This summer comedian and actor Mario Cantone has only two performances planned and luckily they’re both in the Hamptons. We caught up with Cantone about How Long Has This Been Going On?, his Memorial Day weekend production, with actor, songwriter, and director Jerry Dixon, at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor.
The last time you teamed up with your husband, Jerry Dixon, it was for Laugh Whore, your Tony-nominated one-man show-turned-Showtime special. Why did you guys decide to team up again?
MC: Well we’ve never really worked together onstage before, except we did an off-Broadway show this past year called Steve, which was at The New Group, that Cynthia Nixon directed. It got great reviews and did very well. We had a lot of fun doing it. So we decided to do a concert together. This is the second time we’re doing this concert. We did it in February at Lincoln Center’s American Songbook. They do the series every year. Different Broadway people and recording artists do a night at the beautiful Appel Room in the Time Warner Building. We did it and it was great. So we thought, let’s do it again. Let’s bring it out to the Bay Street Theater, which we love. We’ve been working together a lot this past year. It’s like Steve and Eydie. It’s been very interesting and fun. We work very well together. He’s very smart. He kind of put this show together, and we wrote our little patter in between songs, so many funny stories. But, it’s mostly music. It’s fun to sing, I really enjoy it. He was always the singer. He’s done a lot of Broadway shows. He just did If/Then with “Adele Dazeem” or Idina Menzel. He did it for a year, playing her boss. He was in the original cast of Once on This Island and Five Guys Named Moe, so he’s got a lot of experience. And he’s a writer and director. So I said, “Just put it together.” We picked a few songs. And then I said, “I can’t. I’m tired. I’m old.” He’s the workaholic. I could be on permanent vacation for the rest of my life.
Where did How Long Has This Been Going On? come from?
MC: I don’t know. He came up with that and we don’t even sing that song, but we just called it that. The show is about the dynamics of our relationship. It’s not even about where we met, how we met, what we went through. It’s about the dynamics, and how we work with each other, and how we live with each other. There’s always compromise in a relationship. I just thought… How long has this been going on? We met in June 1990, so we’ve been together a long time. We got married in 2011, when it became legal. When Governor Cuomo said, “Go on and get married, y’all.” So we did it. But, you never know what your anniversary is. It’s really upsetting and annoying. With the gays, it’s like, is it the first time we met? Is it the first time we went out? Is it the first time we had sex? Is it when we moved in together? And then, we did a domestic partnership in December of 2009, and we got married in 2011. So it’s like, what’s our anniversary? There’s too many fucking things.
That just means you can celebrate everything. Who doesn’t love a good party?
MC: And we do. We do celebrate on our wedding day. But also, I always like March 1st, when we moved in together. That was in 1992.
Tell me a little bit about the production. You said you’d be doing stories and songs. Is it original stories?
MC: Oh, yeah. It’s some patter about our relationship, funny stuff. A few little stories, here and there. But we each tell a childhood story. He tells mine and I tell his. Just you know what I’m like and what he’s like. But like I said, it’s mostly music. The songs are mostly standards or Broadway stuff, some R&B. It’s a mix. The nice thing is we’ve added four more songs to the show. At Lincoln Center, it was about an hour, so now it’s about 1 hour and 20 minutes. This is the 12 inch version. Remember the 12 inch records? The disco records that would go on forever?
MC: So this is the 12 inch version.
What’s it like working with your husband? Were you hesitant at all to share the stage?
MC: No, no. Like I said, we’ve been working together behind the scenes for a long time now. For my one-man show, he wrote all my original music. For my new one-man show, which I’ll be doing at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on July 2nd, these are two completely different shows. They’re also in two completely different areas of the Hamptons. With traffic, they’re about four hours away from each other. So, for my new one-man show, he’s written some new stuff for me that’s really funny and good. He writes my Liza Minnelli stuff, he wrote this great Bruce Springsteen original number that’s hilarious. I make him write me new things. I’m like, “Hurry up. I need new stuff.” As far as all the stand-up for the show, I wrote that. For the show we’re doing for Bay Street, we wrote that patter together. We just sat down and kind of placed a song where it was and then started talking about what we wanted to talk about afterwards. We just had a little conversation and then would just write it down. It was pretty quick the way we wrote in between, because of how we are with each other. How we are onstage with each other is pretty much how we are with each other offstage. There’s no false pretense. And there’s no shit. Like in this show, when I did this show in 1995, I sang this song. We don’t do that shit. Most of the numbers that we do, none of them are from Broadway shows we’ve done. They’re just songs we love and wanted to do, and have to do pretty much with our relationship, for the most part.
Did you have any difficulty deciding what songs to use?
MC: No because I came up with the opening number and he came up with a bunch of other stuff. It was pretty smooth. I mean, if he doesn’t want to sing something, we won’t do it. If I don’t want to sing something, we won’t do it. What’s the point? We did a benefit for Lincoln Center before we did American Songbook and we were just guests on it and we had never sung together. We did a couple of numbers together and it went over like gangbusters. And, I was like, we’ve got to do this for the American Songbook. That’s when we went to Charles Cermele, who runs it and Jon and said, “We want to do this.” And they said, “Absolutely.” It started at a benefit, in a small way, and then it expanded. We didn’t have any fights about what we were gonna do. There was one song that I was going to do that he chose, and I was like, “You know what? I don’t want to do that song.” And then I chose another song that was off the same album, interestingly enough. So I just switched the song to another song. It was a ballad.
MC: Eric Benet, who I love. He’s an R&B singer. He used to be married to Halle Berry, which unfortunately ruined his career. But, he’s a brilliant singer and songwriter. There was a song on the album that I was going to do, and I was like, “I’m not feeling this.” And then I was listening to this other one that he and David Foster wrote, and it’s beautiful. It’s the only ballad I really sing in the show. It’s hard to sing ballads. They’re a little too emotional for me. I like the up stuff.
And after this performance, are you bringing the production anywhere else?
MC: Right now it’s the only one scheduled. I’m sure we’ll do it again somewhere. There’s this and my show in Westhampton, and I’m taking the summer off, baby. And then he goes off and does a play at Williamstown. In the fall he’s doing Freaky Friday with Disney in Washington D.C. before, hopefully, I don’t know if it’s coming to Broadway, but they’re doing a trial out of town. He’s playing opposite Ana Gasteyer. He’s doing good. He works a lot, I like to watch TV.
You really balance each other out.
MC: Yeah, we really do. You can’t be with someone like you. It doesn’t work. You end up beating each other up. It’s not a good thing. You need something very opposite. He’s a Libra; very balanced. I’m a Sagitarian; all over the place. And I’m the one that needs all the attention, which is why we’ve been together so long. He’s like, “Go ahead; you can have all attention…” Me, “Thank-you!”
Now you mentioned you were excited to perform at Bay Street. What about that theater makes it so special?
MC: I love that theater. I’ve been involved with that theater for years. I’ve done a lot of their galas and benefits. I think it’s been a while since I’ve been there though. The last time I was there, I did my solo show. I also developed Laugh Whore, my Broadway show, pretty much there. I did it there, I think once before, and I rehearsed it there with Joe Mantello, who is my director. They helped out with that a lot, when Sybil and Emma were running it. And then when Murphy was running it, I did some stuff for him. And now, Scott Schwartz is running it, who by the way, directed Jerry in Tick, Tick… Boom!, off-Broadway in 2001, which was the second show that they produced that was Jonathan Larson, who wrote Rent.
When you come to the Hamptons, what do you do? What are some of your favorite spots?
MC: Just to stay with friends. I go out; I stay with Joe Mantello, who’s my director. I stay with him, I love hanging out with him. And Joy Behar, I hang out with my friend Joy. I’ve stayed at her house quite a few times. We’ve had a barrel of laughs, and a good time with her and Steve, her husband. That’s what I usually do, stay with friends. And then we go where we go. I’m not much of a “hey, let’s go dancing” person, because we don’t. And who goes dancing in the Hamptons anyways?
How Long Has This Been Going On? will take place at Bay Street on Saturday, May 28th at 8 pm. Tickets are $69.25 to $125.
Bay Street Theater is located at 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, call 631-725-9500 or visit www.baystreet.org.