NP native Testa is nominated for Tony Award

NP native Testa is nominated for Tony Award

North Providence native Mary Testa has been nominated for a Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical for her role as Aunt Eller in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” The show is currently running at Circle in the Square Theatre in New York City. This is Testa’s third Tony nomination.

NORTH PROVIDENCE – In between performing eight Broadway shows each week, Mary Testa says she needs to find an outfit to wear to the 73rd Tony Awards next month. 

The North Providence native, whose career as an actress spans four decades, is nominated for a Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical for her role as Aunt Eller in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!”

“It’s lovely. It’s a wonderful honor,” Testa told The North Providence Breeze. “Most of the people nominated are friends of mine … They’re all wonderful people, great performers.” She added that she’s “not expecting anything.” 

The Tonys, which honor excellence in live Broadway theater, will be broadcast from New York City on the CBS Television Network on Sunday, June 9, at 8 p.m.  

“Oklahoma!” is Testa’s 12th Broadway show, and is currently playing at Circle in the Square Theatre eight times each week. 

She’s been involved with the production, directed by Daniel Fish, since it premiered at Bard College in 2015. It then moved to Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Warehouse in 2018 before coming to Broadway.

The classic musical premiered on Broadway in 1943 and has previously been revived four times, according to the Tony Awards’ website. 

Playing Aunt Eller, who Testa says is the matriarch of the town, has been a “great experience,” she said. Noting that her character is authoritative and says what’s on her mind, “I’m very much like her in many ways,” she said. 

Also nominated for the award are Lilli Cooper for “Tootsie,” Amber Gray for “Hadestown,” Sarah Stiles for “Tootsie,” and Ali Stroker for Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!”

While Testa now calls New York home, she said she enjoyed her time growing up in “beautiful” North Providence with her family and friends and still visits to see her sister and niece and her family who live in Providence and North Providence. 

After moving to North Providence with her family as a 4-year-old, Testa attended St. Maria Goretti School in Pawtucket, which is no longer in operation, and North Providence High School. 

Testa didn’t come from a theatrical family, but said that her mother was an amateur singer. 

Her interest in theater began when she was 16, she said, and after graduating from NPHS, she attended a school for gifted students in the arts before attending the University of Rhode Island where she majored in theater. 

“I had a nice time when I was (at URI),” Testa said. “I had very good training.” 

One theater professor who made an impression on Testa was Judith Swift, she said. 

“Mary Testa was the one who made a lasting impression,” Swift, now director of the Coastal Institute along with serving as theater and communications professor, said in a statement. “Her talent was immediately apparent. She had warmth, wit and vocal chops to rival the best of Broadway performers. Mary’s Tony is long overdue.”

When a Rockefeller Grant brought a production of William Finn’s “Scrambled Eggs” to Kingston, Testa secured her first singing role. The connection she made with Finn helped launch her career. 

In September 1976, at 21 years old, she moved to New York City. She made her Off-Broadway debut as Miss Goldberg in Finn’s one-act musical “In Trousers.”
Testa has been nominated for a Tony two times before in 1999 and 2001 for her performances in “On the Town” and “42nd Street.” 

She’s won numerous film awards, including a Maverick Movie Award, a Melbourne Indie Film Festival Award, and a Wild Rose Independent Film Festival Award for her role in a 2015 film short called “The Mother.”  

She’s also been nominated for Outer Critics Circle Awards and several Drama Desk Awards, including a 2019 nomination for her performance in “Oklahoma!”. 

In addition to theater, she’s done concert work and has had roles in television and film, she said. 

She said it’s hard to choose a favorite role because “they’re all different and gratifying in their own way.” 

In 2011 composer Michael John LaChiusa wrote a musical for her called “Queen of the Mist” about Anna Edson Taylor, who, in 1901 at age 63, was the first woman to go over Niagara Falls and lived, she said. 

“I like interesting new work,” she said of the types of roles she prefers. “I like working with great people … I’m grateful and very lucky that I’ve been able to do that.”