This small town country boy grew up to be a big league Broadway player, both on and off stage. Having several prestigious stage, screen and studio credits under his belt, he is also an innovator in the nightlife world as the host and creator of unique theater-meets-party experiences such as the classic competition show Cattle Call and Industry’s current Monday night DIVA showcase. And this week, he’ll be performing with a YouTube sensation and a huge cast of Broadway talent! Let’s give a Standing OH for Mr. Marty Thmas!
Thotyssey: Marty, thanks for talking to us! I know Halloween already seems like a year ago now, but I see you and your Industry show DIVA were the party there Monday night. How did it go?
Marti Thomas: We had the best time. DIVA is an extremely theatrical show, so the Halloween falling on a Monday is a miracle! We had a packed house and everyone was in the spirit.
Before we get into your amazing career as a performer, let’s talk a little about your early life. How was growing up on a farm in Trenton, Missouri? Were there actual cows?
[Laughs] Yes my dad is a cattle farmer. I grew up in a tiny town, twenty minutes outside a tiny town, literally in middle of nowhere. We got 911 a few years ago (no joke), and that was a big deal. Small town, small minds…but at the same time, everyone knew each other and protected each other. Crime rate is close to nonexistent, and churches outnumber any other business in town.
What were your earliest musical inspirations as a kid, while you were in the church choir and entering competitions?
I had so many. I was raised on gospel and country music, so I love Kirk Franklin, Sandi Patty, Wynonna Judd and Glen Campbell. I loved anything theatrical which lead me to my passion for musical theater and the Broadway divas.
How supportive was your family of your singing?
My mom moved to New York with me when I was 11 to do my first Broadway musical and further my training. None of us really knew what we were doing, but my entire family went to great personal sacrifice to provide me with opportunity and education.
You made your Broadway musical debut at age 11, in a starring role in an adaptation of The Secret Garden. That must have been an extraordinary experience for someone so young. Is 11 old enough to really understand the method or craft of acting and performing, or did it just come natural to you?
I think a great deal of natural ability comes into play, but had a daunting number of coaches, choreographer, directors and musical directors who helped shape my abilities and guide me the best they could.
I definitely understood what was happening and lived every second of it. At such a young age I was getting to work with some of the most iconic theater legends of all time. I was so fortunate.
You also attended the Professional Performing Arts school at the time, which has had a really prestigious roster of graduates in entertainment. What’s that environment like? Is everyone just kind of minding their own business and doing their own thing, or was their pettiness and jealousy?
I guess there was the same juvenile stuff you would see in any middle or high school…but all of my peers were working professionally at the time and knew what they wanted to do for a living. Everyone was very driven to create and to learn, I thrived there and loved it so much.
You’ve had a really incredible Broadway career: The Secret Garden, Wicked, Xanadu… Have you had a favorite experience?
I’ve gotten to have an incredibly diverse career in theater. I currently do hair at The Lion King and Aladdin on Broadway. Seeing both sides of the industry, I just love Broadway. Xanadu was a very special experience for me, as I was working with such an incredible cast of comedians and legends. It was a roller disco musical based on a guilty pleasure film. I would have to say my years at the roller disco were a highlight for me.
And you won the title “Mr. Broadway” in 2008! Do you still make people call you that?
I would! I sure try, but it doesn’t stick [laughs]. The Broadway community goes all out for charity. Yearly, a beauty pageant featuring a guy from each running Broadway musical competes and the tickets sales benefit the Ali Forney Center for homeless LGBT youth.
What’s one thing you’ve learned about working on Broadway that would really surprise people?
It’s a grueling schedule that isn’t incredibly glamorous. Keeping up with the schedule and the lifestyle is so much more difficult than actually getting the work. I’m so grateful for the shows I’ve been able to work on and the life experiences I’ve had.
You also performed in the Branson circuit for awhile, back home in Missouri. I can’t imagine what that’s like! Is there a real genuine appreciation of music there, or is it kind of a Disneyfied scene, for lack of a better word?
I feel like it’s a little bit of both [laughs]. I love country music, and country music fans are hardcore. Some incredible legends have found homes performing in Branson. There’s also an element of theme park cheese that has found a home there. Fortunately, I love theme park cheese, so it works out. I don’t know if I would choose to work there again, but never say never.
A dance track you recorded with your producer friend Reed McGowan when you moved back to New York, “Resurrect Me (Lift Me Up),” was pretty successful. lots of remixes! Were you ever at some really random place when you heard that song playing?
I’ve heard that song played in the most random places. It was on a seasonal Abercrombie & Fitch playlist on year that helped it find it’s way around the world. I saw a drag queen perform it once that had no idea I was in the room. I also saw a male stripper dance to it while I was rolling with a bachelor party….that was a great night!
What’s the process of recording like for you? Fun, rewarding, tedious, stressful?
Recording is my absolute favorite. I consider myself a creative and fast studio artist. I love arranging and I love being able to get my ideas out of my head and into the world. Recording is never stressful for me, and I’m always so grateful to get to work with a great producer or engineer who gets my vision, or has a vision to share.
You toured all over the place with that record with the likes of Grace Jones & Gloria Estefan! Any crazy road stories?
I sang at the International Mr. Leather competition in Chicago one year. I’m pretty sure I misunderstood the assignment and didn’t really know what I was in for. I was singing with Thelma Houston and Linda Clifford at one of the dance parties. I remember the curtain opening and looking out at a sea of dudes in leather doing unspeakable things to each other in the best possible way. It was both shocking and hot at the same time.
And you appeared on 2 Broke Girls! Any on-set gossip?
2 Broke Girls was such a cool experience in that I never really set foot on set. I played an online beauty expert named “Damon.” I filmed and directed all of my own scenes at home and sent in the footage. It was the most creative and fulfilling experience!
This past summer I spent filming Season 3 of the Netflix series Grace and Frankie. I wish I could speak more about it, but for now I just can’t wait for the season to come out! Being on set with that tremendous ensemble cast was such a validating career moment. I love working in TV so much and pray I get to experience it more in my career.
Let’s talk about your nightlife career. First of all (and speaking of cows earlier!), I had no idea that you were the creator of Cattle Call, the long-running weekly talent competition at Therapy that Peppermint went on to host for a long while afterwards. What were you hoping to accomplish with that show, and did you ever imagine it would have such a long run, and spawn so many drag queens and performers?
Actually, I’ve always loved talent shows and nurturing other artists. I believe so strongly in supporting other artists and creating positive uplifting environments for performers to create. Cattle Call was a collaboration with my friend Scott Nevins (Bravo’s The Peoples’ Couch). At first it was such a challenge to find performers to get on stage and compete. Once we built the reputation for the show, it was shocking the level of talent that would pass through that club.
Now you host DIVA, the Monday night revue at Industry featuring yourself and a revolving cast of powerful female vocalists covering a wide range of showtunes and hit songs from across the decades. How did you pick these particular women to do the show with?
I’ve had the honor of hosting some incredible talent at DIVA over the past 6 years. I have a weekly rotating cast of three women, and host a special guest weekly. I’ve had Lena Hall, Rachel Potter, Brenda Braxton, Shoshana Bean, Shayna Steele, Eden Espinosa, Orfeh and so many more.
I am constantly on the hunt for dynamic vocalists for this show. It’s not an easy show to cast as they have to be incredible live performers, have a great ear for harmonies and be easy to get along with. It has had it’s difficulties for sure, but overall I’m so proud of this show and what it has evolved into.
I have found girls on YouTube, I’ve had mass auditions, elimination style competitions as well as recommendations from industry pros and friends. We have performed in Broadway houses, toured nationally, released an album, did a sold out off Broadway run and there are so many exciting things in store for the show in 2017.
The show’s had a long run now, and a pretty devoted following. What’s the secret to its success?
I work incredibly hard on this show. I think our fanbase would be very surprised to see how much work goes into the weekly show at Industry Bar. I design the wardrobe for the show, the choreography, the arrangements as well as the casting, scheduling and advertising. It’s a full time job but absolutely a labor of love.
You’ll be pulling double duty this Monday with another gig, this time at legendary jazz club Birdland for comedian and brilliant YouTuber Randy Rainbow’s election eve comedy/musical show! How do you know Randy, and what can we e pact from that evening?
I’m a huge fan of Randy and honored to be his friend. Randy and I met working in nightlife in New York city. He has emerged this year as one of the most important voices of the election season. I’m a massive fan of his ideas and his ability to translate those ideas into entertaining parodies. The lineup of this show is unreal, only Randy Rainbow could pull together a group of entertainers like this. The show is sold out and this audience is in for such a treat.
Are you worried of the possibility of a Trump presidency?
I’m terrified. The reality of a Trump presidency is such a real threat. I’ve done an incredible amount of work with the Clinton campaign this year and I could not be more with her. There is so much confusing information all across social media and it’s so easy for voters to not only be misled but to be tricked into putting their faith on the shoulders of a false prophet. I sincerely hope that we see a record setting American voter turnout this week.
It’s such a fun night! We spoke earlier about how much I love talent. I call open mic at Rise affectionately ’Pizza Day at Planet Fitness.” I call it a “judgement free zone.” There is so much negativity out there today, I like to create a safe space environment for artists to try new things and put themselves out there without fear of judgement. We have built a beautiful family of performers who love getting on stage, and supporting the other performers. I just love it!
Where can we find your music to purchase now?
Last question: what would be your dream stage role?
I love theater so much and any chance to take on a character is a blessing. I have to say however, my favorite moments on stage are getting to just be Marty. Being myself on stage is an ever evolving exercise in being vulnerable and loving myself enough to share my true self with an audience.
Thank you, Marty!
Marty Thomas hosts Open Mic Night at Rise on Sunday nights (10pm) and DIVA Mondays at Industry (11pm). On Monday, November 7th he’ll also perform as one of Randy Rainbow’s guests for the Election Eve Party at Birdland Jazz Club (7pm). Randy can be followed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, and also has a website. Look out for him on Season 3 of Netflix’s “Grace & Frankie.”