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Roth, wife of Kaihara '77, speaks to MC students

Barry McNamara
05/05/2014
After telling theatre majors about the highs and lows of her profession and sharing advice for success, Broadway actress Mary Robin Roth shares the Wells Theater stage with her audience.
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Actress Mary Robin Roth broke into Broadway with a role in the Tony Award-winning production of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” A few years later, due to a mix-up related to her voice classification, she was fired – twice – from a production of “Sunset Boulevard.”
 
So the veteran actress, who is married to Monmouth College graduate Kevin Kaihara ’77, was speaking from experience when she told a group of MC theatre majors, “I didn’t give up. That’s what it takes to be in this business. There’s going to be some highs and some lows.”
 
Roth made that comment when relating the joy she felt after winning the Jeff Award and the After Dark Award for her role as Carlotta in “Follies,” where she sang the appropriately named song “I’m Still Here.”
 
“It wasn’t the awards itself that were so pleasing,” she told the students. “It’s knowing what I went through to get them.”
 
Roth’s story hit close to home for the Monmouth students, as she was also a product of a small, private school – the College of St. Catherine in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
 
“I always had a dream of going to New York, but my résumé was lacking,” she said.
 
To fix that, she moved to Chicago in 1980 and was thrilled to sign a production contract for “Evita,” a Hal Prince production at the former Shubert Theatre. Life had the potential to get even more thrilling when she was given the chance to go on the road with the “Evita” cast and crew, but she turned it down to stay in Chicago to land “good roles, leading roles.”
 
Strengthened by that experience and by the chance to take part in the Scandinavian productions of “Evita,” Roth decided it was time to make her dream come true, and she moved to New York in 1983.
 
Three years later, when she received a call that she had won a part in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” she recalled being so utterly elated that “I just didn’t know what to do. I just got down and scrubbed the kitchen floor.”
 
From the high of the “bigger than life” Tony Awards, which Roth attended as a member of the cast of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” came another high, albeit a temporary one. She earned a leading role in “Senator Joe,” a new Broadway show based on the life of Joe McCarthy. She was able to play the senator’s wife for a grand total of three shows, until “the police shut us down” due to embezzlement of the production’s advance funds.
 
Highs came from working with such stars as Cindy Williams, Marcia Wallace, Betty Buckley, Georgia Engel and Loretta Swit – all stars of the small screen in the 1970s and 1980s – but it was while working with another TV star, Diahann Carroll, that she experienced a dramatic low. The voice company’s mix-up regarding her voice led to an emotionally trying situation that left Roth “in tears every time I left a rehearsal.”
 
Shortly thereafter, though, brighter times prevailed, including a wedding proposal from Kaihara, who popped the question to her while she was in a production of “Funny Girl.” She answered his proposal affirmatively with an aside to the audience during a performance of the show.
 
How to handle a wedding proposal on stage was just one of the pieces of information Roth passed on to Monmouth students. She also told them their “calling card is your résumé and your photo,” and she advised them to invest in a high-quality, professional photo.
 
She also said, “You really want to get their attention at your audition. It’s not their time; it’s yours. Those seconds belong to you. Every second belongs to you.”
 
And in the event an audition doesn’t go their way? “You’ve got to be able to take rejection. It’s their loss.”
 
Having such an accomplished actress tell her story in the college’s Wells Theater was definitely the students’ gain.