Interview: Denise Whelan on Embracing the Diva Life in LIVING ON LOVE at Stage Door Players


As a general rule, I won’t say no to any show that has the phrase “demanding diva” in its description, and actress Denise Whelan assures me that her latest project has this in spades.

Whelan will bring to life opera diva Racquel in LIVING ON LOVE at Stage Door Players, opening this Friday and running through June 10. Let me set the scene: Racquel’s maestro husband begins writing an autobiography of questionable integrity with the help of an excessively attractive female ghostwriter, so Racquel decides the best revenge is to draft her own writer in the form of a lovely young man. Farcical shenanigans ensue.

I caught up with Whelan recently to get an inside look at the piece, and she couldn’t say enough about what a delight it has been to work with Stage Door Players Artistic Director Robert Egizio. She says his elaborate vision brings a physical comedy emphasis to the table, resulting in a hyper-hijinksed (it’s a word y’all) evening of flying sparks, flying silverware, etc. Check out the full conversation with Whelan below!

How has LIVING ON LOVE been going so far?

It’s good! It’s really good. And Robert works at a break- neck pace [laughs], which is good because then on the back end, we can really take our time to pull it apart and put it back together again. His vision is a lot of fun. He’s turned it into a really fast-paced farce, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.

So what can you tell me about this show?

This is the regional premiere, so it’s the first theatre that’s going to be doing it in Georgia, and it’s your typical [farce]- there’s a conflict because the maestro is a lothario, but he really loves his wife and they really love each other, but things get in the way. And of course you have the other two characters that come into the scene to ghostwrite the autobiography, and then there’s two butlers… So there’s just a lot of misunderstandings- it’s hard to explain! It all works out in the end, but a lot of hijinks happen before you get to that ending.

It sounds like a very classic farce. So what can you tell us about your character and how you play into all of this?

She is an opera diva. She’s an aging opera diva, so she’s a very typical ingénue soprano. And as happens when you age, she just becomes less bankable, but she still sees herself in that diva way, and she thinks very highly of herself, even though she knows she’s become a thing of the past.

Have you worked with Robert as a director at Stage Door Players before?

I have! I worked with Robert last year. We did BOEING BOEING, and at Stage Door Players, they have theatre awards, and I won a Woody for Best Supporting Actress, which was really cool because it was the first time I’d ever performed in Atlanta! My husband and I relocated here from Philadelphia, New York area. There’s not a lot of theatre here as compared to where I came from, but Robert did give me a great opportunity, and that was a ball. We had a ball! It was such a great show.

So far with your rehearsal process, what have you learned about your character and the show?

Well, Renee Fleming played this on Broadway- she’s a very famous opera singer/soprano. I do sing in the show, little bits and pieces, and I am a singer, but my background’s not in opera. So I watched her on YouTube, got some of her CDs, tried to listen to her, so I concentrated on that, trying to get my voice to sound more opera-like than musical theatre.

And then there’s that the process of, you know, memorizing, memorizing, memorizing! That horrible, horrible process before you get to enjoy it. That’s the hardest part, especially when you’re doing a farce because things are so physical, and your interaction with other characters is paramount to your character, so to have a book in your hand just stalls the process. We have made so many strides, and I have gotten to see what the other actors are bringing. So it just motivates you to get that book out of your hand so you can play with them. So that’s basically my process as of right now.

What has been your favorite part of this process?

I guess, first of all- I think the cast is incredible. I’m always amazed at how Robert can pick the best people. He really is good at casting. Myself aside, it’s so wonderful to just sit back and watch the other actors and see what they bring to the table. I guess when we had the readthrough, to hear his vision of it, because even though I say it’s a farce, it’s really not a true-true farce because he’s taken it, and he really wants to tweak it and pull all the farcical elements out of it, and that’s what’s going to make it so interesting. Otherwise, it’s kind of like an, “oh, you know, they have a miscommunication… blah blah blah,” but I think it’s the hijinks that is really going to make it that much better.

So far, I’ve enjoyed just understanding what his vision is and listening to the other actors and their take on their characters. It’s motivating to see the other talent and to know what Robert’s vision is. That makes you want to get on the wheel and start working.

I’ve heard great things about Robert as a director, so this is all just confirming that for me.

Yes, and I’ve known Robert for, gosh, 30 plus years, and I knew him as a fellow actor/singer/dancer, so his background, that’s why he’s such a good director, because he speaks our language. He knows exactly what we’re thinking before we even think it. He’s also extremely open. He can tell when we have a question, he can tell when something’s not fitting on our bodies, and he will say, “Let’s figure out what works for you.”

That’s so exciting! So for theatre fans around town who aren’t familiar with LIVING ON LOVE and might be on the fence about coming to it, what would you say to them?

It’s a laugh a minute. I laughed so hard at the read through, and then when we started blocking I was laughing. So it’s an enjoyable night, and just so funny! And you don’t have to think hard. And I guess the best thing is, I have a 14-year-old and a 13-year-old, and they’ve been with me for my whole career, even when they were in my belly, I was performing. So they asked, “Are we going to be able to come see this show?” And I said, “Yes, I think you’re going to really like it!” It’s just so funny. Everybody can come see it. There’s nothing in it that’s offensive, little kids are going to laugh, so it’s a show for the entire family.

It sounds like it’s going to be a lot of fun!

It is. Like I said, from the moment that the first actor steps on stage. You know that you’re going to have fun from the moment the first actor steps on stage. That’s the best way I can describe it.

This sounds great!

Yes! I just have to get the words in my head, and we’ll be all good! [laughs]

LIVING ON LOVE opens on Friday, May 18, 2018 and runs through Sunday, June 10, 2018. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 2:30pm. (Additional performance Thursday, June 7, 2018 at 8:00) Single tickets are on sale now at the box office (770-396-1726), or online at Tickets are $33; senior, student, and youth discounts are available.


Interview: Diany Rodriguez Humanizes a Familiar Antagonist in ABIGAIL/1702 at Aurora Theatre

Can a liar be redeemed?

Aurora Theatre’s newest mainstage endeavor, Abigail/1702 revisits Arthur Miller’s The Crucible ten years after the Salem Witch Trials. Though, to go as far as calling this a sequel may be a misnomer.

“It’s kind of its own unique story,” shares actress Diany Rodriguez, starring as the title role through October 17. “Both [The Crucible and Abigail/1702] are works of fiction, although they’re based in realistic events. Abigail is what might have happened if these characters, as written, continued to live ten years later.”

In Abigail/1702, the finger-pointing girl whom fans of The Crucible have a special hatred for, Abigail Williams now leads an altruistic, secluded life in Boston. Haunted by her past in Salem when her knowingly false accusations about witchcraft in the town sent many innocent people to hang, this play sees Abigail piling on good deeds to make up for her sordid background. Using Miller’s characters, playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa asks enough questions to turn the story on its head.

“If you go into this thinking, ‘Okay, if the devil exists, and if the devil made Abigail do it, but the onus is on Abigail to have said “No,”’ then what is it in Abigail’s character or her circumstance that made her think this was the best way?  If there is a devil, and if she wanted to make a contract with him, why?  Is it because she wants power?  Is it because she inherently loves the feeling that making a contract with the devil gives her?” Photo Flash: Aurora Theatre to Stage Crucible Sequel ABIGAIL/1702

Rodriguez says the Devil himself very much plays a part in this story, though what exactly, she won’t say. “In Abigail, there’s more of an investigation over whether Abigail did have a contract with an actual devil that actually guided her to make some of the allegations that she did, or whether it was just her way to camouflage her own actions and her own need to serve herself and be a guide for her own survival.”

In addition to asking questions of Abigail’s character, this piece also explores the idea of redemption in a powerful way. “This is a whole fictionalized version of her story and telling what happens when our deeds have actual real-life consequences. Can we be redeemed after we’ve done so much to our detriment and- for Abigail- to the detriment of at least twenty others whom she sent to their death and the lives of the people who loved the people whom she sent to their death?”

Despite her character’s past, Rodriguez can empathize with her, pointing out how she was not set up for success from the beginning of The Crucible.

abigail at aurora

“It’s easy for me already to take her side because I do see her as a victim of her circumstance. Hey, she is wholly flawed.  Don’t get me wrong! But she also could have used help. There is a lot of potential thinking that her Uncle Parris abused her, so there’s a lot to be said for her circumstances and how she might have not even been in a great place to make decisions [in The Crucible], even had she not had a sexual affair with a much older man who happened to be married and have two children.”

Besides Abigail, which familiar characters from The Crucible will we see? That’s part of the surprise too.

“There are characters in Abigail that are very much central characters in The Crucible, and they are only billed as, ‘Young Man,’ ‘Young Woman,’ ‘Older Woman,’ ‘Older Man,’ and like ‘Young Child,'” she explains. “Even small characters in The Crucible that had some sort of impact on her appear in Abigail. And that’s about as much as I can say without giving it away!”

However, she did reveal that the audience will get some closure on pieces that Arthur Miller left hanging. “There is a scene where my stage manager said at one point, ‘I hope the audience gets on their feet and claps, because this is a moment we’ve wanted to see since The Crucible.’”

After Abigail/1702, Rodriguez will be switching gears to appear in the fun, family-centered Stone Mountain Christmas, and then The Followers at Seven Stages Theatre. But right now, this actress continues to share her contagious passion for both the multifaceted role of Abigail Williams and the show itself.

“Theatre is supposed to either let you escape or be a mirror to humanity or let you get in touch with your empathy or let you think really hard. Abigail/1702 is really beautiful, scary, and thought-provoking.”

Abigail/1702 runs on Aurora Theatre’s mainstage through October 17. Click here to purchase tickets!

 Diany Rodriguez:
Notable Atlanta Credits: Significant OtherInformed ConsentHands on a Hardbody, HomersBull Durham: The MusicalRocky Horror ShowIn Love and Warcraft, Zorro: The Musical, Into the Woods (X2), The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls, and August: Osage County. Notable regional credits: Carrie: A Comedy (Sue), Marvelous Wonderettes (Suzy), Fame (Carmen). Tours: Rent (Mark’s Mom/US Mimi), Dora the Explorer (Dora). Off-B’way: Soul Kitchen (Sangita), Shlomo (Anjia/Ruth). Film/TV: Pepper’s Place (pilot),The Yellow Birds, Survivor’s Remorse. Up Next: Christmas Canteen at Aurora Theatre and Exit Strategy at True Colors Theatre. Thank you, people I love; I love you.

Julissa Sabino Talks Returning to IN THE HEIGHTS with Aurora’s Musicals by Moonlight Series

Displaying JulissaSabino_TheatricalHS2_AMT.jpgJoyful is the best way to describe Julissa Sabino.

With enough excitement to fuel all of Metro Atlanta, this diligent actress clearly possesses a contagious passion for her work and a relentless desire to continue stretching herself as a performer. In the interview below, she shares about the process involved in returning to the role of Vanessa in Aurora’s encore performance of IN THE HEIGHTS- previously featured on BroadwayGinger as one of Atlanta’s must-see shows of the summer– and how she is more than ready to dive back in and explore the character once again.

How has it been revisiting IN THE HEIGHTS?

I think it’s always great! I got to revisit TOXIC AVENGER before, and I’m revisiting IN THE HEIGHTS, so this is my second time revisiting a show, but this show in particular is so much about community and choosing the parts of your tradition you’re going to keep with you as you move on, and which parts you’re going to leave behind. Especially the second time around, those relationships are really amplified among the characters in the script. It’s really great. It’s such an ensemble show; I don’t think there’s a small part in that. Everybody’s so integral to the community, and they all form it.

So what effect do you feel like doing it again and again over a long period of time has on the show and the way it comes out?

Gosh, I feel like it’s such a wordy show! You know? It’s not a normal musical where everything is very legato; everything’s very staccato and very fast, so I think doing it a second time and getting out of your head word-wise- our Usnavi, Diego, he’s done this show I think 3 times now, and you can see his finesse on stage. That’s the perfect word for it. His cleanliness, and finesse in the performance because he just is Usnavi at this point and doesn’t have to think about his lines. He gets to just kind of observe the world around him, which is what every actor wants to do, to go on stage and not think about what we’re doing, only observe what everyone else is giving us, and I think that’s the really cool gift of getting to do something like this a second time around.

How is the process going to be different for the concert version?

Gosh, you know, for concert versions I think always energy is the number one word, and of course you have less time to make everything really clean. Ann-Carol Pence, our wonderful leader in music she makes the show, so I know she’s going to stress our cut-offs being extremely clean because anytime you’re in a field- this sounds really nerdy- but there are no walls, there’s nothing for the sound to reverberate off of, so things can get very muddy. Everyone sounds like Ariana Grande, and you can’t understand where one word starts and the other finishes.

So diction is really important when you’re outside and making things entertaining when you’re far away in a field and not in a beautiful theatre. And then Aurora’s really nice, because you don’t get a bad seat the way it’s set up very close. There is premium seating for this event, for those who want to get closer, but I know energy is going to be a huge thing. We’re still going to do the lines, I’m sure the dances will be a little bit smaller, and stuff like that, but essentially, it’s going to be the essence of the same show. It’ll be nice to do it concert-style so we get to concentrate on the words.

It sounds like the perfect show for a concert since it’s so dense!

[IN THE HEIGHTS writer Lin-Manuel Miranda] is so presentational anyhow as a human being, and this show is his baby, so it really shows the best parts of his personality, so I think just being at a mic and just singing the show is great. Usnavi has so many funny lines, it’s just going to be really great to play those straight out to the audience.

As far as “making things entertaining from far away” like you mentioned earlier, how will you personally be doing that?

Yeah, gosh, for me, voice is so important. you can always make people watch you if you’re saying the right thing with the right intention. My hair always helps! [laughs] I’m a head-bobber. But for this is going to be all about positioning and taking equity of the stage. I think we’re on the festival’s center stage, so we’ve been on this space for a small concert before, so it will be about highlighting the people who are on stage up front. Just really using all those theatre tools we learned in college! It’s crazy, the more professional I get, the more I’m like, “Oh yeah, I should be warming up every day like my college teacher told me.” Because it really does make a difference in your work.

So what are you most looking forward to about this version?

Gosh, I guess seeing everybody again! It sounds really lame, but this is one of the most special shows to me. Everyone from our dance captain to our ensemble, they were working non-stop in rehearsal. Even when people weren’t using them, they were working backstage cleaning stuff. I’ve just never seen a process where people, no matter far the show was, they always wanted the show to be better during rehearsal and during the run. So I know that when we get together this time again, everyone’s just going to be more clean and it’s just going to be a sharper, better show.

It’s a cool opportunity for the patrons who missed it last year, because I know a lot of people missed it because we had so many nights sold out. I’m really excited to get the cast together again now that we’ve all had a year of other shows and a year to just grow and stretch our muscles. To get to do this one again will be so much easier for us.

So particularly with your character, what are you looking forward to most about stepping back into that?

Our director, Justin Anderson, I hadn’t worked with him before, but I had known him in the theatre community for a long time, and I knew he always asks a lot of his actors. So my particular task for IN THE HEIGHTS was to be more grounded. I’m very happy as a human being; joy is not hard for me to display on stage, but stability and strength while being vulnerable and not completely falling into a puddle is very hard for me because I have the inclination to want to lean towards extreme emotion.

Vanessa doesn’t really show very much emotion. That’s her face guard, how she protects herself. So I got a lot of, “That’s great, but less.” So I’m really excited to get to try that again, because I feel like as we age, we always experience different things in life, and I feel like this year, I have kind of hardened a lot, and not in a bad way, but just that I know how to deal with people and I’m not emotional all the time. So I’m really excited to visit the character now that I’ve grown, and the things that were a challenge to me before, I’m excited to tackle them now instead of being overwhelmed by them like I was the first time.

That’s so great to get a chance to revisit and see how you’ve grown and how you can apply that!

Yeah, because by the end of the run, I really felt like I got it, but I really wished that I’d had it from the beginning. So I’m excited to be able to do it for one night and just hit it right from the top. And the show is really fun! It’s not a show where afterwards you’re like, “Ugh I’m just going to go home and cry!” It’s a joy to do!

Aurora continues their Musicals by Moonlight series with IN THE HEIGHTS tonight, June 17, at the Duluth Town Green at 8pm. Aurora says, “Free to the public and part of Duluth Art Week, the show will be held on the Festival Center stage. Bring the whole family and a picnic dinner (cooler with drinks perfectly acceptable) to enjoy during the show. Lawn seating begins at 5:00pm for the 8:00pm performance. Beer and wine also available for purchase.” Click here for more information!

Touring is No Joke, and More Things We Learned from ANNIE’s Mackenzie Perpich

If ever there were a woman who can’t be sufficiently understood through a written interview, it’s Mackenzie Perpich. On tour for the first time with the classic musical ANNIE, this bubbly girl just has too much joy and excitement for life to be contained on paper. But I will try…

As a swing, this insanely talented performer’s job is to know her own ensemble role as well as four other roles in the show so she can take over at a moment’s notice if another performer is out. First tour ever. First swing gig ever. Touring with ANNIE has brought welcome new experiences to Mackenzie. Check out the five major things I learned from my conversation with her!

  1. Tour life is no joke
    It’s way harder than I ever imagined. I mean, it’s rewarding, and it’s an adventure for sure. I’m very adventurous, so I do like that aspect of it. But it’s definitely harder than I ever imagined. It’s hard on your body even just to sleep in a different bed every night! And then you’re trying to sleep on the bus sometimes. You’re curled up, and your arm’s asleep, and your knee is stiff, and you’re like, “How did I get here…?”
  2. Sleeping on a bus is an art form
    You just stretch out over that seat and do what you can. I curl up in a little ball and put my eye-mask on, and I can sleep for like 6 hours. It’s insane!
  3. Touring with 10-year-olds means embracing your inner child
    I honestly, I don’t know what I’m gonna do on the next tour I go on, if I go on another tour, because I’ll just be like, “Where are the children? Who can I have a sleepover with?” My roommate and I and our “littles” had an old-fashioned slumber party a couple weeks ago which was so fun!
  4. Learning five roles basically means you have to be a genius
    Your brain’s going a million miles a second. But I think it’s fun. I think it’s exciting. And I haven’t had any crazy “swing in the middle of the show” moments, so we’ll see how I feel about it after I have to do one of those!
  5. It’s never the end. Just onto the next thing.
    I’m a little insane. We finish May 21, then on May 23 I head out to Staten Island to compete in the Miss New York competition. I’m a pageant girl. It’s crazy! I’ll have a couple days, to recuperate, repack, and then go out again. That’s my next immediate thing. We’re in the middle of audition season, so we’ll see what happens for the summer. So that’s it for now, but it’s enough.

Click here for more information on how to catch Mackenzie and the cast of ANNIE playing across the country!

For more interviews, reviews, and Twitter sass, follow @BwayGinger. And then let’s be best friends and fangirl over Aaron Tveit together, ok?