If Marin Mazzie were to play herself in a hack Broadway show, she’d be the plucky, hardworking stage veteran finally landing the role of a lifetime at 53. But Woody Allen, whose Bullets Over Broadway—about a delusionally bad playwright and his mobster producer—is being remade as a Broadway musical, probably wouldn’t get many gags out of that. And if he could, Mazzie wouldn’t get a chance at her own star turn as the show’s relentlessly actressy Helen Sinclair, a character made famous by Dianne Wiest and her overwrought directive “Don’t speak!”
Mazzie has three Tony nominations, an enviable bod, and a rock-solid résumé of theater work, and she still had to chase the Helen role in real life. This is no reflection on her. In today’s Broadway, shows generally need to cast a Hollywood star to open big, and when she auditioned in late 2012, she didn’t get the job. (No one did; the creative team just kept looking.) “I was sort of devastated by that,” she says with a sonorous chuckle, “because it was a role that I really wanted and I thought that I was perfect for. But that wasn’t their vision, I guess, at that moment.” Mazzie had shaken off the disappointment when, after an initial reading, the producers called her back in. Allen and director Susan Stroman sat quietly through her second audition, then gave her the part and have been championing her ever since—despite rumors of further pressures to cast a bigger name. (Zach Braff, in the movie’s John Cusack role, is supplying the Hollywood name recognition, as is the show itself.) “The whole process was a lot of, ‘If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be, and if it’s not, there’s something else,’ ” Mazzie says. “But I truly believed that it was my part. Very Helen Sinclair of me.”
Mazzie isn’t taking any chances of letting it slip away, either. Living in stereotype has become a necessity: the scarves around her neck to protect the voice against the cold, the humidifier and air purifier in her dressing room, the glugging of water with cider vinegar to “help with my mucus.” And now the production risks another kind of wchill: the public image of Woody Allen. The New York Post’s Michael Riedel reported that advance-ticket sales slowed when Dylan Farrow publicly accused him of molesting her and that investors are “sweating” over the $14 million budget. “I can’t really talk about any of that,” says Mazzie, but she does add that “it has not entered into our world at all.” Allen, she says, has been heavily involved in the show from the start and has been to every preview. “He’ll be there, I’m sure, today to give us notes,” she says over a fruit plate at Joe Allen. “Woody’s writing new jokes every night, which is really fun.” Currently, he’s having the gluttonous character of Warner Purcell, played by Brooks Ashmanskas, encounter different odd delicacies on a buffet table each night, to see which food gets the best laughs. Mazzie’s character “gained some more ex-husbands,” she says, and her vices have expanded to nymphomania, kleptomania, and dipsomania (that last one involving paint thinner and lighter fluid, since the story’s set in 1929). Until the last show of the run, she deadpans, “I think he’ll come in and say, ‘Try this tonight, and let’s see what happens.’ ”
Mazzie’s been living the Broadway life, show by show, since she arrived from Kalamazoo in 1982. Her first apartment was right here, on a hookers-and-crack corridor of West 47th Street. “My dad got out of the car and said, ‘How long is your lease, and when can you get out of it?’ ” she says. “But it was so great! I had this pimp that used to watch out for me. Sometimes he’d walk with me, sometimes he’d try to get me to work for him. But very friendly.” Her big break came in a California revival of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Merrily We Roll Along. Sondheim’s only note to her when she auditioned with “Not a Day Goes By” was, “You sang ‘and there’s hell to pay.’ It’s ‘so there’s hell to pay,’ ” and, she recalls, “I was sure I didn’t get the job.” But she did and went on to work with Sondheim and James Lapine in Into the Woods and Passion. More recently, she caught attention as a woman with bipolar disorder in Next to Normal, in which she and her husband, Jason Danieley, played spouses. The two met on an experimental play, Trojan Women: A Love Story, in 1996. “I had a crush on him,” says Mazzie, who was 36 to Danieley’s 25. “I was not looking for a husband.” One night, in a bit of emergency recasting, Mazzie took over as Dido, which meant rehearsing a love scene with Danieley’s Aeneas. “I kissed him and I, like, deep-throated him,” she says, laughing. “Because I’d been dying to kiss him. He stood up and couldn’t remember his lines. And [the director] was like, ‘Take a break!’ ”
The show rests on her and Zach Braff’s performances, and she claims not to be feeling the pressure inherent in that: “I’m having the time of my life.” But Mazzie does admit that coming down every night takes a while—she’s lucky if she falls asleep by 2 a.m.—and her left hip’s been out of whack since a dance misstep in February. “Now that I’m a little older, I need … a little older? I sound like Helen,” she says. “I used to be able to survive on, like, four hours’ sleep. Can’t do that anymore. There are those things that happen that everyone tells you about and you go, ‘Oh, that’s not gonna happen to me.’ And it starts to.” But like Helen, Mazzie gives neither breath nor thought to further doubt. This is her moment, and anyone who dare think otherwise: Silence. Don’t speak.
*This article appeared in the April 7, 2014 issue of New York Magazine.Marin Mazzie on Bullets Over Broadway