Musical Mary Steenburgen Sings in “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist”


Mary Steenburgen and Peter Gallagher star in ‘Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.’
Photo: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC 


Special to Circling the News

Mary Steenburgen seems all about music at the moment.

While her own music is in her head, she’s singing and dancing to the music of her character in “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.”

If you haven’t had a chance to catch “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” the show’s namesake is a computer coder who suddenly hears people’s thoughts and sees them expressed in song and dance.

Palisadian Steenburgen stars as Zoey’s mom.

Right off the top, this Sunday’s episode of the NBC musical dramedy dives into a storyline with Steenburgen’s character. After being in an uncomfortable situation, she sings and dances her inner-most thoughts, which only Zoey and viewers at home can hear and see.

This is a new world for Steenburgen, who won an Oscar for the 1980 film, “Melvin and Howard.”

Mary Steenburgen
Photo: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC

At 67, she says she’s the oldest in the Zoey cast, but is “the least experienced at singing and dancing.

“I’m probably the most experienced in terms of years acting. I’ve never, until this show, sung and danced at the same time. I’ve done a little dancing in movies. I’ve done a little singing in movies. Never sung and danced. Never been in a musical. This is like a whole new thing.”

Away from the show – about the music swirling in her own head, Steenburgen says it happened after surgery on her arm in 2007. She’s talked about it over the years and recently explained to reporters that she came out of that general anesthesia with “a forever changed brain.”

She says that switched her “acting-obsessed brain to having a brain that was just like an over-scored movie.  And so, it took a few months to just realize it wasn’t going to go away.”

Not just an over-scored movie, but “a bit of a musical tornado, your words, my thoughts. It all just is a musical tumble.  That’s the best way I can describe it.”

So, Steenburgen embraced the melodies, harmonies and lyrics in her head by studying “the language of music” and studying songwriting. She says she then “began to work with other songwriters to express what I felt.

“I really devoted myself — more intensely than anyone outside my family probably realizes — to writing music and to expressing myself that way,” she said. “So, in terms of how it is now, I still hear music all the time, but I’m more used to it.”

She says there’s just one downside. “It’s only not a good thing when I’m trying to go to sleep at night, which sometimes happens.”

Steenburgen’s devotion to songwriting took her to last year’s film, “Wild Rose.” A song she co-wrote for the movie made the official short list of possible Oscar nominees. Ultimately, “Glasgow (No Place Like Home),” was not nominated. But it did win awards from several critics’ groups.

When Circling the News asked Steenburgen if she keeps her own music to herself when she’s home with husband Ted Danson, or if she just opens her mouth and lets it come forth, she said “when I’m actually consciously working on a song and I’m consciously trying to get it from the inside of my brain out into the world … my best instrument is just to sing it. So, I sing the music I’m writing a lot.”

And she tells CTN she’s constantly singing the music she has to learn for “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.”

“Poor Ted is listening to whatever song we’re doing in that episode. It’s on repeat. He has to hear it over and over!”

Two more episodes of “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” are set to air on NBC: Sunday, April 26 and Sunday, May 3. In a few weeks, the network is expected to announce if the show will be renewed for a second season.

Mary Steenburgen plays Jane Levy’s mother on the NBC show on Sundays.
Photo: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC

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