Copious Notes

She’s a Californian in New York theater, but Lexington has a recurring role in her career

Mara Davi, who’s performed in Broadway productions since 2006, stars as Marian, the librarian in the Lexington Theatre Company’s production of “The Music Man.”
Mara Davi, who’s performed in Broadway productions since 2006, stars as Marian, the librarian in the Lexington Theatre Company’s production of “The Music Man.” agervasi@herald-leader.com

Though she hails from Sacramento, Calif., Lexington has figured early and often into Mara Davi’s career.

Her first national touring show, “42nd Street,” brought her to the Lexington Opera House in 2005 playing the leading role of ensemble dancer-turned-star Peggy Sawyer.

The next year, in New York, she was cast in her first Broadway production as Maggie in the critically acclaimed revival of “A Chorus Line.” (Also making her Broadway debut in that production was a Lexingtonian, Lyndy Franklin, who was a swing in that production and the show’s dance captain.)

Fast forward to 2015, and Lyndy, now Franklin Smith, and her husband Jeromy Smith, were launching a professional summer musical theater company based at the Lexington Opera House. To launch the company and announce the first show, they presented the first “Concert with the Stars,” with Broadway performers sharing key songs from their careers, supported by aspiring collegiate performers. Joining Lexington’s own Laura Bell Bundy and stage-and-screen star Jonathan Groff in that show was — drumroll — Mara Davi.

“We called her right away and said, ‘Hey, we’re launching this company, starting a new professional theater, and would you ...’ and I don’t think I finished the sentence,” Franklin Smith recalls.

“’Duh!’ Yes!” Davi says, finishing the recollection. “When is it? I’ll be there.”

Ultimately she did not end up leading the Lexington Theatre Company’s debut production, in part due to other commitments — namely leading the Broadway revival of “Dames at Sea” as Joan.

But this year, the stars finally aligned to bring Davi back to Lexington as Marian the librarian in the Lexington Theatre Company’s production of “The Music Man,” which plays through Sunday at the Opera House.

“This has been a dream role of mine that I’ve just never had the opportunity to do,” Davi says during a lunch break at the company’s rehearsal base in the Carver Center. “This feels like the ideal place to do it. Lexington isn’t River City, Iowa, but it’s got that close-knit town vibe, rich with Americana. It feels like the perfect place to do the show. We don’t have to imagine anything.”

In fact, the timing is somewhat serendipitous as the story is set on and just after the Fourth of July, which Davi and her family got to celebrate in Lexington.

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Aaron Gaines as Charlie Cowell and Mara Davi as Marian Paroo in The Lexington Theatre Company’ production of “The Music Man,” July 12 to 15 at the Lexington Opera House. Gaines and Paroo are married, and she says “Music Man” is their first show together in 16 years. Rich Copley rcopley@herald-leader.com

In addition to playing a dream role, Davi and her husband, Aaron Gaines, are getting to be in a production together for the first time in more than a decade. He is playing Charlie Cowell, the traveling salesman determined to expose con man Harold Hill for the fraud he is. 

The story of “Music Man” is that Hill has come to the small town in the summer of 1912 to dupe the populace into thinking he is starting a boys band to keep the young ones out of trouble, when in fact he is just going to take their money and run to the next town.

“This is the first time we’ve been onstage together in 16 years,” Davi says. “We met doing theater together in Sacramento, back when I was still in high school. But then we went to college and moved to New York, and he does primarily plays, and I do musicals and television, so we haven’t had the opportunity to be on stage together.”

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Though they are not playing opposite each other as romantic leads — Edward Watts is the leading man, as Harold Hill — Davi and Gaines actually do get a stage kiss at a key moment in the show.

“It’s really fun,” Davis says of working with her husband. “I want to do more of this. It’s such a treat.”

Recalling morning warm ups, before rehearsals started, Davi says, “I felt like I was 19 again. We haven’t been in dance class together since I was 19.”

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Mara Davi as Marian and Edward Watts as Harold Hill in The Lexington Theatre Company production of “The Music Man” July 12 to 15 at the Lexington Opera House. Rich Copley rcopley@herald-leader.com

It is also Davi’s first show since the birth of their son, Arthur, who they say has been reacting to the music.

As Marian, Davi has enjoyed being able to play a strong woman and sing iconic songs. She’s also enjoyed playing against “type.”

“People see me these days as a song -and-dance woman, soubrette sexy sidekick kind of thing,” Davi says. “So, getting to be the legit leading lady is beautiful.

“It’s really nice to just come back and be the romantic lead.”

And she gets to see how this project she helped launch is turning out.

“They make it seem so easy,” Davi says of the Smiths and the Lexington Theatre Company. “So many people are like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to go back to my hometown and do a theater company,’ and I’m from Sacramento and had multiple friends come home and start theater companies that have lasted a year and a half, maybe two years, and they fall flat.

“So, I’m glad I waited until the fourth season to come back and see that not only is it going, but it’s expanding and thriving.”

The Lexington Theatre Company is bringing together a slew of local actors and Broadway veterans for a production of "The Music Man."

If You Go

“The Music Man”

When: 8 p.m. July 12, 13, 2 and 8 p.m. July 14, 1 p.m. July 15

Where: Lexington Opera House, 401 W Short St.

Tickets: $35-$85

Online: lexingtontheatrecompany.org

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