Jacquelyn Piro and Matt Bogartin 110 In The Shade(Photo: Carol Pratt)
Jacquelyn Piro and Matt Bogart
in 110 In The Shade
(Photo: Carol Pratt)
Jacquelyn Piro is rarely out of work. In an era when a depressingly large number of actors and actresses are unemployed, she continues to shine on stages all over the country. Whether as Ellen in Miss Saigon, Lily in The Secret Garden, or Cosette or Fantine in Les Misérables (she is the only actress to have played both roles in the Broadway production), she puts her own stamp on interesting characters with her wonderful voice and her first-rate acting chops.

Jacqui is currently appearing as Lizzie, the woman who dreads becoming an "old maid," in 110 In The Shade at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia. This revisal of the Tom Jones-Harvey Schmidt musical version of The Rainmaker also stars Matt Bogart as Starbuck and James Moye as Sheriff File; it is directed by wunderkind Eric Schaeffer, who has worked with Jacqui before in Sweet Adeline for Encores! (which got her a wonderful review by the notoriously hard to please John Simon), in the national tour of Big, and in a reading of a musical version of The Witches Of Eastwick. Asked for a comment on Jacqui, Schaeffer replied: "She's an actress who draws on raw emotion. She's not afraid to take a risk and she's also got a great collaborative spirit. She does whatever she needs to do to get inside a character and live it, so that it becomes a part of her soul." For our TheaterMania interview, I spoke with Jacqui a week before 110 opened.

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THEATERMANIA: You're playing a woman who's described as plain. I have to ask: Is the show being re-set at Malibu High?

JACQUELYN PIRO: [laughs] No! When Eric approached me about the possibility of doing this role, I asked him if he thought I could do it justice. I don't want to sound like I think I'm "all that," but I did worry about playing someone who is not supposed to be attractive. Then I read the script and I was hooked. Eric and I were on the same page about this woman: It's not so much that she's homely, it's the fact she has no edit button. She says what she thinks and she knows who she is. Let's face it, nothing can put off a man like a strong woman -- especially back when this show takes place, a time when women were just supposed to be wives and not really think or speak for themselves.

Jacqui Piro as herself...
Jacqui Piro as herself...
TM: So when Lizzie calls File a fool...

JP: ...she says it because that's what she thinks, and she scares him away. Then, in the second act, she tears into Starbuck when he says he doesn't have time to notice things. I'm playing it like, "Shit! I did it again! I blew it!" -- but he doesn't run away. It's a wonderful moment I've found with Matt Bogart.

TM: Are you altering you appearance at all for the role?

JP: Well, my hair is pulled back in a bun with some hair hanging loose at the sides. Kind of Fosca Lite!

TM: I understand that you're also doing readings of a show in development in New York on your days off.

JP: Yes, I'm working with Eric on a new show that's probably closest to Crazy For You. By that I mean that it's a new show being created around Rodgers and Hart songs. I'm doing it with Jim Newman, who played Josh in Big on the tour we did for Eric. Justin Bohon is in it, and Florence Lacey. It's being developed by Clear Channel and it's really great.

TM: It sounds like you and Eric really connect. Are there any other directors you'd like to work with that come immediately to mind?

JP: I'd love to work with Sam Mendes; I can't wait to see what he does with Gypsy. I played Louise with both Beth Fowler and Joanne Worley as Rose, and it's such an amazing book. I'm really lucky to get to play Lizzie in 110 because the book for this show is pretty amazing as well; the scenes are wonderful to sink your teeth into as an actress. I'd also love to work with Hal Prince. I'm probably forgetting some others.

TM: Do you have any definite plans after 110 closes?

...and as Lizzie(Photo: Carol Pratt)
...and as Lizzie
(Photo: Carol Pratt)
JP: I'm going to rest a bit. I left Les Mis in the fall and I had done that show for a while. Before that, I was Betty in Sunset Boulevard with Petula Clark. I would love to have a little time to just be able to go to dinner and see my friends, but I love working. I'll probably go crazy after a few days off with no show! I'd also love to do a recording; I've talked with Maltby and Shire and I would love to do a CD focusing on their music.

TM: It sounds like things are going well.

JP: Yes. Everyone at Signature has been great. Jonathan Tunick has done new orchestrations for 110, and the set is gorgeous. I got my first big break doing Gantry at Ford's Theater right out of college, so I'm looking forward to being able to go and check out D.C. once we've opened.

TM: Any last thoughts on Lizzie?

JP: She's smart and resilient. She holds out against all odds for her dream -- and it happens. The show is about faith and about not settling for less. It's nice to think that miracles really are possible.

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[For more information on Signature Theatre and its production of 110 In The Shade, visit the company's website.]