Mackenzie Warren: Her All-American Big Break
On the phone, you can still hear a little bit of a few accents in Mackenzie Warren’s voice—a little touch of South Carolina, where she’s from, some Oklahoma where she graduated from the University of Oklahoma and a touch of high-energy show biz, which may be due from touring, tapping and performing over the United States and Canada in the national touring company of Cole Porter’s audience-pleasing-and-wowing musical “Anything Goes.”
Not only is Warren on her first national tour, she’s understudying the lead role of Reno Sweeney, the brash, glamorous headliner for this dizzying musical comedy with music and lyrics by the inimitable Porter, a part played with pitch-perfect razzle dazzle by star Rachel York.
The company has settled in for one of its lengthier stays—from June 11 through July 7—at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House which gives Warren and the rest of the company a chance—here and there---to take in the sights and sounds of the nation’s capital.
“I guess you could say this is my big break,” Warren said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity, an amazing opportunity. I’ve never had a chance to travel much, but with this tour we’re going zig-zagging across the country to places I’ve never seen before—from California to Minnesota. We’re flying all over the place, sometimes just for a few days, sometimes longer like here which is almost a month. It’s a great experience—settling in, doing the laundry, always getting ready. It’s really exciting.”
Plus, she’s been on stage doing Reno Sweeney already—“In Tuscon, Ariz., for a two or three times,” she said. “Honestly, that first night, I don’t remember what I did, it’s like a blur. But you get over the nerves, you stop being scared, and you settle in and in get comfortable in what you’re doing. And it’s just the biggest thing in the world. Those two numbers we’re you’re going from “Anything Goes” and all that tapping, it’s just an electric thing. There’s the break and then you swing into “Blow, Gabriel Blow.”
“Two of us are understudies, as well as being part of the ensemble,” Warren told us. “When you’re traveling so much and spending this much time together, you become like a family. We’re all professionals now, but you’re sharing a big experience, too, helping, competing, being together. Rachel York is just amazing to be around. She’s so terrific in this, and she has her daughter along on the road. Her name is Olivia. She’s two years old, and all of us girls spoil her rotten.”
Told the tap dancing in the production is just deliriously fun, she replied, “Isn’t it great? I have been tapping, I think, since I was 12. It’s just something that I love doing. It makes people happy. It looks easy, but it isn’t—all that practice. It’s tricky. Your upper body is swinging, in rhythm, while your feet and legs are moving really fast. It’s not easy, but it’s great.”
Warren, while she’s from South Carolina, is an Oklahoma Sooner through and through. “Truthfully—what I liked about OU was that it had a top-notch performing and theatrical arts program," she said. "And it had a great football team. You can’t get better than that.” At Oklahoma, she was in a university production of “Anything Goes” along with Aaron Umsted, an OU graduate and friend, who—lucky them—is with the company understudying the part of Billy Crocker, the leading man in the show. “It’s great to be doing this with him," she said. "It’s having a friend right at the start.” Warren and Umsted both had to take over the lead roles during for a performance during the Los Angeles part of the run in December.
If you look at the road schedule for the show, it’s like one gigantic road trip to everywhere USA, a genuine American spot of show biz and Broadway sparkle and glam traveling across the land. It brings with it the resonant glow of American musical theatre, done by the kind of folks who probably dreamt about being in a show like this for years.
“All these names, Ethel Merman or Patti LuPone, you read about people like that," Warren said. "So, we’re all going behind some big footsteps.”
“Anything Goes” stops in November in at the Peace Center in Greenville, S.C. “It’s close to my home,” Warren said. “My mom’s coming. I guess it will be Mackenzie fan club night,” she said laughing. The national tour company began back in October 2012 and will eventually wind down in November. For Warren, and the rest of the company from stars to ensemble, it will have been a real American journey, accompanied by the sound of tapping and many hands clapping.