Terrence Mann has an illustrious career on Broadway, film, and television. He’s created some of the greatest theatrical roles on stage and has appeared in one of the most popular (and controversial) cable television series of the decade. Embracing his theatrical roots, Mr. Mann is now at work playing Edgar Degas, the famous French Impressionist for the new musical at the 5th Avenue Theatre; Marie, Dancing Still – A New Musical, with music and lyrics by the incomparable team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty.
Marie, Dancing Still – A New Musical will be running at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre March 22-April 14. Get more info and tickets here.
Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer?
Terrence Mann: That had to be my mother and father. They were both vocational musicians and singers. My dad was part of a barbershop quartet and my mother played
Andrews-Katz: Your first professional acting job was in the 1972 film “Spook!” How did that job manifest for you
Andrews-Katz: From film you went to Broadway in the 1980 musical Barnum. What was your audition like for that show?
Mann: Joe Layton was the Broadway director for Barnum. Since I had done The Lost Colony with him, I had an ‘in’. I was working with the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival, doing great theatre, and my time off was January – March. I went to New York to visit a girlfriend. I saw that Joe directed Barnum, and I thought I’d go to the open call and see what happens. As I got there, Joe was walking in as well. He asked, “Can you juggle and do all the circus stuff and skills?” and I answered “yes”. He literally made sure I made the cut all through the auditions. I got to the final callback and was standing on the line and got selected. I was in New York two weeks.
Andrews-Katz: Your stage roles are numerous. I’ll mention a role and you briefly summarize your experience: 1980 – “Chester Lyman” in Original Broadway cast of Barnum.
MANN: It was
Andrews-Katz: 1982 – “Rum Tum Tugger” – Original Broadway cast of Cats.
Mann: Cats was one I had to work
Andrews-Katz: 1994 – “Beast” – Original Broadway cast of Beauty and the Beast
Mann: Here again, it was a real journey in makeup, and trying to find the humanity in the character – especially when everything is covered up but your mouth. It was a great collaborative effort, bringing the Beast to life was like doing Shakespeare with six-to-seven angora cats taped all around my head. It was hard to run around like that in summer. It was a real challenge for me to sing all that stuff and try to deliver a performance where you (the audience) actually cared about the character.
Andrews-Katz: 1987 – “Javert” – Original Broadway Cast of Les Miserables
Mann: Working with Trevor Nunn again was incredible. You think, “Once, you’re lucky”. Twice, you think you’ve gone to Heaven. We knew we were doing something that was a game changer. It made me want to dig deeper into the character to find the complexities. I felt responsible for trying to work as hard as I could to make the character real, not just a ‘deep as a teaspoon’ bad guy, but also someone driven by devotion.
Andrews-Katz: 1991 – Assassin “Leon Czolgosz” – Original Cast of Assassins
Mann: That was like crawling into Stephen Sondheim’s head with a group of the greatest actors on Broadway at the time. I felt like a kid in a candy shop. I didn’t want to eat any of it, I wanted to watch it and take it all in.
Andrews-Katz: 2013 – “Charles” – 1st Broadway Revival of Pippin
Mann: That was just like being in an adult playroom, jungle-gym fantastic place. All the stops were pulled out. Diane Paules, the director, couldn’t have created a better environment to be creative for all of us. We knew we had something we all loved doing. It was unique, and we didn’t know what kind of reactions we would get from people. It was more fun than I ever expected.
Andrews-Katz: Among many other film credits, you’ve been in all four “Critters”
Mann: I like both of them. One informs the other. It’s two different techniques of working. I’m a Theatre Rat, I love being in the theatre, and how it makes me feel when I wake
Andrews-Katz: You played the villainous Whispers on the hit Netflix series “Sense8”. Despite its huge popularity, the online campaigns, good reviews
Andrews-Katz: What is the new musical Marie, Dancing Still about?
Mann: The story is about Degas’ muse, Marie von
Andrews-Katz: Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty used the historical-fiction foundation for their triumphant musical Ragtime. How do they apply it to the world of
Andrews-Katz: You are portraying the artist Edgar Degas in the original musical Marie, Dancing Still – A New Musical. What advantages do you find about creating a role opposed to taking one over?
Mann: Because I’ve had the chance to create several roles, I kind of tend to work from outside in, and try to find the physicality and the voice of the character. The rhythm that he lives and speaks in, the physical rhythm…it starts to define emotion and attitude.
Andrews-Katz: You’ve played real people several times: Chester Lyman, Leon Czolgosz, and now Edgar Degas. Do you do research into these people’s lives, or do you rely on what is in the musical’s script and libretto?
Mann: I do my own research. Now since we have Google, I can read reels about these folks. I read it, and read it, and look at the pictures. I’m constantly looking at him, photos of him and photographs. There’s a film of Rodin, Renoir, Degas and Monet all together – an actual movie – made in 1915, two years before Degas died. He’s walking with a woman, wearing little tiny glasses because his eyes were so bad. He lost his eyesight at 40, which is why he turned to sculpture. That’s our storytelling; one of the reasons he does sculpture is because of the way he could feel it and feel through it.
Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role – regardless of any limitations – what would it be and why that role?
Mann: I never ever thought about that. There’s a statue up in Harlem, New York, of Harriet Tubman. Every time I walk by it, I think about what her life must have been like. The fortitude and depths of belief, the energy to make the life so different to so many people. I would want to try and be her. She was awesome.
Marie, Dancing Still – A New Musical is an original musical in progress, hopefully on its way to Broadway. Telling the story of one of the world’s greatest painters and his unknown ballet muse, Marie, the musical is by Tony Award-winning team, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime, Once on this Island). The 5th Avenue Theatre has produced more than 16 Pre-Broadway shows (including Hairspray, Shrek, and Memphis), with half of them going on to the Great White Way and several winning the Tony Award for Best Musical.