Power & Grace: Vocal dynamo Mosser loving opportunity to play same role as Hepburn and Kelly

“Vocally, she has one of the best voices I’ve ever heard,” Doug Hodge, director of Mac-Haydn Theatre

Comparisons to Grace Kelly are going to be inevitable, but Crystal Mosser is confident she’s going to fare pretty well in at least one category. After all, she can really sing.

A graduate of New York University — she received her master’s in music earlier this month — Mosser is playing Tracy Samantha Lord in the Mac-Haydn production of “High Society,” originally a Hollywood movie that featured Kelly as a Long Island socialite and co-starred Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. The play opens today with shows at 2 and 8 p.m. and runs through June 7.

“The play follows the story line of the movie musical, but [Kelly] doesn’t get to sing a lot, and I do,” said Mosser, who played Christine in “Phantom” last summer at Mac-Haydn. “There are some beautiful Cole Porter songs in the play that weren’t in the movie, and I get the opportunity to sing them. Believe me, there’s plenty for me to do.”

‘High Society’

WHERE: Mac-Haydn Theatre, 1925 Route 3, Chatham

WHEN: 2 and 8 p.m. today, 8 p.m. Friday, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. June 4-5, 4 and 8 p.m. June 6, and 2 and 7 p.m. June 7

HOW MUCH: $28-$26, $12 for children under 12

MORE INFO: 392-9292 or visit www.machydntheatre.org

The 1956 movie musical version — based on the 1940 film “The Philadelphia Story” starring Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart — was nominated for two Oscars, including Best Original Song, “True Love.” In that piece, Kelly provides some harmony for Crosby — playing her ex-husband — but it is the only place in the movie where she sings. Voted the “Most Elegant Woman Ever” by “Women’s Journal,” Kelly may have been able to carry a tune, but she couldn’t belt them out like Mosser. Just last month, Mosser drew rave reviews from the Washington Square News, a New York City theater Web site, for her portrayal of Cunegonde in NYU’s production of “Candide.” Her rendition of “Glitter and Be Gay” was the play’s high point according to critic Nina Patel, who added that Mosser “bedazzled” and “captivated” the audience.

Doug Hodge, who directed Mosser in “Phantom” last year at Mac-Haydn and also had her as a student at NYU, said the Lafayette, Ind., native is as talented a performer as Capital Region theater fans will see this summer.

“Vocally, she has one of the best voices I’ve ever heard,” said Hodge, who is spending his fifth summer directing at Mac-Haydn. “That’s why I brought her up here last summer to do ‘Phantom.’ She also exemplifies that quality, that Grace Kelly-esque quality if that’s the right way to put it. She’s lovely, and she also has that dry wit and a great sense of humor.”

Stripping away toughness

Tracy Samantha Lord was first played by Hepburn on Broadway in 1939 and when she also grabbed the role for the 1940 film version it reinvigorated her movie career. In 1956, it was Kelly’s turn to reprise the role in the musical version and by most accounts she did a fine job portraying the beautiful and intelligent yet self-centered socialite who can’t quite make up her mind which man she’s in love with, her fiancé George Kittredge, her ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven, or the reporter assigned to cover the wedding, Mike Connor.

“Tracy does have a problem, but she’s such a fun individual to play,” said Mosser. “She goes through such a tremendous journey in the story, and it’s wonderful to see her stripping away so much of her toughness. She’s built up these layers because she’s been hurt by love, but I think that she is honestly a good person and very smart. She’s just grown up with money and feels entitled, but she learns some very valuable life lessons and I think it becomes really quite touching.”

Mosser hadn’t seen a stage version of the play heading into rehearsals for this production, and only recently watched the movie version for the first time.

“I saw it just last week, and I loved it,” she said. “It’s such a funny story, but I don’t think you get to really appreciate the extent of the fun and the music until you’ve actually seen the stage version. There are a lot of parts in the movie that are just glazed over.”

One thing theater fans won’t see at Mac-Haydn is anyone looking or sounding like Louis Armstrong. While the iconic trumpet player portrayed himself in the movie, he was written out of the stage version for obvious reasons.

“There is no Louis Armstrong character in the play or a group of black musicians,” said Hodge, “and I told my actors I didn’t want anyone trying to channel Frank Sinatra or anyone else from the movie. I think it’s always a good idea to do research and see what you can draw from some other performance. But during casting, we found the qualities in our actors that we wanted our characters to have. Nobody is going to be imitating anyone.”

Something of a rascal

Joining Mosser on the stage will be Jeffrey Funaro as Dexter, Chris Cooke as Mike, Heather Dudenbostel as Liz Imbrie, Jason Whitfield as George, and Mac-Haydn regular John Saunders as Uncle Willie. Saunders played Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady” and Edna Turnblatt in “Hairspray” last summer at Mac-Haydn.

“John is one of the best comic actors I’ve ever worked with, and there was no doubt that he could nail the character of Uncle Willie,” said Hodge. “He’s been a pleasure to watch during rehearsal.”

“He’s not a dirty old man, he’s just something of a rascal,” said Saunders, referring to his character. “I’m basically playing drunk the whole show, but most people, when they’re drunk, try not to act drunk, so it’s a lot of fun.”

Unlike Mosser, who was only recently introduced to the show, Saunders has been a fan of “High Society” and “The Philadelphia Story” for a long time.

“They’re both classics and I love them both,” he said. “They’re not terribly different from the play we’re doing, but they had to be adapted for the stage so there are some distinctions. I think the adults will love it, and there is some silliness for the kids to enjoy. I think it’s something the whole family can watch.”

Hodge has kept the show set in the 1950s.

“People will expect to see that 1950s look from the movie, and I was very happy to keep it set there,” said Hodge. “With so many great Cole Porter songs, it makes sense.”

Changes to the story

Philip Barry, a personal friend of Hepburn’s, wrote “The Philadelphia Story” in 1939 for her, while Donald Ogden Stewart penned the screenplay a year later. John Patrick was credited with the 1956 screenplay for the movie musical, and then Arthur Kopit wrote the book for the stage musical that ran on Broadway for five months in 1998 to mixed reviews. At that point, more Porter songs were added to the show, and Susan Birkenhead provided additional lyrics.

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