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When stars align for Mars, its no constellation, its a party

Weekend!Life: Person of the Week
by: ©2006 DAVID STRAUB, Longtime local actress and singer Susannah Mars went back into collaboration with Bill Wells for a cheery round of holiday entertaining. She’s also recruited a range of local talent — from indie songwriters and novelists to drummers and symphony folks — to share the stage.

Susannah Mars is a top-notch entertainer, a skilled actress with great comedy chops and one of the best singers in the Northwest.

She also has a lot of really cool friends.

That fact will be dazzlingly obvious as she shares the stage with a veritable who's who of the Portland arts scene for most of this month.

'Mars on Life: The Holiday Edition' is mostly Mars and musical partner Bill Wells doing a range of season-friendly songs, some funny bits and even an in-show gift giveaway.

Other folks will drop by each night: former Oregon Symphony leader Norman Leyden, drummer Obo Addy, novelist Marc Acito, indie singer-songwriter Holcombe Waller.

'It's an incredible lineup,' Mars says of the show, which runs through Dec. 31. 'Its a lot of fun. The sense of it is like a party.'

And Mars knows how to put together a guest list. It doesn't appear there is any corner of Portland's entertainment scene she hasn't plumbed.

'I like the fact that it's diverse,' says rocker Stephanie Schneiderman, who will join Mars on Dec. 22. 'She's been involved in so many different genres.'

Schneiderman, who periodically appears on the local stage but is best known as a member of the band Dirty Martini, worked with Mars in the musical 'The Full Monty' earlier this year.

'I'd been an admirer from a distance for a long time,' Schneiderman says. 'I find her very inspiring.'

Mars, who is in her 40s, doesn't exactly radiate artistic danger. She's an east county mom and usually looks the part with coifed blond hair and tasteful attire.

Schneiderman says that's misleading. 'She's just one of those classic talents. She has this amazing amount of abandon. She throws herself so fully into a character, you can't help but ride the wave.'

Schneiderman and Mars will sing a Hanukkah song by the pop band Barenaked Ladies as well as a more mainstream Christmas tune.

Dancers, songwriters chip in

Mars, a four-time Drammy winner in musical theater roles, says partnering with younger, hipster-credible musicians like Waller and Schneiderman will have an energizing effect on both the production and audiences.

'There's some really neat young artists that will appeal to a younger crowd,' she says. 'The fun of the show crosses the board. Holcombe really likes the whole groove of the show. So if he likes it, anybody should.'

She thinks audiences will thrill at the talents of some of her collaborators, including Portland Center Stage Artistic Director Chris Coleman. 'No one knows what a beautiful voice he has,' she says.

Oregon Ballet Theatre Artistic Director Christopher Stowell, a longtime principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, will dust off his skill set Dec. 13.

'He is going to do a dance to a couple of songs I'm singing,' Mars says. 'The music is Irving Berlin; the dance is completely his.'

Inspiration strikes all over

Mars says her collaboration with Wells is forever producing fresh material. 'Often, one of us will hear something that we think is terrific and give it to the other and say, 'How will this work in the show?' '

'We also incorporate our own personal lives. We create sets around our real life and around fantasy lives we concoct.'

Mars grew up in Southern California, the daughter of an actor father and opera-singer mom. She did some film work as a child and sang in her high school choir, but didn't really blossom as a performer until moving to Oregon 18 years ago.

She won her first Drammy in the musical 'Nunsense' four years after her arrival and has had a way with audiences ever since.

'I like the pieces to have accessibility for all ages,' she says. 'They may come in like the Grinch. I hope they go out happy at the end of it.'