Beauty and the Beast dream alive.
1. You are so spot on in this period—every moment, every line reading. Who are you serving us in Dames at Sea?
I was basically trying to channel Joan Blondell and Ginger Rogers—if they had a love child, that's who I’m trying to be. Obviously Joan Blondell because she’s Joan’s namesake for the show, and I just love what she does with her face and big eyes. And Ginger, I’ve watched forever. I’ve tried to copy their voice and their mannerisms and just mash it all together.
2. What was the biggest pinch me moment of your whole A Chorus Line experience?
There were a lot of pinch-me moments but the biggest was when we performed on The Tony Awards. It was so cool. First of all, they closed off 6th Avenue so we could do the opening number on the street with Marvin Hamlisch playing piano on top of Radio City. It was insane. Then the huge moment was when we were all in the line and we were raised up in the elevator onto the Radio City stage. We were backlit so we could see the full house as we started performing “One” but the couldn’t see our faces. The entire company was performing—all the cut dancers, all the swings—and it was at almost the end of a year doing the show so it felt like the culmination of ‘wow we did this.’
So re-watching Every Little Step, they made such a big deal about the big Maggie “At the Ballet” moment; what was your relationship with that high note and moment like?
That's especially where I lived then—in that place, in that note. Growing up I wanted to be Maggie. Rachel deBenedet was like my hero growing up in Colorado, and I was being an obnoxious 11-year-old and belting extraordinarily high in the dressing room one day and she said, “Mara, somebody you’re going to play Maggie in A Chorus Line…but right now you need to be quiet.” At that point I didn't know what Maggie was but I went and got the album and I listened to it and loved it and sang “At the Ballet” all the time. So when my brand-new agents said, ‘Do you know what they haven’t found yet? Maggie in A Chorus Line.’ I said, ‘Yes, yes please. Sign me up for that.’ I was not nervous about that note. It was the one thing I knew I had to do—I was nervous about the dancing.
3. I love that you were a huge theatre nerd growing up. Whose voice did you idolize? What role did you believe you were destined to play?
I grew up in the Beauty and the Beast era. I wanted to be Susan Egan, then a little later I wanted to be Sutton Foster or Jodi Benson. I wanted to be a princess. I still want to be Belle in Beauty and the Beast. Holler out there casting directors! Give me a chance—just for a week to play this role. Also, if there’s a Crazy For You revival, I want to be Polly so bad.
4. You were so wicked in Smash and Ever After, but what did you find redeeming about those characters, Daisy Parker and Marguerite?
Ok, Daisy Parker is not a bad person; she just wanted to be on Broadway. She did not sleep with Derek to get on Broadway. She slept with Derek and then afterward saw an opportunity, but listen she’d been around for a long time, was super-talented and she had paid her dues—and she was fierce in the show. Did she maybe manipulate the situation a bit? Yes. Would I be pissed if someone did that and kicked me out of a role? Absolutely, but she’s a nice person. She just used the cards in her hand.
In defense of Marguerite, her family is in trouble. They lost their money and she is the only solution. She had been raised by her mother as the savior of the family, so stakes are high to marry rich and save her family.
It’s so fun to play the mean girl. It’s so cool. I came to New York wanting to be Peggy Sawyer but I love the turn things have taken and that I get to be a little bit wicked.
5. If you had to describe your other two Dames, Lesli and Eloise, as cocktails, what would they be and why?
When I think of Lesli, I think of a really beachy coconut rum cocktail. I picture an umbrella sticking out and frosting, and it would have a special name based on the resort like The Cabana Boy Cocktail. I think Eloise is a cosmopolitan; there’s just something very Sex and the City about her. I think she’d be right there with the girls drinking her cosmo at the bar.
Get yourself over to the Helen Hayes to see Mara Davi shine in 'Dames at Sea'