Call Answered: NEW Mardie Millit Interview: One Sondheim Story in Letters and SongFeb 09, 2024
It's so great to catch up with singer, actress, writer & award-winning cabaret star Mardie Millit. The last time I spoke with her was in 2019 when she & her husband Michael Garin were performing their '60s show Michael & Mardie…And Other Delights.
Now, Mardie is getting ready to perform her latest cabaret show, Sorry-Grateful: One Sondheim Story in Letters and Song, with arrangements by Michael.
In this new interview, Mardie once again answered my call. This time around, she reveals:
- How this show came to fruition
- The moment she became a fan of the great Stephen Sondheim
- How her fandom turned into a life-long friendship with Sondheim
- What she learned from her friendship with Sondheim
- So much more
Sorry-Grateful: One Sondheim Story in Letters and Song will play at the Laurie Beechman Theatre in NYC on Tuesday, February 13 at 7pm and at Club Cafe in Boston, MA on Sunday, February 18 at 6pm. Click here for tickets!
Sorry-Grateful: One Sondheim Story in Letters and Song is about a small-town nerdy teen whose best friend is...Stephen Sondheim?!? 2022 MAC Award Winners Mardie Millit and Michael Garin present this one-of-a-kind story of a lifelong correspondence between Mardie and the late Broadway legend, featuring an eclectic mix of songs from his entire catalog, performed in Michael & Mardie's uniquely personal style. You don't have to be a Sondheim superfan to enjoy this show...but if you are one, you'll love it too!
1. This February you are presenting your cabaret show Sorry-Grateful: One Sondheim Story in Letters and Song, with arrangements by Michael Garin, in NYC & Boston, MA. How did this show come to fruition? This is a show I've been ruminating about for many years, and of course when Sondheim passed away in 2021, I became acutely aware of the passage of time and the urgency of telling my own story. But additionally....as with most of our cabaret shows, a huge push came from our friend Patricia Fitzpatrick, who runs the Provincetown CabaretFest, which we participate in every summer. Every year there's a theme, which forces us to write a show! And 2022's theme was Sondheim by the Sea, so it was a perfect storm of inspiration and necessity.
2. The show talks about your lifelong correspondence with Stephen Sondheim. What was the first Sondheim song that made you become a fan of his? It wasn't a song but an entire score: Sweeney Todd. I talk in our show about my 8th grade classmate, Becca Mendelson, who first lent me her two-LP set of the original cast album, assuring me that it would "change my life." She was right. I was blown away by so many things: the integration of the songs into the storytelling, the flawless setting of the lyrics to the music, and of course the sheer brilliance of his lyric writing. I was hooked.
3. What did you learn about yourself or your relationship with Stephen Sondheim from creating this show? Because the bulk of my relationship with him happened before he achieved the rockstar/deity status of his later years (we began corresponding in 1980!), I discovered that the Steve I knew was quite different from the one many other people met later. As for myself, I've learned -- and am still learning -- how to talk about this part of my life. I've kept it pretty quiet because it was so meaningful to me that I literally didn't want to let anyone else mock or denigrate it. That's why this show is so important to me -- because I get to tell the story my own way.
4. Why did you title the show Sorry-Grateful? Anytime you undertake a project that requires looking back on things you said and did as a 13-year-old....you're going to have regrets! Some of my memories have been a real cringefest. But being able to focus on the grace he, as a 50-year-old artist, gave to me, a literal child, was what got me through those cringes. His respect and care for me as a human and as a fellow artist were extraordinary.
5. What is something you are sorry you didn't get to tell Sondheim? Honestly, nothing! Our correspondence continued till almost the end of his life (though not with the frequency of my teen years), and I was able to thank him for all his gifts to me -- his work, and also the personal kindnesses he showed me. He knew, in detail, what his encouragement meant to me as I grew and matured. So I am happy to say there are no regrets there.
My one regret has nothing to do with our communication with each other. I never got a damn picture! It was before smartphones and selfies, and I never wanted to look obnoxious by making him pose with me and have someone else take it. BIG regret.
6. What are you most grateful for? Like so many other people, I'm most grateful for his work and the joy it's brought to my life. His songs have been some of the most educational and revelatory instruments in my own artistic life. The fact that I got to interact with him on a personal level, and even call him a friend, is icing on the cake.
7. When did you write your first letter to Sondheim? In 1980, when I was 13.
8. How did that exchange become a lifetime of correspondence? Complete luck! Something in my nerdy first letter caught his attention, and when I wrote my second letter, he answered that too, and it just never really stopped. I was always careful not to bombard him with too-frequent letters, but while I was in high school we were writing every 2 or 3 weeks. I think I asked intelligent questions for a kid, because I was studying classical music, but I was also interested in poetry and wordplay and the craft of lyric writing. So we had a lot to talk about. Also, I've always been obsessed with making people laugh, so I always tried to be entertaining.
Mardie Millit performing
9. What is something you discovered about Stephen Sondheim from corresponding with him that the regular fan wouldn't know? First I should stipulate that this factoid was true of him when I knew him in the '80s: He really, really hated parodies of his work. He was (publicly) a good sport about it, but he despised what he called "Broadway bitchery." Of course, when he became a very old man, he indulged in a bit of it himself! Nobody's perfect -- and I can only imagine how crabby I'll be if I live to be 90!
10. What is one lesson you learned from Stephen Sondheim? The value of kindness in the world -- specifically in show business, but it applies everywhere. I'm older now than Steve was when we began our correspondence, and although I'm far from famous, I am experienced, and from time to time people ask me for advice, or for a contact or recommendation or what have you. Now obviously, I wouldn't give a recommendation unless I knew the person's work, but whatever I can do to give a fellow artist a hand up, I will do. I have encountered people far less exalted than Sondheim who literally laughed in my face when I asked them for help along the way. In fact, they've been the majority. The world is a cruel place, and it takes energy and determination to be the exception, but with Steve as my example, that's my intention. I don't, and won't, get it right every time. He didn't either. But that's the goal.
11. You are also writing a musical. What can you share with us about this upcoming show? The show is called MARY ASTOR'S PURPLE DIARY, based on the book of the same name by the famed illustrator Ed Sorel. It's about Old Hollywood, sex, obsession, magic, and growing up. We like to think of it as a musical fairy tale for adults. My husband Michael Garin wrote the music and lyrics, and I wrote the book. We had an Equity 29 hr. reading in late 2022, which was just to see it on its feet for the first time, and we have some possibilities on the horizon, which is all I can say for now. You can listen to the songs and read a synopsis at maryastormusical.com.
12. What do you like about writing a full fledged musical as opposed to a cabaret show? Without a doubt, writing for multiple characters. I approach it as an actor, so I'm playing all the roles in my head. Once I find the character in there, I just let them talk. It feels more like taking dictation than writing.
13. Favorite place to write? During the pandemic, I took two different trips up to Michael's cousins' house upstate in the Hudson Valley. I got the bulk of the script written there. I was all alone with nothing to do but write, and getting out of the city to such a beautiful place was just what I needed.
14. What time of day are you most creative with your writing? I can't do anything before noon. Sing, write, think...Okay, I CAN, but it takes a lot of effort. The afternoon is best for me. Nighttime is for cabaret and theatre, whether I'm performing or attending.
Mardie Millit, Photo Credit: Gene Reed
More on Mardie Millit:
Singer, actor, writer and award-winning cabaret artist Mardie Millit is a regular on the Manhattan cabaret scene. She has appeared regionally, Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway in a slew of classic musical theatre roles and in New York premieres of original shows by the likes of William Peter Blatty, Billy Stritch and Mark Waldrop.
Her most recent theatrical endeavors have been with Dream Productions Theatre Company in Manhattan, playing Joanne in Company and the Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods, among others. She and her on- and off-stage partner, Michael Garin, have been married since 2012 and live in Harlem. Their musical, Mary Astor’s Purple Diary, is currently in development.