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February 7, 2014

Erin Maguire: Married, but in DIVORCE

It was Dane Cook in the late ‘80s and Erin Maguire in the early ‘90s.

I kept hearing about these two from Frank Roberts, a magnificent drama teacher at Arlington High School in Massachusetts, where I spent eight years of my life.

(As a teacher, friends – not as a student. My grades were never THAT bad.)

Frank directed three one-act plays I wrote, one of which won the New England championship at the Massachusetts High School Drama Festival (far more because of the direction than the writing). He was a superb theater man, so even after I left the school, I made certain to keep in touch. At many a lunch and dinner, he’d tell me about his adventures with the Arlington High School Drama Club.

So in the thirty-plus years we talked, he could have mentioned any of literally hundreds of kids who came through his program. And yet, until his untimely death in 2010, only two students impressed him enough to mention them by name: Dane Cook and Erin Maguire.

You’ve probably heard of Cook, who has since gone on to fame, fortune, film and stand-up. Now you’ll get a chance to see Maguire, for she has a pivotal role in TIL DIVORCE DO US PART, a current off-Broadway musical.

“It’s a story based in fact,” says Maguire. “A woman was dumped by her husband and was now facing a divorce. She couldn’t help talking about it all the time, even when she went to take lessons from her piano teacher. He decided that the best thing they could do was write a musical about it.”

The piano teacher is John Thomas Fischer, who not only wrote the show’s music, but also appears in the cast of five. The woman is Ruthe Ponturo, who with her then-husband Tony got an associate producer credit on the 2009 Tony-winning revival of HAIR. But that happened, to use the cliché that’s always applied to formerly married couples, in happier times.

“I have a tour de force role,” Maguire excitedly says. “At the start of the show, Kate has just learned that her husband is leaving her for another woman – one who’s 20 years younger. It drives her to seek advice from a columnist who works under the name ‘Dear Dotty.’”

Some people DO go dotty during and after a divorce; others get stronger. TIL DIVORCE DO US PART gives Kate the chance to succumb to one fate or to bravely choose another.

But one of the three credits that Ponturo gets on the show gives a hint that she’ll be all right. In addition to “concept” and “lyrics,” she’s credited with “choreography.” Hey, if she can kick up her heels and teach others to do so, too, Ponturo has probably emerged from her divorce not sadder and wiser, but happier and wiser.

Maguire will have to stretch herself in this role, because she’s never been divorced. Instead, she’s been married for two years to Jim Ferris, who stands by for three roles at Broadway’s THE LION KING.

“Mutual friends were trying to get us together for years, but we kept missing each other – or dodging each other,” she admits. “Then, as luck would have it, we did a reading together and before it ended we were flirting. This was one time when your friends turn out to be right about a romantic relationship.”

Good line, no? Frank had always mentioned Maguire’s on-stage ability, but he didn’t tell me how witty she could be. No wonder that she’s developed a stand-up comedy act that she’s done all around town. “It’s all about being from Boston, but, for whatever reason, not having a Boston accent.”

She’s right. Take it from this former Arlington resident native who still says “cahn’t” and “hahlf” instead of “can’t” and “half.” Maguire has somehow been spared.

“And it’s not like my parents didn’t come from the Boston area,” she says. “I was born in Arlington, one of the last babies born at Symmes,” she says, citing the hospital that was only a mere stone’s throw (or a Peyton-Manning-on-Sunday throw) from where I used to live.

Maguire has some siblings (making her a Maguire Sister) in a family that she describes as “full of unintentional comedians.” Her ability to intentionally make people laugh is one reason she auditioned for that riotous hit THE BREAD AND BUTTER BATTLE in the fourth grade. More to the point, it was an experience in the sixth grade that cemented her ambition to, as they sing in LITTLE ME, be a performer.

“I was performing at Fidelity House,” she says, citing the location where I used to play with my band The Exports (and don’t you dare ask why we chose that name). “In the front row there was a man who had a scowl on his face that clearly told me that he had been dragged there by his wife and had no interest whatsoever in what was happening. But in the middle of my singing ‘Nothing’ from CHORUS LINE, he turned to his wife and said, ‘She’s good.’ And that made me think that I really could be.”

So did Frank Roberts. “When I was a freshman and auditioned for MAME, Frank called me back many times for Mame – I mean the character now, not just the show. Juniors and seniors were scandalized. Was he really going to give this lead role to a mere freshman?”

In fact, no. A senior got the part, and Maguire had to settle for Pegeen. But Frank made her the “Day by Day” girl in GODSPELL, Babe in THE PAJAMA GAME and Adelaide in GUYS AND DOLLS before helping to find her the right college to study musical theater.

         — Peter Filichia

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