“The most difficult thing for me is realizing, at this age, that I can’t physically do the things that I think I should be able to do because nobody lives forever. And that feeling of mortality is very depressing to me because I want to be as creative as I used to be; I don’t want it to stop.”
For a moment, I’m saddened by this statement, but only for a moment as I soon realize I’m sitting across from the celebrated Stan Mazin- a noted dancer, choreographer, actor, director and business owner who, in his early 70’s, shows no signs of slowing down. We chat inside the Group Rep at the Lonny Chapman Theater, located in the NoHo Art’s District, where Stan’s been an active member for over thirty-five years. And with such charisma and enthusiasm radiating from this prolific man, I can’t imagine him ever having been more creative than he is right now. And stopping? Well, there are probably a lot of people who can’t imagine that. Especially with the schedule that Stan keeps. He runs a successful online travel business, appropriately titled Stan Mazin Travels, where he serves as recreation director and tour guide to groups of theater-lovers traveling to New York and throughout Europe, where theater is always a main course in the diverse itinerary of tours, parties and fine dining. He teaches a weekly tap dancing class at the Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio, Sundays at 11:30am, where he managers to inspire and enhance the abilities of dancers in their 20’s while keeping himself in shape. And he teaches a second tap dancing class at Madilyn Clark Professional Rehearsal Studios to members of the Group Rep, where he’ll be directing his next play titled Stepping Out this coming December.
“It’s a play about people from all walks of life who are not professional dancers, meaning, they’re terrible,” Stan shares, “but in the end, they perform two different numbers as a group. So I’ll be directing and probably choreographing the show as well.” Yes, if this is what concern over one’s mortality can do for a person, all of us- regardless of age- should be so lucky. And somewhere below the surface, I think Stan realizes this as well, admitting, “Regardless, I’m still pretty active. I danced in The Muppets movie last year where Michael Rooney, who’s a terrific choreographer, made no delineation between the choreography for the older dancers and the twenty-somethings, so us older dancers had to kill ourselves to keep up. But it was nice to know that I can still do it.”
It’s nice, but shouldn’t be surprising as Stan’s been doing it for over fifty years, performing in everything from a production of West Side Story, that traveled all over the East coast, to ten years on the Carol Burnett Show, to several music videos featuring Janet Jackson, even to a season opener of How I Met Your Mother just six weeks after having hip-replacement surgery. But this type of dedication didn’t come overnight as Stan’s career in the arts almost didn’t happen several times.
Laying Down the Footwork
Born in South Philadelphia, Stan started dancing at just five years old, spending a year in training with Lou Crescenta. Then, at thirteen, he took up tap dancing, but quickly gave it up due to peer pressure- which he admits with conviction, “is so unimportant to me now.” His parents eventually divorced and he moved with his mother to Hollywood, Florida where he attended South Broward High. However, before graduating in 1957, he auditioned for the school production of Carousel to the delight of his encouraging cliché of friends. “They needed male dancers and encouraged me to audition,” he says, “so I did and found out that with my small amount of training, I was better than the other guys.”
After graduation, Stan attended the University of Miami, intending to study theater arts, but after a disagreement with his mother regarding his choice in majors, moved back to South Philadelphia to attend Drexel University where he majored in business administration. “And in six months, I was feeling frustrated,” he remembers, “so I took all these guidance tests, and they told me I should be doing something more creative. So I went back to the University of Miami and started choreographing dance numbers at the Ring Theater.” But the University of Miami wasn’t the only school Stan went back to, also enrolling in classes at the Thomas Armour School of Ballet. It was here that Stan got wind of the great Jack Stanly’s move to Florida, just a little ways outside of Miami.
“At this point, I was becoming more interested in dance, and less interested in school,” he confides, “but I had a scholarship, and I would’ve had to extend my time in school another three years if I had stayed, so I quit school and became a teacher at Jack Stanly’s Dance Studio, making twenty-five dollars a week, working sixteen-hour days. But I had to take every class they offered, and that’s where I really learned to dance.” Stan taught at Jack Stanly’s for two years, then moved to New York City in 1963.
Getting into the Groove
Once in New York, Stan booked a consistent amount of gigs fairly quickly; the most noted being in the Broadway production of High Spirits during which time he also managed to land his second job. “I was in a dance class, and Claude Thompson and Jaime Rogers came in looking for dancers for a show they were doing in Puerto Rico,” Stan says. “They saw what I could do and offered me a job on the show, but I turned it down because I had just signed on to do High Spirits, so they offered to let me do the show in Puerto Rico until it was time for me to start rehearsals for the Broadway show.” They approached Stan on a Tuesday, and he was flying first class to Puerto Rico to do the live, nightclub show- starring Sarah Vaughn- by Friday. And after several shows, he was back in Manhattan as if he’d never left just in time for High Spirits.
And after his success in High Spirits came a slew of other successes like Bajour and Holly Golightly, but his most memorable gig was in 1965 when he landed the role of Bernardo in West Side Story, opposite Christopher Walken as Riff. “Christopher was just brilliant, but he was a very physical actor,” he remembers. He points to a mark on his face, saying, “This was Christopher Walken, but he never meant any of it; he was just a dedicated actor in a very physical role.” Stan was also dedicated, having the time of his life taking whatever beatings on stage Walken dished out. But while West Side Story had him headed straight for the clouds at hyper speed, it was his role in a later production of Broadway-favorite Walking Happy that brought him to the less-heavenly hills of Los Angeles, leading to one of the most exciting and financially validating jobs of his career.
Birds of a Feather
“I came out to Los Angeles with Walking Happy in 1966, then moved here permanently in 1967, and joined the Carol Burnett Show in 1968,” Stan remembers. “I joined on a Monday; Tuesday, I’m in the elevator and Carol walks in with her coffee. She looks at me and says, ‘Hi, Stan. How are you getting along?’ For the star of the show to know the name of the new chorus boy…from that moment on, she had me.”
Stan spent the next ten years entertaining millions, and forging relationships with the crew and cast of talented performers like actors Carol Burnett, Vicki Lawrence and Harvey Korman, and Emmy-winning choreographer Ernie Flatt, as if they had been his family from the beginning. And in 1974, he joined another family at the Group Repertory Theater where the late Lonny Chapman reigned as the prolific Founder and Artistic Director for over thirty years until his passing in 2007. “Lonny was wonderful,” Stan remarks. “Often times when directing, he’d allow things to happen and evolve between the actors instead of trying to make things happen. And he created an area where we could test and push ourselves to do more than we thought we could, and I loved that.”
In keeping with Chapman’s philosophy, Stan achieved barrels more than he thought himself capable when he directed a string of plays for the Group Rep including Prisoner of Second Avenue and Give ‘Em Hell, Harry, and starred in productions Broadway Bound, 411 Joseph and Chaim’s Love Song. But it was his adaptation of the timeless play by William Clyde Fitch titled The City that really enlightened him. A play about a wealthy political family’s move from suburbia to New York City while attempting to dodge corruption in the early 1900’s may sound like a contemporary issue, but it was Stan who brought it’s classic feel up to speed with the information age of 2012. “I kept the classical structure, but changed a lot of the dialogue to make it sound more familiar, and I updated some of the cultural aspects by making the half-son an African American,” he confides. “But directing The City broadened my acceptance of myself and my awareness to things that I didn’t know I could do. I learned that I’m not just an actor, dancer or choreographer, I can do more than that.”
With his fire lit, Stan decided doing more doesn’t necessarily have to involve performing, and turned his passion for travel into a service for other likeminded theater aficionados. “My desire to travel to New York to see shows is where the idea for my business came from,” he says. “I had a travel-agent friend in New York who told me if I could get ten people to go with me on one of my trips, she’d give me my trip for free. Well, ‘free’ is all I needed to hear, so I got ten people to go, and, consequently- I started rounding up people to go to New York to see shows every year.”
Soon after, Stan began taking groups to London to see shows there when it dawned on him that he was basically doing the same thing a travel agent does, only he was doing more- taking on the role of tour guide and recreation director- so he decided to become an entrepreneur, and Stan Mazin Travels was born. “I get between eighty-five to ninety-five percent return business from people who have never traveled with me before,” he says. “I just took twenty-nine people to New York, and I do the same trip to London around New Years. We leave the day after Christmas, spend eight nights at a hotel, see three shows, have breakfast, one dinner, and end the trip with our own New Year’s Eve party.” A party that undoubtedly sets the tone for the groups following year.
It’s true, Stan Mazin, the tireless dancer, choreographer, actor, director and business owner is no longer in his twenties, and thank God for that. With such a long and successful career, he’s been able to incite, touch and entertain countless individuals, young and old alike. And it’s been this commitment to creativity that has allowed those same individuals to go out and inspire others, keeping his energy and purpose alive. And in that respect, he can rest assured that it won’t stop.