Mai Abe Melodic Leap: San Jose resident Mai Abe has always been drawn to the musical side of theater. Growing up playing the piano and earning an undergraduate degree in clarinet, her life was intertwined with music. However, it took her a while to embrace the theatrical aspect of musical theater. Little did she know that, once she did, it would lead her to turn professional and make her regional debut.
Abe is set to play the role of Marcy in TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” running from November 29 to December 24 at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto. Her journey to this stage was unexpected, as she auditioned with James Monroe Iglehart, a Tony Award-winning actor and creative producer for TheatreWorks’ production.
Despite her musical background, Abe never thought that TheatreWorks was in the cards for her, especially considering she only recently ventured into theater. “I’ve always been involved in music in some way,” she says. “I grew up playing piano and got an undergraduate degree in clarinet.”
However, the lack of opportunities and representation in the early 2000s Broadway scene, especially for an Asian American like Abe, dimmed her passion for theater. It felt like there was no space for her, and she put her theatrical dreams on hold.
The pandemic became a turning point for Abe. It gave her the chance to slow down, hire staff for her therapy practice, and finally pursue her passion for theater. “I was really lucky to have the ability to slow down,” she reflects.
Since then, Abe has had roles with various theater companies, including The Pear in Mountain View, Sunnyvale Community Players, Foothill Music Theatre in Los Altos Hills, and Palo Alto Players. Her journey from a music therapist to a budding theater performer has provided her with a unique perspective.
In “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” Abe plays Marcy, a character vying for a spot at the National Spelling Bee. At the age of 30, she finds herself immersed in the mindset of middle school, reflecting on the high stakes and the pressure to be a Type A perfectionist.
What adds a unique twist to the show is the inclusion of four volunteers from the audience who act as spelling bee contestants for each performance. This element of improvisation keeps the actors on their toes, as not every performance unfolds the same way.
Abe’s story is a testament to the power of pursuing one’s passion, even when it seems unlikely. Her journey from a music therapist to the spotlight of regional theater showcases the transformative potential of following one’s dreams.