There’s a reason that Anna in “The King & I,” Maria in “West Side Story,” and Eliza in “My Fair Lady” all have the same crystal clear tone to their movie voices: The reason is Marni Nixon.
From 1956 to 1964 Marni Nixon was the voice of Hollywood, even though her name was never listed in the credits.
If you’re a fan of movie musicals, you know Marni Nixon. Even if you’re not, you know her voice.
And you can hear that voice, without amplification, in the wonderfully intimate Irvington Town Hall Theater on Saturday, when the voice of Hollywood joins two Broadway voices – Sarah Rice (“Sweeney Todd”) and Lee Roy Reams (“The Producers”) – in a one-night concert: “Ménage: Have Gown Will Travel.”
It’s part of Broadway Concerts Direct, a tour that brings stars of the Great White Way to regional spots and to Merkin Concert Hall in Manhattan. Irvington is on that circuit now; it presented Broadway Phantom Cris Groenendaal in October, on a night that the Lower Hudson Valley got 8 inches of rain.
Producer John Hiller is hoping for a drier outcome Saturday for “Ménage,” which owes its subtitle – “Have Gown Will Travel” – to the fact that Reams has worn dresses in at least two roles: as Albin in “La Cage aux Folles” and as director Roger DeBris, whose gown makes him look like the Chrysler Building, in the national tour of “The Producers.”
Rice, who is married to Hiller, created the role of Johanna in “Sweeney Todd.” She and Nixon are currently working on a concert version of “Little Mary Sunshine,” eyeing a New York appearance in spring 2007.
Nixon, who now teaches voice in Manhattan and has been seen in revivals of “Nine” and “Follies” and in “James Joyce’s `The Dead,’ ” says she was drawn to the mini-tour because it allowed her to choose her own music in collaboration with Rice and Reams.
“The reason for the series was under the precept that everything should be things we like to sing and we know will come off. There’s kind of a trust that we will know enough to make a good program of it, but not in a usual set recital way. So that it has an emotional flow to the concert.
“We customize it to make it an eclectic music theater concert with classical elements, too,” Nixon says. “It’s not schlock. It’s not a variety show. And we’ll do duets and trios.”
While she is still refining her song list – until the program is printed, she says – some things are set: She’ll sing “Moonfall,” from Rupert Holmes’ “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and a funny song by Tobias Hume, a 17th-century British composer. There will be some surprises, Nixon promises, because “each brings our own music and we blend together well.”
It seems fitting that Nixon should be working in such a collaborative atmosphere. A lifelong singer, Nixon made a career out of identifying elements in the speaking voices of Hollywood stars – Natalie Wood, Deborah Kerr (twice) and Audrey Hepburn – and laying them onto her singing voice.
This required musicianship and an acting ability that seems to have been second nature to Nixon, who is matter-of-fact about her role in Hollywood history.
“The dubbing,” she says, “was just a way to pay the bills. I didn’t expect it to be a career. I just thought, `It’s better than doing a chorus job.’
“I didn’t realize that all of those (films) were going to be as important as they were, at the moment,” she says. “I was just so happy just to be part of major, good music and shows that we knew.”
Did not getting credit bother her?
“I was disappointed, of course, when I realized that I couldn’t get credit but I figured that that’s the way the cookie crumbles. You do as good a job as you can and you go on with it. You don’t dwell on that too much.”