Native Angelino Zarah Mahler follows her stellar work in Great Expectations and Kiss Of The Spider Woman with International City Theatre’s production of Kurt Weill’s classic The Threepenny Opera, a show which marks her reunion with Great Expectations director Jules Aaron and choreographer Kay Cole.  Zarah sat down recently and chatted with us about combining a busy career in film and TV with live theater.

Hi Zarah. Wow, an honest-to-goodness native Angelino working as an actor in Hollywood! Did living so close to “the magic” have anything to do with your decision to go into show biz?

Not really.  I don’t think being born in Hollywood ever influenced me to be an actor. In fact, I believe this career “chose” me. 

How’s that?

I fell in love with the stage at a very early age. It was the process, not the industry.  Having grown up here, I often feel that I have a more grounded sense of the business. For me, this city has never felt glamorous or magical in any way.  It’s simply my hometown. A lot of people move to Los Angeles with very specific—and often impractical—expectations of what it means to be an “actor” in world famous Hollywood. The stigma can be very misleading. Luckily for me, I never had to go through the culture shock. Acting is my craft and Hollywood is my home.

I see in your bio that you performed at Carnegie Hall with the National Youth Chorus when you were still in your teens.  How old were you then and what was the New York experience like for you?

I was 15 when I sang at Carnegie Hall. The theater itself is spectacular and the experience was as well.  A lot of my family is originally from New York so I’m no stranger to the city.  This was not my first time there. That being said, the trip was an absolute blast. New York truly is one of the greatest cities in the world.

What is this “Loats Theatre” that shows up often on your resumé? 

The Loats Theatre was incredibly dear to my heart. I performed in many community theater and high school productions on that stage. In fact, I was actually the last person to sing on the Loats stage before the theater was torn down.

Tell us about that experience.

During my senior year of high school, the drama department produced a show called “Lights Out”. It was a heartfelt goodbye ceremony in the form of a musical and historical revue.  I sang Sondheim’s “Children will Listen” as the closing act of the very last show on the Loats stage.  Needless to say, playing the Witch in Into the Woods was by far one of my favorite roles.

You’ve also done some operatic performances. Would you like to do more classical work in the future, or are you a musical theater gal?

I have a lot of respect for opera and classical material but it’s not really my thing.  Although I love musical theater, I’m actually very selective in my taste. While there are some musicals that I’m nothing short of passionate about, I’m not crazy about everything out there including some of the most well-known and classic musicals.  Sometimes I’m surprised myself at my constant involvement in musical theater but as I’ve said before, these things very often choose us.

Tell us about your participation in Great Expectations The Musical.  How long have you been associated with the project?

I’ve been associated with Great Expectations from the very beginning. Our original run began at the Hudson Guild and after a very successful run the cast traveled to Florida Rep for a special performance before closing.  It was only a few months before we reopened at the Odyssey Theater, so in total I worked on the show for over 7 months.  

So how did performing in Great Expectations affect you career-wise?

Great Expectations was a very pivotal event in my career.  It was the first professional theater gig I booked in Los Angeles and I haven’t stopped working in the LA theater community since. Prior to Great Expectations I hadn’t been involved in theater for quite a few years, my main focus being film and TV. Working on a new piece can be daunting but it’s also very exciting.  As an actor it’s such a wonderful gift to be given a brand new role to originate. Great Expectations was a huge success and the buzz hasn’t stopped yet.

Daniel Tatar and Zarah in Kiss Of The Spider Woman
 Photo: Michael Lamont

You most recently played Marta in Kiss Of The Spider Woman, one of the most extraordinary (and biggest) “small theater” musicals I’ve ever seen. How did it feel to be only one of two female actors in the cast of sexy young male performers? 

(Laughing) Yes, the spider woman boys certainly were a good-looking bunch. 

What was it like to work with Nick DeGruccio, and to be part of the first L.A. regional production of this amazing show?

My experience working with Havok Theater was incomparable. Not only was I supported by a brilliantly talented production team and cast, I was also treated with the utmost respect and professionalism. Director Nick DeGruccio is such a lovely person—he’s creative, bright, gracious and artistic—all of these qualities fully reflective of his work!  

What kind of a director is Nick?

Nick’s directorial style is refreshing and energetic and his passion is infectious.  I adore Havok Theater Company and look forward to working with Nick and Chad Borden in the near future.  Integrity and talent don’t always go hand-in-hand, so working with Havok was a real treat.

Being L.A. based, you’re also pursuing film and TV work. What is it about working in film/TV that makes it exciting for you? What makes you keep returning to your stage roots?

Film and TV has always been the main focus of my career and in many ways it still is.  However, it seems that the theater world has recently crept up on me and achieved an equal standing.  I love both art forms very much but they couldn’t be more different.  The theater production process is very fast paced.  It can be extremely gratifying, every performance an adrenaline rush.  

So how does that compare with work in front of a camera?

Film and TV is a lot of “Hurry up and wait!” For me, the process is much more introverted and private. But that’s what I find so fulfilling about the work—the depth and subtlety of it.

Next up for you is the Threepenny Opera at ICT in Long Beach.  How excited are you about this project and what is it like to work with Great Expectations director Jules Aaron?

I couldn’t be more excited about Threepenny. When you work with a director multiple times, you begin to develop a very intricate relationship and thus a fluid language.  Jules and I know exactly how to communicate what we need and want from one another. 

What about working with choreographer (and Broadway legend) Kay Cole again?

This is my third time working with Kay and the woman still never ceases to amaze me.  She’s sharp as a tack and knows how to get exactly what she wants from any actor. Kay will always be someone that I respect and care for.  She’s like my theater mama—strict and authoritative yet empathetic and loving.

What are you most looking forward to in doing this classic Kurt Weill musical?

I couldn’t be more thrilled about my role in Threepenny. When the lovely Michael Donovan cast me as Jenny Diver I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised.  This is easily the most exceptional role I’ve ever taken on.  Jenny is fiery, raw and passionate.  It’s been an incredibly rewarding endeavor, finding the flippancy and sensuality that make up this woman.  It’s been both wonderful and intense to “Dive” into this character.

Josh Bitton and Zarah

Your boyfriend Joshua Bitton’s show Backseats And Bathroom Stalls is reopening about the same time as The Threepenny Opera. What is it about that play that’s made it such a hit? 

Backseats is really phenomenal.  Playwright Rob Mersola has a sharp and distinctive voice and his cast is indestructible.  The play itself is atrociously funny, raunchy and fervent, however it has an unexpected amount of heart. There’s a simplicity and sincerity to the characters, pulled off beautifully by all of the actors, that keeps the audience fully invested.  With nothing but rave reviews since it opened last year, it’s no surprise to me that Backseats has extended.  The momentum of the productions’ success is well-earned.

Any plans to work together with Josh on a project? 

Josh is a magnificently gifted actor and I would love to work with him in the future. In my opinion, a true artist is someone who is uninhibited in his or her work. Actors capable of giving themselves over fully and honestly are rare, and Josh is in that small group. 

Can you think of any show that would be a perfect fit for the two of you?

I’d love to work on something gritty and dramatic with him. I think Shanley’s “Danny in the Deep Blue Sea” would be a great show for us.

That’s one I’d love to see!  Thanks so much Zarah. I can’t wait to see The Threepenny Opera next week!

Comments are closed.