As a young child, Monica M. Wemitt fell pretty badly for two men, both dancers. Her love for them, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, hasn’t wavered since, and neither has her passion for performing.
‘The Sound of Music’
WHERE: Mac-Haydn Theatre, 1925 Route 203, Chatham
WHEN: 2 and 7 p.m. today, 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 and 7 p.m. Aug. 31.
HOW MUCH: $28-$26 for adults, $12 for children under 12
MORE INFO: (518) 392-9292 or www.machaydntheatre.org
A Chatham native who returned to her hometown in 2004, Wemitt has performed on Broadway, at Radio City Music Hall and in numerous regional theaters around the country. She is currently starring as Mother Abbess in the Mac-Haydn production of “The Sound of Music.” The show opened last Thursday and will run through next Sunday.
Wemitt graduated from Chatham High School in 1974, after beginning her career a year earlier at Mac-Haydn in “Oklahoma!,” and immediately headed to New York to seek her fame and fortune. She performed on Broadway with Carol Channing in “Hello Dolly!” and at Radio City Music Hall with Liza Minelli in “Stepping Out.” She was also a regular at the Carousel Dinner Theatre in Akron, Ohio, hailed as the largest dinner theater in the country.
These days, she stays pretty busy with regular gigs at Mac-Haydn and with C-R Productions at the Cohoes Music Hall. Before her stint as Mother Abbess in “The Sound of Music,” Wemitt played Carlotta in “The Phantom of the Opera,” earlier this summer, and will be directing the Mac-Haydn production of “High School Musical” this fall.
Q: How did your passion for performing begin?
A: I fell in love with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly and, ever since, dancing onstage was always my dream. Dancing came first, and then singing and acting came later. Now, I’m definitely a singer who can act. I really enjoy seeing people relax, and I love to see a smile come on their face. It’s great to be able to help them get their problems out of their heads for a few hours.
Q: Which musical is your favorite?
A: It honestly is “The Sound of Music.” I’ve also played Maria a couple of times, and I also played Mother Abbess at the Cohoes Music Hall. I think it’s probably the best musical ever. It’s a great story, the triumph of good over evil and all that stuff.
Q: What kind of music did you listen to when you were younger?
A: If I was just hanging out, I would enjoy listening to pop music, but if I got ahold of a score from a musical, I would play that thing into the ground. I would, of course, learn all the lyrics to every song.
Q: What was your experience in the revival of “Hello Dolly!” like?
A: I played Ernestine. So I was onstage with Carol Channing, who had originated the role, and they gave her a five-minute standing ovation just for saying the first line in the play. That was an amazing experience. We started it in 1993, toured until 1994, did it on Broadway for about six months and then went back out on the road for about a year and a half. It was wonderful.
Q: You also worked with Liza Minelli in “Stepping Out” at the Radio City Music Hall in 1991. What was that like?
A: Liza herself is an amazing and very giving, generous woman, but that whole experience was incredible. I got to meet people like Gregory Peck, Princess Diana, Chita Rivera, Madonna and Elton John.
Q: Did you ever meet Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly?
A: I never met Fred Astaire, but I was once outside a theater in New York and Gene Kelly came out the side door. I said, ‘Oh my God,’ and he said, ‘No, just Gene Kelly.’ I loved him even more after that.
Q: Do you still get nervous before a show?
A: Yes, I do. I usually take a brisk little walk right before the show goes on, or just start jumping up and down. It just helps me get off that extra energy you don’t really need.
Q: You also direct. Do you see yourself doing more directing in the future?
A: Not necessarily. I started directing when I did a children’s show at Mac-Haydn quite a while ago, and while I do enjoy it, I do enjoy performing more. And, I would never direct and perform in the same show. Your focus would be too split. I couldn’t do it. I’m still a performer first.
Q: Do you ever do straight dramas?
A: I never get hired to do straight dramas because all they see on my resume are musicals. I guess they think you can’t act in a musical. I do find it annoying, because I would enjoy it. I do get offered from time to time to do readings of straight shows, but that’s probably because one of my friends is involved in the project and they know I can do it.