"First, there was my life," says performer Mona Marshall about the genesis of her solo show of original songs, "Life is a Celebration . . . Potholes & All," playing thisweekend at North Hollywood's NoHo Stu dios.
First there was her life, and for most of it she has been singing. But for a long time no one listened. Marshall explains that her training was in theater, and says that she came to Hollywood to be a serious actress. She trained and trained, and also auditioned for every musical that came down the pike. Still no one listened.
She worked as a waitress and taught fifth grade. It was the teaching job that gave her the boost out of her first pothole. The mother of one of her students suggested that she take a stab at the voice-over class of Daws Butler, voice of Yogi Bear and Quick Draw McGraw among others. Mona Marshall was home.
In addition to many commercials, her unique voice and many characters have been heard on "CBS Storybreak Theater," "Fraggle Rock" and other shows. Her television credits include "Cheers" and "Who's the Boss?"
During all this time, Marshall has always sung. Even as a child, she made up her own songs. As an adult those songs have become more sophisticated and indicative of Marshall's slightly mystical outlook on life.
"I love words," Marshall says. "I love images. I see visions, like we all see visions. When things happen to me in life, I begin to see them as pictures. The next step is to articulate that picture. When I can make a bridge with an image, I'm able to touch other people. It's being able to articulate my feelings. And not just for me. The whole point of being an artist is to feel, experience, and then share that and reach out to others."
She began appearing in clubs in the 1970s, doing show tunes, mostly Cole Porter and Gershwin. Slowly her own material began to filter into her act, and she noticed that an odd thing happened.
"I started doing both types of material," she says. "It was very hard to let go of those songs," referring to the Porter-Gershwin genre.
As an actress, Marshall believes that every song is like a play, and that idea informs her own material, and her performances.
"I realized," she continues, "that I had something to say. That added another level." A further level came about when she came to the conclusion that her voice-over ability to create characters could also be blended in.
About a year and a half ago, she was doing her act, by now all her own material, at the Coffee Canteen in Studio City. It wasn't a fancy production, there wasn't even any lighting. But for Marshall it was a safe place, a haven to develop her evening, using vignettes, arranging the music so there was a coherence, creating a larger play out of the little plays in her songs. She went on to do the show in clubs such as the Vine Street Bar & Grill, the New York Company Bar & Grill and the Gardenia.
Enter one of Marshall's closest friends, Dawn Aldredge, who has been writer, director and producer of many popular television shows, but who will go down in television annals as co-creator and writer of "The Love Boat" and "Flying High."
Aldredge, who is directing "Life is a Celebration," thought that it was time for Marshall's show to metamorphose into something else, jump up another level. She says: "I was very distressed and very frustrated that Mona's music was not getting out there. And it should. In her material she knows what to say and when to say it. She's a true soul."
Aldredge helped Marshall adjust the material, arrange its order and turn it into something other than a club act, into that ephemeral entity, a piece of theater.
What is playing at NoHo Studios is a compilation of moments, dreams and a few potholes along the way. If Marshall's songs are sometimes deeper and darker than most pop songs, there's a reason for that.
Marshall says that "the music is what I call adult contemporary eclectic."
One of the songs, "Goodbye Old Friend" is a tribute to a friend who died of cancer. "It deals with the idea that yes, there is death, but life does continue on through what we have left from people who have seemingly gone."
It's the catharsis, an emotional purging, Marshall wants to bring to her listeners. She says: "That is the whole point of my show. I realize that people will get this show at different levels. It's entertaining, because without entertainment, what's the point of sitting there? But hopefully this is an inward journey through outside life."
Aldredge says Marshall's songs hit all the realms of the human spirit, and adds, "Don't go to your friendly psychiatrist. Come and hear Mona's songs."
WHERE AND WHEN
* What: "Life is a Celebration . . . Potholes & All."
* Location: NoHo Studios, 5215 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.
* Hours: 7 p.m. Sundays (except Nov. 28). Ends Dec. 19.
* Price: $10.
* Call: (818) 547-0366.