Cabaret performer Helen Mandlin in no way resembles an octopus, but it seems she must have eight arms in order to juggle everything in her life.
Mandlin’s “My Life — So Far” is a musical memoir in which the singer, actress and dancer squeezes highlights from six decades in show business into a one-hour show.
A die-hard New Yorker born and raised on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Mandlin has been performing since age 4. Her mother was a professional singer who saw to it that Helen and younger sister Betty took dance classes, singing lessons and acting lessons, and went to auditions.
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“She was a quasi-stage mom,” Mandlin said during a recent telephone interview. “[But] she was a good stage mom. She wasn’t Mama Rose.”
Mandlin fully embraced the show business goals her mother nudged her toward. She majored in drama at the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan, where the activities, classes and plays were straight out of the movie “Fame,” she said.
She then majored in theater at Queens College, part of the City University of New York system.
Mandlin soon realized that making a living involved more than her training and talents. “You just can’t pay the rent on that,” she said.
Doing cabaret in the mid-1970s while imagining a future of piano bar performances, Mandlin decided teaching would be her best bet. She got a master’s degree in early childhood education at Bank Street College of Education, taught preschool and kindergarten for 15 years, then returned to college for a master’s in psychology at Hunter College.
After 30 years as a psychotherapist for teens and adults, 25 of those in private practice, Mandlin retired about two years ago.
Over the years, Mandlin has continued in show business, co-starring in the indie film “Sisters,” recording two CDs and performing standards with a volunteer ensemble that visits senior care facilities in Manhattan.
But the stage still called to her. In 2007, she penned the script for “My Life — So Far.”
“That was my first experience writing,” Mandlin said, since she published an essay, “My Father, My Son & Baseball,” in Social Work Today magazine 13 years ago. She got hooked.
Mandlin currently lives on the Upper West Side. But she changed her tune by a half-note when she discovered Cambria seven years ago.
She and her partner of nearly 12 years, photographer Joe Josephs, were in Southern California when they drove up the coast and came across the little village in the pines. They’ve since made Cambria their second home, spending winters and summers here.
“I was so impressed there were two theatres in Cambria,” Mandlin said, referring to CCAT and the Pewter Plough Playhouse. “Two years ago, I decided I would love to be involved with the theater here.”
Through Cambrian columnist and artist Dianne Brooke, Mandlin connected with CCAT director Nancy Green. Last summer, they organized this weekend’s one-woman show.
For a big-city girl, Mandlin has happily plunged into some Cambria offerings. She takes the Rough Writers writing classes at the Joslyn Recreation Center as she finishes up her memoir, “Death, Divorce and Real Estate — An Upper West Side Story.” Also, she is brushing up her moves with Shirley Kirk Mar’s weekly tap-dancing lessons.
Youthful looking, in love with her partner and enjoying the best of both coasts, Mandlin hasn’t needed to update her cabaret show — so far.
‘My Life — So far’