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Mary VanArsdel returns to Seattle with a murderous gentleman

Mary VanArsdel
Following Mary VanArsdel’s rousing rendition of “You’re a D’Ysquith” on opening night at the 5th Avenue Theater, a definite friends and family cheer goes up from the audience. Currently in the national tour of “Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” her performances at the 5th will be her first time on a Seattle stage since 1987.

“But I visit Seattle regularly,” she said in a phone interview earlier this month. “I have a huge network of friends here.”

VanArsdel grew up in Seattle, attending the Bush School, and she returned here after college to star in the original cast of “Angry Housewives,” Seattle’s longest running musical hit. In it, VanArsdel played a punk rock cornflakes-throwing mama whose rendition “Eat Your F#@*ing Cornflakes!” became an instant classic. Locals also remember her wide-eyed Nancy Reagan in Gary Trudeau’s “Rap Master Ronnie” at the Group Theater.

More recently, she has been touring the company in large Broadway musicals like “Gentleman’s Guide.”

“I was in ‘Mary Poppins’ for two years. My tour didn’t play Seattle so I’m really excited to be here now,” she said.

As the slightly mysterious Miss Shingle, whose motives are never fully explained, VanArsdel lets the hero Monty know that he’s only eight relatives away from inheriting a title and a fortune. “I give the back story and serve as the catalyst,” she said about her opening number.

One of VanArsdel’s favorite parts of the musical is how the director Darko Tresnjak manages to create eight very different deaths during the course of the evening. “Our director is an aficionado of classic movies, as am I, and one early murder takes its inspiration from ‘Vertigo.’ That one impressed me the most because I knew the source material,” she said.

This is not VanArsdel’s only brush with celluloid homicide. Her very first movie role required her to be to be offed by John Malkovich in “Line of Fire.”

“It was shot on the old MGM lot and I got to work with Clint Eastwood’s longtime fight director,” she said. “When I arrived on the set, I didn’t know how the murder would happen. I found that my stage training was really helpful with the stunt work.” While in Hollywood, VanArsdel also played Corbin Bernsen’s secretary on the final season of “LA Law.” She also guested on “Boardwalk Empire,” “Miracles,” “Gilmore Girls,” and “Melrose Place,” among others.

But in 2008, she moved to New York. “With television there’s so much time spending time waiting for camera setups. And you’re generally performing scenes out of sequence. In theater, you perform a show from beginning to middle to end,” said VanArsdel. “For me, theater is so much more gratifying. You get to hear audience’s reaction.”
Kristen Beth Williams as Sibella Hallward, Kevin Massey as Monty Navarro
and Adrienne Eller as Phoebe D'Ysquith Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

And the reaction she hears most often in “Gentleman’s Guide” is laughter. “It’s very, very funny show. The lyrics are incredible and matched with really wonderful music. I was such a fan of a show before I was cast. I saw it four times on Broadway and heard something new every time,” VanArsdel said.

While she’s been successful in regional theater and is enjoying her current tour with “Gentleman’s Guide,” VanArsdel still wants to hit new heights in her career. “My primary goal these days is to be cast in a new show on Broadway. To be the first person to do a role is always the actors’ dream,” she said.


“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” continues through July 31 at the 5th Avenue Theater. For more on tickets and times, check the 5th’s website.