Arts & Culture

Five questions with Jacquelyn Piro Donovan

Jacquelyn Piro Donovan

Musical theater actress Jacquelyn Piro Donovan is moving up in the world.

The last time the Broadway veteran performed in Fort Worth was in 2011, when she played Maria in Casa Mañana’s production of The Sound of Music. But when that same show opens at Casa again Saturday (www.casamanana.org), audiences will find her promoted from Maria (a failed nun) to Mother Abbess (the nun-in-chief).

We caught up with the well-traveled performer, who was recently in our area as part of the touring company of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Wizard of Oz when it made a stop at Dallas’ Music Hall at Fair Park earlier this year.

1 The biggest show in your career appears to be Les Misèrables, since you are heralded as the first actress to have played both Cosette and Fantine in a Broadway production of that famous French musical. How did you get involved with that show?

I was so young and nobody knew me, so I went to an open call. Much to my surprise, they called me back. I eventually met Trevor Nunn and John Caird [directors of the original production] and became part of the show. I did three different companies as Cosette, including Broadway.

After doing a production of The Secret Garden, I came back and went on the road again as Fantine before coming back to Broadway to play that role. After about a year and a half of that, I finally got it out of my system. But I was in and out of that show for a period of about 14 years.

2 What about your show coming up here? Is it just going to kill you to see another actress playing Maria?

Lord, no. There is no way I could get into leading ladies anymore. As I careen into my 40s [she is 39], I’ve totally gotten into character work. I’m starting to understand why character work is so much fun. When you have to carry the show, it is physically and emotionally exhausting. I’m in a place of thinking it is somebody else’s turn now. It is not about playing the largest role. It is about something that sparks your creativity and makes your juices flow.

3 What is it about The Sound of Music that keeps audiences coming back decade after decade?

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Aside from the obvious answer, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s incredible music, and having all those kids in it, I think it is the universal themes. Everybody can identify with Maria, remembering what it was like being young and not knowing which direction you are supposed to go in, and finding your way.

The other part of that is the captain, who is doing exactly the same thing, but doesn’t realize it. I feel like they are looking for the same thing but don’t know that they are. But the Mother Abbess recognizes that, and that is what makes her instrumental.

4 Do you have any advice for aspiring actresses?

   I tell kids all the time, if you are not dedicated to this and know this is what you want to do, don’t do it. Because it is a difficult life and you get rejected a lot. So you need to really know. It can be a struggle. That’s how I feel about Maria.

5 What is the best thing about playing Mother Abbess?

Since my costume is a nun’s habit, I don’t have to worry about how much barbecue and Tex-Mex I eat while I am here.

— Punch Shaw, Special to the Star-Telegram

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