NEW YORK — Kelli O'Hara was devastated by the recent death of fellow Broadway veteran Marin Mazzie, so she decided to honour her friend quietly onstage as she performs one of Mazzie's old roles in the latest revival of "Kiss Me, Kate."
"I have her with me every night. I make my entrance in the hat she made her entrance in," the Tony Award-winning actress said Thursday at the opening night of the musical.
In addition to the hat, O'Hara and actress Stephanie Styles offer fans another special gesture, even if they may not be aware of it. Both actresses fight over a dress onstage — the same one Mazzie wore in her final scene.
"So, Marin Mazzie is on our stage with us every night. And her life made such an impact on me, so I carry with her every night. She was one of the strongest women I know," O'Hara said.
Mazzie, a three-time Tony Award nominee known for powerhouse Broadway performances, died in September of ovarian cancer. She was 57.
Among her most famous roles was Lilli in a 1999-2001 revival of "Kiss Me, Kate," the same role O'Hara is playing now. O'Hara recalled seeing Mazzie play it and calling it "one of the most inspirational things I'd ever seen."
"I wanted to be that woman. I wanted to play that strong character, and Marin was definitely one of my biggest inspirations," O'Hara said.
O'Hara and Mazzie's paths crossed often, with O'Hara seeing the older actress in "Ragtime" some eight times and Mazzie replacing O'Hara in a revival of "The King and I" on Broadway in 2016.
"We've been friends over the years. Her loss is devastating. And I think of her every night," O'Hara said.
"Kiss Me, Kate" joins a long list of Golden Age musicals that are beloved, yet not politically correct for the times, especially during the #MeToo era. The latest revival about a love-hate relationship between two headstrong actors has been edited for a 2019 audience, including excising a spanking scene.
O'Hara said the edits were one of the biggest challenges of staging the musical. The creators evaluated everything to "take away the things that just are ugly and misogynistic. We kept the ones that are funny that we can learn from."
Co-star Will Chase said the challenge was to fix the show, which boasts a Cole Porter score, but "not to go crazy and whitewash the hell out of it."
"The changes are subtle. But the little tweaks are good, and they're noticeable without throwing out this piece, and what makes this piece charming and good. And the bones of this piece are charming and good," Chase said.
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