July 27, 2021
Cabaret's Mary Callanan Turns Her 'Extended Intermission' Into a New Show
John Amodeo READ TIME: 10 MIN.
"We opened on Tuesday before lockdown in Columbus," says actress Mary Callanan with chagrin, "and the Governor of Ohio woke up on Wednesday morning and said, 'I don't know what this is, but we are shutting down the state.' We sat in our hotel rooms for four days, not knowing if we were going to continue the tour or not."
Callanan was speaking of the National Tour of the 2018 Broadway revival of "My Fair Lady," which had opened in December 2019 at the Kennedy Center and played a few other cities before traveling to Columbus. The cast had no choice but to wait for more news. As Callanan recalls, "The Red states were saying, 'Sure, you can come to our city and perform,' so we thought we might still be going to Iowa. But when one of our producers didn't get on her plane to come from NY to Ohio to see us, we knew it was bad. So, on Friday night they told us they would give us plane tickets home. Rather then get on a plane with hundreds of people [there were no masks then], I rented a car that minute and was the first one at 8 a.m. at the car rental to pick up my car, and drove back home from Columbus to Boston, stopping only at rest stops for food and quick bathroom breaks."
As we all know, theater has been closed since then, leaving the almost-always working Callanan in the same boat as every other actor: On indefinite hiatus. Callanan isn't one to stay idle for too long, however, and we get to see the results of that next week when Callanan performs her new cabaret show, "Extended Intermission," on August 3, 2021 at Club Café's Moonshine in Boston.
Callanan premiered the show in June at CabaretFest Provincetown 2021, which was so well received she was immediately booked in Boston. The festival's theme, "Broadway at the Beach," gave Callanan the thread for her show, which has an autobiographical arc tracing her journey from local star to Broadway baby, via the Great American Songbook, jazz standards, and musical theater.
Before National Tours and Broadway, Callanan had been a staple in the Boston theater scene for years, having performed at North Shore Music Theatre, Trinity Rep, Lyric Stage Company, Speakeasy Stage Company, and Ogunquit Playhouse playing such sinister roles as Mama Morton in "Chicago" and Mrs. Lovett in "Sweeney Todd," to more beatific roles as the Narrator in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and every nun known to theater ("Nunsense I and II," "Nuncrackers," "Late Nite Catechism").
"I guess I just had that Irish Catholic face," quips Callanan. Many of her fans also know her as piano bar chanteuse performing in Boston and Provincetown with her longtime musical director and close friend, Brian Patton. But it wasn't until she landed the national tour of "Mamma Mia!" as Rosie, one of the leading roles, did her career take on a new upward trajectory. From there, she alternated national tours in "The Bridges of Madison County" and "My Fair Lady" with Broadway productions of "Mamma Mia!" (she was in the final cast) and "Annie," (as Mrs. Pugh and understudying Miss Hannigan) to creating the new role of Jean Ann Ryan in "Bandstand."
While touring with "The Bridges of Madison County," Callanan got to work closely with composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown, though not for the first time. "I was lucky enough to have known him in his youth, when he was the Tuesday night pianist at Eighty-Eight's," reminisced Callanan. "Thankfully, he already knew me from the North Shore Music Theater concert of his 'Songs for a New World,' where he was also musical director. For 'Bridges...,' he came to Iowa, of course [where the tour of 'Bridges...' opened]. He conducted on opening night, and to all of his 'Songs...' and 'Parade' fans, he was the star. He was also there for the whole 2-3 week run in Los Angeles. He would open the second act with the guitar and conduct, and the audience went crazy. That was always very exciting. He invited us to his home in LA, and I hung out with his mom, who was very nice and complementary to me, and he said, 'Wow, my mom doesn't usually talk to anyone like that!' "
Between the North American tour of "Mamma Mia" and two years of its sit-down production in Las Vegas, Callanan got cast in her first Broadway show, as Mrs. Pugh in the 2012 revival of "Annie," where she also understudied Miss Hannigan for Jane Lynch and Faith Prince. "I never went on for Jane," lamented Callanan. "She never missed a performance. It was her Broadway debut!" But fortunately, Prince took vacations, and Mary had several opportunities to take center stage as the villainous and delusional Miss Hannigan.
But Callanan recalls fondly her time in "Annie" with Lynch, both starting rehearsals on the same day as replacements. "There was an opening night party for her in the Chinese restaurant in Times Square that isn't there anymore," recounts Callanan. "I told her, 'This is great!' And she leaned over to me, and out of the corner of her mouth she said, 'This is our opening night party,' and I said, 'That's nice of you to say, but it really isn't.' And she said, 'This was both our dream to star on Broadway, and we did it!' "
As Callanan tells it, Lynch didn't eschew going to lunch with the ladies in the ensemble, either, even going so far as picking up the tab. Callanan and the others would object, but she would chide, "Don't be ridiculous, I have TV money."
It was during "Annie" that Callanan got to work with Tony-award winning Broadway choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler ("Hamilton," "In the Heights"), which then led to her getting cast in "Bandstand," directed and choreographed by Blankenbuehler. "He made us look good," sighs Callanan with much relief, not being a trained dancer. "That's how good he is!"
When "Bandstand" closed, Callanan got to work with another Tony-award winning choreographer, Christopher Gattelli ("Newsies," "War Paint," "The Cher Show") when she was cast in the tour of "My Fair Lady." But when the lockdown occurred in March 2020, after less than three months of touring, Callanan, like many actors worldwide, found herself out of work.
She was not idle for long. Her frequent musical partner Patton was already live-streaming "Broadway Hump Night" from his home on Wednesday nights, as a COVID-safe surrogate for his regular gig at the Club Café. About three weeks into lockdown, a bored-stiff Callanan was one broken nail away from a complete meltdown until she heard from her friend. "He called one day and said, 'I was thinking.' And I said, 'Yes!' " exclaims Callanan. And thus, "Tipsy Tuesdays" was born, a weekly piano bar evening live-streamed from Patton's home.
Patton and Callanan would "theme" each week, add some costumes and props for fun, and include one more thing: Cocktails! For the next 13 months, Callanan and Patton ran "Tipsy Tuesdays" like clockwork, kibitzing with fans and friends via the chat function between, and often during, the songs.
"We were doing it as a fundraiser for Club Café, but we were also doing it for ourselves," admits Callanan. "We found out people really appreciated it, because it put a little bit of 'normal' into people's lives" The big challenge was figuring out how to social distance indoors when you can't wear masks.
Further complicating matters was Patton's day job working with seniors in an assisted living facility. He had to be extra careful, saying to Callanan, "You can come over and sing, but you can't come near me." Callanan adds, "When I arrived, he would yell from the kitchen and I would enter, and set up the cameras, and then I would say, 'It's OK to come in!' We had to be ultra-careful because Brian couldn't get the residents sick. The minute we said good night, he would leave the room, and I would take down the stuff and leave. He was one of the first people I knew to get vaxxed, because he's a healthcare worker. We were just lucky he has a beautiful home with a beautiful piano."
During lockdown, while she was keeping busy with "Tipsy Tuesdays," Callanan received a call from Patricia Fitzpatrick, who was busy herself, producing CabaretFest Provincetown 2021. Fitzpatrick thought Callanan would be a natural for this year's "Broadway at the Beach"-themed festival, since Callanan is one of the few actors around who has actually gone from CabaretFest to Broadway. Patton wasn't available for CabaretFest, so Fitzpatrick offered up Mike Renzi, who was already signed up as one of three CabaretFest house pianists.
This presented a conundrum for Callanan, whose repertoire for a cabaret show leans heavily on Broadway, while Renzi is one of the country's great jazz musicians. This made her rethink her set list. "If you are standing in a basil field, you make pesto," cracks Callanan. "I love singing jazz, too. It was such a treat playing with Peggy Lee's musical director. Those songs made sense to me. I like that they are not songs done every day. Many of them are standards from the Great American Songbook. I listen to this kind of music all the time: Rosie [Clooney], Mel Tormé, Nat King Cole, Sinatra, Julie London, Nancy Wilson."
From this, Callanan developed "Extended Intermission," where she gets to stretch her jazz chops and offer a whole new sound of American standards. The sold-out show in Provincetown was such a hit, she was immediately booked for the upcoming Club Café gig, again with Renzi at the piano.
You may want to catch "Extended Intermission," now, because, come September Callanan's own extended intermission will be over when the "My Fair Lady" National Tour reopens. An excited Callanan trills, "Yes, the first preview will be September 14, in Houston. We are out for 44 weeks. I will be so happy to be back on the road."
Mary Callanan performs "Extended Intermission" on Tuesday, August 3, 7:30 p.m. at Club Cafe, Moonshine Room, 209 Columbus Avenue, Boston, MA 02116. Tickets $25. For tickets and reservations, visit https://www.clubcafe.com/events/extended-intermission/
John Amodeo is a free lance writer living in the Boston streetcar suburb of Dorchester with his husband of 23 years. He has covered cabaret for Bay Windows and Theatermania.com, and is the Boston correspondent for Cabaret Scenes Magazine.