Mary was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, and her drive to be a performer has been a genealogical mystery. Her father, the late Dr. Paul P. VanArsdel, Jr. was a nationally celebrated allergist; and her mother, Dr. Rosemary T. VanArsdel, is a nationally celebrated Victorian Periodicals scholar. For many years the genealogical question of “where did this come from” was answered simply by the fact that her grandmother, Helen Thorstenson, was an accomplished amateur pianist and always encouraged her to sing. The mystery was recently solved somewhat when she discovered that she had a distant great, great Aunt who was a popular professional entertainer in the early 1900’s.

Mary graduated from The Bush School in Seattle, and immediately relocated to the East coast to pursue a fleeting, yet earnest, interest in American History. Her dream was to attend prestigious and venerable Bowdoin College in Maine – at the time one of the country’s most selective schools. Someone tried to discourage her from applying by saying “you have to have the brains of a Gertrude Stein and the body of a Rachel Welch to get in there”. When her acceptance letter arrived, she debated calling herself “Rachel Stein”. And thus began her lifelong drive to accomplish what others said couldn’t be done. While at Bowdoin she was a member of the Bowdoin Glee Club, making several spring break tours up and down the eastern seaboard; and was an active member of the theatre organization “Masque and Gown”.

After graduating from Bowdoin with a Magna Cum Laude degree in American History, and prize awards in both History and Acting, Mary trained to be a professional Actress and Singer in New York and London. Her professional initiation came when the first money she ever earned from performing was pick-pocketed in a London tube station. She soon decided to hone her skills back in Seattle, and began performing in a variety of plays and musicals. Her vocal training had been mainly in opera, however, so one month (having nothing better to do with all the arias she had learned) she entered the Northwest Regional San Francisco Opera Merola auditions and made it to the final competition. But her love of theatre won out, and she landed, instead, the role of lead singer Jetta in the original cast of “Angry Housewives”, a 1980’s cult hit that gave instant recognition to all involved. People still recognize her as the punk rock-singing, cornflakes throwing mama belting out “Eat Your F#@*ing Cornflakes!” From there she spent the latter part of the Reagan years portraying wide-eyed Nancy Reagan in Gary Trudeau’s “Rap Master Ronnie”, for which composer Elizabeth Swados re-wrote a song just for her.

Eventually the yearning to play in a bigger "sandbox" drove her to move to Los Angeles, where she continued to hone her craft with 3 marvelous companies: The Musical theatre Guild, Pacific Resident Theatre, and Theatre West. Along the way she was awarded 3 DramaLogue Awards and 1 L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award, as well as numerous Honorable Mentions and Nominations for other awards. Mary has performed everything from Shakespeare to Punk Rock, as well as commercials, television and film. Some of her favorite roles have been Mama Rose (GYPSY), Carlotta (Yeston/Kopit PHANTOM), Lilly Byrne(A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE), Cunegonda (CANDIDE), Kate (KISS ME KATE) and others. She has also been featured in “ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY” (REPRISE!), ”110 IN THE SHADE” (PASADENA PLAYHOUSE), “CAMELOT” – with Jeremy Irons (HOLLYWOOD BOWL), and Leonard Bernstein’s MASS at the Hollywood Bowl with The LA Philharmonic and Bernstein protégé Marin Alsop conducting. Her concert work includes various charity benefits- sharing a stage with such stars as Beau Bridges, Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Rae, Bernadette Peters, Tyne Daly, and many, many others.

Mary made her feature film debut in the Clint Eastwood-starring “IN THE LINE OF FIRE” (being murdered by John Malkovich), and her TV debut as Corbin Bernsen’s secretary on the final season of “LA LAW”. She has also guested on BOARDWALK EMPIRE, MIRACLES, GILMORE GIRLS, MELROSE PLACE, UNSOLVED MYSTERIES, and others. She released her solo CD, “WHEN AT NIGHT I GO TO SLEEP” in 2001, and can also be heard on the S.T.A.G.E. cast albums saluting Kurt Weil and Jerry Herman (all CDs available at LMLMusic.com).

In 2008 Mary relocated to New York City and was quickly offered the opportunity to originate the role of The Bird Woman in the First National Tour of "Mary Poppins" - a tour which took her all across the United States for two years. Upon her return, she was cast in the new Broadway Musical, “Rebecca”, which is currently on hold. But she appeared with fellow “Rebecca” cast members in the 2012 “Gypsy of The Year” fundraiser for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids, and at the famed 54 Below Cabaret. She currently lives in New York City. .