Judy Marshak, multifaceted and multi-talented

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Judy Marshak, multifaceted and multi-talented

By Cece M. Scott

An award-winning actress, singer, song writer and ukulele aficionado, Judy Marshak has received positive reviews and accolades for her vast range of talents – from clown to torch singer.

Photo, Sarah Tacoma

Marshak gives credit for her decades-long musical career to childhood friend, Wendy Honickman, who convinced her to audition for the 1960’s musical play HAIR at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre. “Wendy knocked at my door and told me that we were going down to the Rock Pile, where the open auditions were being held,” says Marshak. “I was called back a couple of times, and became an understudy.”

Marshak had the opportunity to perform in Hair, but taking off her clothes in front of an audience was something that the young actress from the suburbs wasn’t comfortable with. So, instead, she studied clowning with Richard Pochinko. In her mid-20s, Marshak went on tour with The Royal Bros. Circus.

At the age of 69, Marshak says that she’s always loved to sing since she was a young girl. Apparently, her mother, Linda, would have friends over to listen to Judy sing herself to sleep. “I would dream that a Broadway producer was out in the driveway listening to me,” says Marshak, “I was a musical kid and had a strong fantasy that, one day, I would be up on stage performing.”

Marshak’s mother was a nightclub singer, who went by her stage name Linda Getz, and supported her own mother by singing from the young age of 14. Albert, Marshak’s father, was a Barber Quartet singer, with a natural sense of harmony. “I got my musical gifts from both my parents.”

Twice nominated for a Dora Mavor Moore Award, once for her role as Mrs. Potts in Beauty And The Beast, and for her portrayal of Fleur, the menopausal mama in Anne Marie MacDonald’s Anything That Moves (which won the Dora for Best Musical, 2001).

Marshak also received two ACTRA nominations for CBC radio musical performances. In addition to Beauty and the Beast (1995 to 1997), Marshak also includes her roles in Doubt and The Glass Menagerie as among her favourites. “Appearing as Mrs. Potts at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre, was probably the closest to portraying who I am – cheery, nurturing and motherly,” says Marshak. “I loved that role. It’s one of the big highlights of my career.”

The role of Marilla in Anne of Green Gables, which Marshak performed in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, from 2001 to 2005, also resonates with Marshak. Marilla is known to be a stern character, so Marshak worked to find the parts of Marilla’s personality that didn’t make her a caricature. “My challenge was to find levels in Marilla that portrayed her as a real human being. The best characters that you see in films, or plays, do not encompass just one aspect,” says Marshak. “It’s one of my most wonderful, outstanding roles.”

Selfie with husband, Andrew, Port Hope, 2019

Marshak found playing the head chorus girl in the play, Pal Joey, to be somewhat of a stretch for her. Marshak laughs at the memory, “I always felt chunky growing up and there I was up on stage, with five other girls, adorned in tiny pasties and fishnet stockings.”

She was being typecast as a musical theatrical actress, but was able to gain more experience and hone her craft in a number of movies and television roles. Marshak appeared with Ellen Burstyn in The Stone Angel (2007); with Daryl Hannah in All The Good Ones Are Married (2007); and with Richard Dreyfus and Graham Greene in the 2019 film, Astronaut. On the small screen she appeared in Degrassi: The Next Generation (2014) and Being Erica (2009). “At this age, there isn’t much opportunity to play the lead,” says Marshak. “It’s usually an older person role.”

A few years ago, Marshak tore her meniscus during a rehearsal for It’s A Wonderful Life – one of the most painful things that she has ever experienced. “Fortunately, I was playing an older lady, and I had to use a cane for the duration of the play.”

The injury, however, has limited Marshak’s ability to take on roles that involve dancing or a great deal of physical activity. “I don’t audition for those parts anymore,” says Marshak. “I just don’t think that I can do it.”

Marshak says that she’s still pretty good at remembering her lines as an actress, but is finding it more difficult to remember lyrics, even to songs that she has written. “It does get worse as I get older. I always have to keep a music stand in front of me now.”

After the breakup of her 25-year marriage, Marshak used the pain to inspire many of the songs on her 2009 CD, A Matter of Time, which was one of Richard Ouzounian’s (Toronto Star) top eight picks of the year for the Broadway musical crowd. Not all of the songs are bittersweet. When Marshak met her current husband, she wrote a joyous song for the CD called How Do You Know.

Marshak had her first child at the age of 34 (Nicholas, now 35), and her second child (Matia, 32) at the age of 37. She had an opportunity to go to Broadway when they were young, but leaving her children behind wasn’t an option. “It was a heavy load performing eight shows a week. I missed seeing my kids and putting them to bed, so I declined the opportunity, and the role went to my understudy,” says Marshak. “My career is not always first and foremost for me. My kids are my blessings in life.”

Photo, Sarah Tacoma

“Stay creatively active. Part of me still feels like a child.” – Judy Marshak

Currently, Marshak is giving Ukeology workshops and lessons, and she performs on Vision Networks’ weekly singalong, Your All Time Favourite Hit Parade (Produced by Zoomer TV), which takes listeners back to some of their favourite pop music.

On July 26th of this year, Marshak will be doing a performance reading in Could I Have This Dance, a new musical at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The event is in celebration of the Anne Murray Centre’s 30th Anniversary. “The play is a compilation of several of Anne Murray’s songs. I play the mother of the lead actor,” says Marshak. “Anne Murray has given us a thumbs up – we have her support on the project.”

Marshak’s contagious positivity and free spirit has served her well. “The reality that we are not eternal is the hardest part,” says Marshak. “The trick is not to fall into the trap of aging. It’s a state of mind.”


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