Mario Cantone is a man of many talents. His reoccurring role as Charlotte’s best gay-pal and wedding planner in “Sex and the City” and his opinions on “The View” have made him a highly recognizable figure, but people often forget he got his start in the world of theatre. Returning to those roots, Mario Cantone is playing Sir Pincus Glimmermore, a fairy godfather to several, self-empowered princesses in the original new musical, Bliss – at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre. The new musical runs February 4-23, 2020. Get info and tickets here.
Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences?
Mario Cantone: Oh Lily Tomlin, Robert Klein and Craig Russell. Let the children look up who Craig Russell was; please! Some of them have to look up who Robert Klein or Lily Tomlin are!
Andrews-Katz: You started off doing impressions of family members, and celebrities like Julia Child, Bruce Springsteen and Liza Minnelli. Who would you say is your favorite person to impersonate and why?
Cantone: I don’t know. That’s a hard one. I like doing Judy Garland, partly because she was funny, and I like being able to sing as closely to her as I can be. I like doing her. It took me a long time to put that on my stage. In the 1980’s I was an openly gay comedian. I was told I did a great Judy Garland so I added it to the show. I do a lot of impressions. I don’t dress up like them or anything like that. I wear on stage anything that I happen to be fucking wearing at the time.
Andrews-Katz: There’s a big difference between being an impressionist and a female impersonator.
Cantone: That’s so right. Craig Russell, he was a female impersonator. He did Janis Joplin, Sophie Tucker and Judy Garland. He’d dress up like them and was brilliant. I have no patience for props. It’s why I didn’t do The Lion King on Broadway; I didn’t want to strap a puppet to my body and wear all that make-up on my face. I wouldn’t be happy with that.
Andrews-Katz: Tell us about hosting the children’s television show Steampipe Alley?
Cantone: I don’t know how it happened. That was in 1988 and lasted five years. Steampipe Alley…it sounds like a porn film, right? I don’t know. I auditioned and they wanted it to be like the old Soupy Sales Show, you know, appealing to both children and adults, with all the double entendre etc.…The executive producer was this Florida gay man, and he and I used to write the show together and we’d get away with murder! It was blatant then, in the 80’s and early 90’s, and if it was out there then, you know you’d never be able to get away with it today.
Andrews-Katz: Was it difficult for you to Come Out as gay to your Massachusetts Italian family?
Cantone: My mother died when I was 21, so I never actually ‘said’ it to her. Although she knew! And she was NOT happy about it – let me tell you that! My father was very cool, which is odd because he’s the Sicilian one. He was very like, ‘whatever you want’. He worried about it, it wasn’t the easiest life back then at all, and no one wants his or her kid to have a tough life, or be different in the world, or be ‘other’. He was fine. He loved my husband (Jerry was my boyfriend at the time).
Andrews-Katz: You not only did a one-man-show called “Laugh Whore” (nominated for a Tony Award) on Broadway and was filmed for Showtime. Later there was the show at Café Carlyle. Any further plans to expand or produce another one-man-show?
Cantone: The one that I did at Café Carlyle I’ll be doing again in April. It’s a small jewel of a room, but very high end because I’m such a little brat. No, really, it’s lovely. I enjoy playing there since I’m really one of the only stand-Ups that plays that room. I sing, and I do impressions, and have a band back me up, but I’m one of the true stand-Ups that play there. I like that, I feel good. This new show I started developing it in 2012, and it’s constantly changing and evolving. I want do Broadway again, but then there’s the other part that says, ‘do you really want to do Broadway again?’ it’s exhausting! It’s also a musical, so it’s scary. We’ll see what happens.
Andrews-Katz: In 2004 you portrayed real life assassin Samuel Byck in Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant musical, Assassins. What was it like to work with the God of Musical Theatre?
Cantone: He was amazing. We talked a lot about theatre and movie stars. Some of his stories are amazing. We’d talk about Joan Crawford in Torch Song. He went to the premier of the film! He’s brilliant and fun. I’d do my impression of Judy Garland singing, ‘Everyone’s Got the Right To Be Happy’ from Assassins, and he’d fall over! He came to my show, Laugh Whore and was holding his sides through the entire thing! I had an amazing time and feel lucky to be a part of it. The other Broadway impresario I was close to was Fred Ebb. He was my buddy and I used to cook for him. I was supposed to be in his musical, ‘Over and Over’ based on ‘The Skin of Our Teeth’, but the show never made it to Broadway. That was the only OTHER time [aside from the current musical, Bliss] that I went out of town. I don’t usually like being out of town. I enjoy being home.
Andrews-Katz: Your husband lives and works in Seattle (the artistic director of Village Theatre), while you remain in New York. How does a long-distance relationship work for the two of you?
Cantone: We’ve been together for 30 years now. The day he became the Artistic Director of Village Theatre, was about 1½ years ago and that was also when he became a Tony nominator [for the awards]. He comes home to New York a lot, and sees all the shows, so it works out. One of the reasons I love doing this musical, Bliss is because the director Sheryl Kaller is my friend, and she’s one of the great brilliant directors. Between her and Jerry being here, and the show being so good, it was the perfect storm.
Andrews-Katz: Bliss is a newly created musical from the 5th Avenue Theatre. What can you tell us about the show?
Cantone: It’s a fairy tale spin about princesses. It’s very empowering for young girls. It deals with how society looks at body issues, not feeling enough, it’s about not being drawn into what standards society sets, or by judging yourself too harshly on what’s supposed to be cool. The score [by Tyler Beattie and Emma Lively] is one of the best scores I’ve heard in decades. It’s gorgeous. It’s amazing. I can’t say enough good things about it. I work-shopped three musicals and this is the one that I really wanted to be a part of.
Andrews-Katz: You play “Sir Pincus”, fairy godfather to the various princesses in the musical. How influential are you in the creation of your character?
Cantone: When I did the first reading, it was only two weeks, my character was part of the big opening number and that was about it. When I did the one-month workshop, about a year or so ago, they wrote a song for me. These guys are constantly writing. They work on the spot while we are acting, they might be changing stuff. I asked for a number and they wrote me one the first week. It’s unbelievable. My husband says that he can’t imagine the show without that song now. They write so well. They aren’t precious about their stuff, and they allow me to contribute and write a lot of my jokes into the script sometimes. When you work with people like that, that’s when you want to do more of it.
Andrews-Katz: What’s the main thing you know now that you wished you knew at the beginning of your career?
Cantone: That I was always going to be working, and always going to be ok. That I was going to have someone in my life, for years that will always have my back. I know that for over 30 years with my husband of course, but work ebbs and flows. I was doing nothing, and then all the television work started. I have a very eclectic career.
Andrews-Katz: You do a lot of game shows now, right?
Cantone: I love the Game Shows so much! I just did To Tell The Truth, and that was really fun. I do Pyramid. The thing about them is you feel so classic; I feel like Charles Nelson Reilly, I feel like Paul Lynde. Alec Baldwin is a great friend, I love him to death. It’s always a good time. I won’t go near Reality Shows. I’d rather be poor and starving on the streets than do a Reality Show. I’ve been asked to do them and I always turn them down. They take away jobs from real actors and they are ruining television. I won’t do them. I will do the biggest piece of shit, as long as it is scripted.
Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role – regardless of limitations – what would it be and why that role?
Cantone: I’ve been working on a play about Craig Russell. His story really hasn’t been told. He was brilliant, and kind, sweet and fucked up. I worked with him when I was 19. There’s a two-character play that I’ve been working on for years. We did it in New York, as part of workshops, but it didn’t get picked up. I should have done the role of Judy Garland in the movie, Judy. I thought Rene was great. Good for her for doing her own singing, and her own shit; even though she didn’t look like Judy, move like Judy, but her scene work was really good. I give her big applause for doing her own singing. I hate it when people lip-sync.
Bliss is a new musical from the Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre. The story looks at fairy tales in a different, more female-empowering way. Boasting a pop-rock score (written by Tyler Beattie and Emma Lively) Bliss is the 23rd original musical that the 5th Avenue Theatre has produced and plays at the 5th Avenue from February 4-23, 2020. Get tickets and more info here.