By Ed Karvoski Jr., Culture Editor
Brighton/Weymouth – Musical theater actress and cabaret entertainer Mary Callanan covers a lot of ground. A Brighton native, she divides time living in New York City and visiting her home in Weymouth. She has travelled to work on Broadway, regional theaters throughout New England and beyond, national touring companies, and the Asia tour of “The Sound of Music” starring Marie Osmond.
Callanan debuted onstage with a community theater while majoring in music business at UMass Lowell before graduating in 1985. Around that time, she and singer-pianist Brian Patton began their 30-plus-year cabaret collaboration in Boston, Provincetown and NYC.
In 1990, Callanan got hired for “Nunsense” in East Windsor, Conn., followed by several years in Boston’s North End at the now-closed Theatre Lobby. She and castmates shared Broadway-bound dreams.
“We’d drive to NYC at five in the morning, two or three days a week, to audition while we were still doing ‘Nunsense’ at Theatre Lobby,” she recalled.
While Callanan worked steadily at Boston-area theaters, her commutes for NYC auditions continued with particular interest in the free-spirited character Rosie in “Mamma Mia!”
Multiple auditions for the show throughout six years resulted in landing the role for its national tour beginning in 2010.
“Rosie has the best lines and song in the show – and she gets to kiss the boy, which is rare for a character woman,” Callanan noted. “The audience identified with me because I looked like 70 percent of them.”
Among the tour’s stops in 2012 was the Boston Opera House. Callanan and castmates performed at the Esplanade’s Fourth of July celebration. The same week, she sang the national anthem prior to a Red Sox game.
“That was the best week ever!” she proclaimed. “If something tragic happened to me, it would be okay because I played ‘Mamma Mia!’ in my hometown, and sang at the Hatch Shell and Fenway Park. It was nerve-wracking, but really fun and exciting.”
After completing the tour in 2013, Callanan followed supportive advice from her husband Larry Finlayson to get a NYC residence to ease the auditioning process. Nine weeks later, she was hired for the Broadway revival of “Annie” to play Mrs. Pugh and understudy Miss Hannigan. Callanan got the good news by phone while outside the House of Blues Boston across from Fenway Park as she prepared for a fundraiser for the youth empowerment program Urban Improv.
“The casting director said, ‘You just booked your first Broadway show,’” she relayed. “At the time, I was staring at Fenway Park, which for a Bostonian is like a cathedral, and someone is telling me that all my dreams are coming true.”
Callanan portrayed Rosie again in the 2014 Las Vegas production of “Mamma Mia!” She was selected to join the Broadway cast in 2015 during the show’s final several months of performances concluding a nearly 14-year run.
“It’s a moment in time when a historic show ends and you’re lucky enough to be a part of it,” she said. “As fun as it was doing the final show, it was sad because ‘Mamma Mia!’ was closing.”
After performing the first national tour of “The Bridges of Madison County” in 2016, Callanan returned to Broadway in 2017 to play Jean Ann Ryan and other roles in “Bandstand” with director-choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler winning the Best Choreography Tony Award. He also won the 2008 choreography Tony for “In the Heights” and 2016 for “Hamilton.”
“Andy is the most brilliant person on the planet because he can make me feel like a dancer,” Callanan declared. “He put us character actors in the dances, too – and everybody looked good. I owe him for that.”
Fathom Events presented a filmed “Bandstand” production at movie theaters nationwide last summer and fall. Also last year, Callanan performed at the New York Music Festival in “’68,” a show inspired by the volatile 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
When visiting Boston, she appreciates reuniting with her longtime cabaret partner Brian Patton for performances at Club Café.
“I loved working in Boston and do miss it, “she shared. “I’d do both if I could, but I’m in NYC now and having a great time. My plan is to absolutely keep working as long as I can.”