If you’ve been to the theater in Philadelphia, you’ve probably witnessed the marvel of five-time Barrymore Award winner Mary Martello as the angry Irish mother in “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” or the goofy Roz singing throughout “9 To 5”. In 2017, Martello will star in “Gypsy” at the Arden Theatre and “The Importance of Being Earnest” at Walnut Street Theatre. Before all that, however, she performs in “Songs My Mother Taught Me,” an elegant evening of tunes and spoken remembrances that finds the actress as naked as it comes, reflecting on her own life.
You’ve been doing this for a minute. What roles stick out?
Mrs. Lovett from “Sweeney Todd” was so diabolical. One making me laugh thinking about is Roz in “9 To 5,” because I didn’t think I could do her justice, yet, the audience loved her — same with the maid in “Mary Poppins.” So many children remember me screaming whenever I dropped something. These [characters] resonate with audiences so much that they seek you out after the performance to tell you so. I like playing characters with honest dilemmas.
How did you come to do “Gypsy” at the Arden?
Part of (artistic director) Terry Nolen’s mission statement is finding the story within a script. That is just the most important thing. I have been well taken care of in that journey at the Arden, even when the places are dark. “Gypsy” is an homage to the respect and love with have for each other’s work.
That surely translates to “Songs My Mother Taught Me.”
As you learn your craft and your head comes up out of your a—, you say, “Oh this is what it’s about.” You see ideas such as directing beginning to percolate. The idea of the solo cabaret is the most frightening idea in the entire world, thus, I must do it. My mom used to tell me that, to face fear as such.
What’s so scary?
It’s all just you. And who are you? One of the gifts of getting older is that you can’t be anything but who you are. Nobody else can either, so we’re all in the same boat.
Your mom told you to embrace your fear. How else did she inspire this particular cabaret?
I can remember as a child watching Noel Coward films and vignettes with her. As I was working on the idea of this cabaret, which is filled with Jimmie Rogers’ cowboy tunes and Coward songs — that memory of her hit me hard. We all have rocky upbringings, so that recollection got me. it made me realize that she made me who I am. I wanted to explore that inspiration.
You’re a mom to several children, one of whom, Benjamin, is a jazz guitarist. Do you feel as if you’ve given him similar inspiration?
I hope so, which is why I brought him in on this cabaret. She provided me with so much music, none of which I ever asked her about and I wish I had. I provided my kids with so much music and talked it up. Benjamin picked up that guitar at age seven and never put it down. Neither she nor I nor my son ever let music leave our lives.
Mary Martello's “Songs My Mother Taught Me,” Feb.17 and 18, 8 p.m. The Arden Studio Theatre at the Hamilton Family Arts Center, 62 N 2nd St. General Seating: $30, Premium Table Seating: $200 (Includes four seats), ardentheatre.org