Broadway star Marin Mazzie made her West End debut in the 2001 transfer of Kiss Me, Kate, for which she was nominated for Best Actress in a Musical on both sides of the Atlantic, in the Tony and Laurence Olivier Awards.

Mazzie’s other Broadway credits include Ragtime, Passion, Man of La Mancha, Into the Woods, Big River, Out of This World and Kismet. Off-Broadway, she’s starred in The Vagina Monologues, The Trojan Women: A Love Story and The World Goes Round. She has also appeared at numerous leading American regional theatres.

Her extensive concert work includes her cabaret Opposite You, which she has performed at venues across the US and which the couple recorded and released as an album in 2005.

Mazzie now returns to London in a transatlantic swap between the West End productions of Monty Python’s Spamalot, taking over the role of The Lady of the Lake at the Palace Theatre from Hannah Waddingham, who steps into her shoes in the same role on Broadway. The exchange is part of a larger casting plan. When Mazzie leaves the West End next month, she’ll be succeeded by the winner of a Swedish reality show called West End Star.

“Lovingly ripped off” from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Spamalot tells the tale of the legendary King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

Date & place of birth
Born 9 October 1960 in Rockford, Illinois.

Lives now in
New York City. My husband and I live on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. While in London, I’m staying at a hotel in Westminster. It’s the place I stayed when I did Kiss Me, Kate before I rented a flat. It’s lovely and the manager remembers me. I wanted to go to someplace I knew as I’m only here a month. I know where the grocery store is and I know where things are in the neighbourhood, so I just thought it would make the transition as smooth as possible.

What made you want to become a performer?
It was just one of those things I always thought about it. My parents took me to a lot of local theatre in Rockford, we always went. After a while, I got involved in this little theatre group through the local YMCA. I loved that. I always gravitated towards my parents’ Broadway musical albums. I would love to listen to them and sing and play and pretend I was all the parts. I don’t remember ever thinking of anything else I wanted to do.

If you hadn’t become a performer, what might you have done professionally?
I don’t know what I would have done. I have no other skills. I don’t know, I haven’t thought of other careers. I think it would have been in theatre anyway, maybe the producing end or something like that.

First big break
I did a production 22 years ago in 1985. It was a revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along that had been on Broadway in 1981 and had flopped, so they were kind of remounting it. Stephen was looking at it along with the writer George Furth and the director James Lapine. We did it out in California at the La Jolla Playhouse. Being cast in a role in that musical, well, I consider that a break in the sense that it was the first time I got to work with Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, who I then subsequently worked with about eight years later to originate the role of Clara in Passion. Also the artistic director at La Jolla Playhouse, Des McAnuff, had just opened Big River on Broadway and he cast me in the part of Mary Jane. I didn’t even have to audition really. Merrily We Roll Along was a break in many ways because the people I met and worked with became part of my career.

Career highlights to date
Ragtime is definitely one of my highlights - being in the original production and developing the show. It took a lot of time to develop and there was a big creative team involved working with all of the cast. It was truly an amazing experience. I loved working on that and creating it from the ground up.

Favourite co-stars
I would have to say I just left a King that I love, Jonathan Hadary, who I had never worked with before and I just absolutely loved him. We had a wonderful time together. Also Brian Stokes Mitchell who I have worked with a number of times. I did Kiss Me, Kate and Ragtime and Man of La Mancha with him. Then my co-star in real life is my husband, Jason Danieley, who is also an actor. He is probably my all-time favourite co-star. We met doing a show, a crazy, kind of avant-garde version of The Trojan Women. We’ve done a couple of productions in Los Angeles together and we have a CD together. We haven’t yet done a Broadway show together, but hopefully we will.

Favourite musical writers
I have to say Stephen Sondheim is probably my number one, and I think next would be Lynn Ahrens who wrote Ragtime.

Favourite directors
Mike Nichols, who directed Spamalot, is one of the greatest directors so I am really thrilled that I got to work with him. Another Michael, Michael Blakemore, who I did Kiss Me, Kate with, I absolutely adore and would work with him again in a second. He’s from England of course.

What was the first thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you?
One thing that I very much remember was when I was about eight years old. There was a touring production of Carousel that came to Rockford starring John Raitt, who was the original Billy Bigelow. During the second half, there was a blackout in the city. The whole city lost power. It was during the dream ballet and people rushed down the aisle and came out with flashlights and were holding lights from the wings. They finished the show with these little handheld lights. At the end of the show, John Raitt came out and said “we don’t want anyone to leave because it’s still really dark outside”, so he stood on stage and sang for about 45 minutes. I will never forget that because it was just such a unique experience and I thought to myself, well this is what live theatre is about, this is why I love this, anything can happen. I felt so special that I was there and nobody else apart from the audience that night got to experience that. I actually relayed that story to Playbill Online and John Raitt read it and wrote me a note because he remembered that evening. He remembered that it was a raccoon that had bitten through power lines that had caused that blackout. I never ended up meeting him before he passed away. That’s another thing I love about doing theatre, there are so many people I loved and admired when I was young that I have now been able to meet or work with.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I’ve gathered things from so many different people. One of the best things I’ve learned, really from watching and listening to other people, is to truly be who you are - cultivate your own personality and don’t try and be anybody else. It’s great to admire others but everyone’s different. What makes talent come out is when it is so individual. It took me a while to learn that because when you’re auditioning it’s so hard and you start to think “I need to fit into something, I need to fit into a mould, I need to be this or that”, but you don’t. You need to be who you are and walk in with confidence in that. That’s what makes you stand out.

If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
Just doing Spamalot, even though it’s crazy silly, I’ve become fascinated with that Arthurian legend. So I would swap places with King Arthur or Lancelot or Merlin. I know they’re fictitious but to swap places with a King or Queen or something like that, that would be great. I’m interested in history. It would be so interesting to see what the world was like in any other given time period.

Favourite books
I love anything by Willa Cather. And I just finished reading this book called Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy, which was really quite amazing.

Favourite holiday destinations
My husband and I were just up in Nantucket, which is a little island off Massachusetts. We love Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard. We also spent our honeymoon in Tuscany, which I think was one of our favourite places that we’ve ever been.

Favourite after-show haunts
In London I loved J Sheekey. It’s not far from the Palace actually. My husband and I are friends with David Suchet, and he used to take us to the Garrick Club, which was fun. Here in New York I go to Joe Allen’s, which I’ve been to in London too.

Why did you originally want to accept the role of The Lady of the Lake in Spamalot?
I had seen the show and I just thought it would be a lot of fun to do, and I was right.

How did the transatlantic swap between you & Hannah Waddingham come about?
I was leaving the Broadway show and they were going to bring Hannah over to replace me. I believe they needed an exchange for Hannah through American Equity and British Equity so they asked if I’d come for the month to fill in before the Swedish reality show winner takes over in February. I worked in London six years ago doing Kiss Me, Kate in the West End and hadn’t been back since. I thought it would be a good opportunity to spend a nice month in London.

What was your experience like in London when you made your West End debut in Kiss Me, Kate?
It was a weird because our second day of rehearsal was September 11 2001. It was a very odd time to be away from New York. My husband was still here working on Broadway so it was obviously very difficult because of how horrible all of that was. But I enjoyed my time in London. And I felt very supported by everyone, not only our cast but literally everyone in this city. I would get into a cab and go anywhere and obviously they could tell I was American so they would give me their support. My husband ended up coming over and doing The Full Monty, so both of us were working in the West End at the same time. We really did enjoy living here very much.

What differences are there between the Broadway & West End productions of Spamalot?
The whole story is that King Arthur has to find the grail. In New York it’s the grail on Broadway so obviously in London it’s the grail in the West End. That is one difference, which is mainly just a difference in lines. There are also certain technical differences. Certain lifts that I am on are smaller, and the stage is rigged in London, it’s not rigged in New York so that will be an adjustment. But the show is basically the same thing. The biggest change is just be doing it with people that I don’t know.

What’s your favourite number from the show?
I love “Bright Side”. It’s a great number. It’s a turning point in the show and I just think it’s really funny. I also love the Camelot number, where everyone is going to Camelot. It’s really fun to do and it’s fun having everybody on stage at the same time. It’s quite hilarious.

What’s the funniest/oddest/most notable thing that’s happened in your Spamalot run to date?
I’m always terrible about remembering these things. One night in New York the lift stopped working. I make this big entrance on a lift coming out of the floor and one night it didn’t come up so we were all just standing there. We were all ready and the music was going and we weren’t moving. We had to run up the steps of the Shubert Theatre. I was following all the girls and hiking up my dress and trying to run up two flights of steps. I was so out of breath. We were thinking “oh my god, what do we do?”. We got to stage right and sort of looked at each other and just danced on. It was very silly. Another night the boat that I get in to go downstage didn’t even come on so we had to walk downstage without the boat. Little crazy things like that happen. That’s why live theatre is fun.

Are you a Monty Python fan?
When I was a kid, I watched Monty Python because my brother loved it. I think it was more of a male-oriented thing. At least that was my experience. My brother loved it so I started watching it and absolutely loved it. We used to sing the Lumberjack song all the time. That was the one we thought was the most hilarious thing. I still think it’s very funny. And the silly walk, oh my god. They have given us some wonderful comedy. I think it’s going to be fun to play the show to a British audience. I’ll be interested to hear the difference in the laughs. I felt differences when I did Kiss Me, Kate in New York and then in London. There are just different sensibilities. Also I think in New York, unfortunately, ticket prices are so high it sometimes tends to bring a certain echelon of an audience that can afford $120 a ticket each. In the West End, it’s a little less expensive so I think you get a mixture of people that just want to go to the theatre.

Next month, you hand the role of The Lady of the Lake to the winner of a Swedish reality show called West End Star. What do you think of the programme?
I haven’t been following it because we don’t get it here, it’s just happening in Sweden. Apparently, there’s a big Scandinavian tourist population in London and so they’re trying to create a West End star from Sweden to come to London. I’m very excited for whoever the girl is who gets picked.

- Marin Mazzie was speaking to Kate Jackson.

Spamalot opened on 30 September 2006 at the West End’s Palace Theatre, where it’s currently booking through to September 2008.