THE FRIDAY FIVE: Pippin's Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva and Lynda Cameron-Bayer Reveal All Their Secrets

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Inspired by BroadwayWorld.com's Friday Six, welcome to Nashville.BroadwayWorld.com's latest installment of The Friday Five: five questions designed to help you learn more about the talented people you'll find on stages in the Volunteer State.

Today, we have two unique-and we daresay spectacular and wonderful-women who are paired together, thanks to director Paul J. Cook, in helping to bring Pippin to life at the Boiler Room Theatre: Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva and Lynda Cameron-Bayer. Jennifer is part of the powerhouse cast of the Stephen Schwartz musical (which has been acclaimed by every critic in town), while Lynda is the production's costume designer, dressing the ensemble in a gorgeous assortment of circus-inspired garb. Each woman, at any particular time, is sure to knock your socks off, so be prepared to lose 'em…

Over the years, they've both appeared on a plethora of local and regional stages and any time you read their names in a program, you know they're going to deliver the goods. But here's something you probably don't know: I first met Jennifer (who last year wowed the crowd at First Night with her performance of "Random Black Girl," a peformance that still has people talking) when she was a toddler and it was only about a year ago when we realized that! And Lynda (who returned to the stage earlier this year, playing opposite her husband David Bayer in Cook's production of Company for Circle Players) played Sunny Freitag in my production of The Last Night of Ballyhoo for Circle Players in 2000. In other words, I go way back with both Jennifer and Lynda, so I hope you can forgive me for being prejudiced about them…

Meanwhile, you can read about them here-get to know them a little bit better-then call BRT at (615) 794-7744 and make reservations to see Pippin! Then, come September you can see Jennifer in Tennessee Rep's Clybourne Park and, well, I'll have to get back to you with Lynda's breakneck schedule (she moves from one show to the next with such speed that I can't keep up!). Or, you can join us at The First Night Honors Gala on September 2 at The Troutt Theatre where they'll both be prominently featured (I have insider information)…

So, gentle readers, press on…and find out more about the beautiful, talented, mercurial, creative, remarkable and amazing Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva and Lynda Cameron-Bayer (see, they both have hyphenated last names!). No thanks necessary, just doing my job here…

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Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva

What was your first "live onstage" taste of theater? My first live onstage taste of theatre was in elementary school. The play was Lewis and Clark the musical. None of the teachers knew what to do with me, so they made me Sacagawea. I didn't really have speaking lines, but I did have a song. I couldn't remember it if I tried, but I remember being so happy to be on stage. 

What is your favorite pre-show ritual? My favorite pre-show ritual is to listen to my iPod. I like to put it on a Disney shuffle. Something about classic Disney really gets me in the zone!

What's your most memorable "the show must go on" moment? In college I was in a lovely production of To Kill a Mockingbird. I was playing Calpurnia, and had acquired food poisoning from bad tacos the night before. Let's just say that it might have been the longest courtroom scene of my life. They put trash cans on the floor of the risers where we were sitting.  We had made a special code, so that when I knew I was going to get sick all the black people started fanning the fans real hard, and making noise. That way nobody would hear me getting sick! Ha! Good times!

 What's your dream role? I don't want to narrow this down! But let's see...I have always...in all seriousness wanted to play Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar.  I want to either braid my hair very close to my head, or buzz my hair down completely. I know that sounds nuts, but I've always felt that the particular part is just too wonderful.  My vocal range is very strange, and often tends to dwell in the deep dark depths. That show is one of the first I ever heard on my mother's record player. To this day, I can't get it out of my head!

Who's your theatrical crush? My theatrical crush...Is this a trick question? Wel,l I feel like If I say anybody from Nashville, I'd just die! You know how I am! So, I really love John Malkovich with a passion! I love the tone of his voice, it's so addictive-much like Morgan Freeman, but minus the storybook quality. 

THE FRIDAY FIVE: Pippin's Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva and Lynda Cameron-Bayer Reveal All Their Secrets

Lynda Cameron-Bayer

What was your first "live onstage" taste of theater? I did a couple of things in school, I definitely remember playing a pancake at some point and ballet recitals, but my first real Theater experience was at nine-years-old. I played the second youngest Snow child in Carousel. I could go on and on about the magic of getting to sing and dance onstage with this amazing cast and the older girls taking me under their wing and doing my hair and makeup and never wanting it to end. I will say, however, one of the most, absolutely memorable moments was when Enoch Snow and Carrie are arguing and she turns to him and says, "Enoch, say something sweet" and he says, "Bostom Cream Pie" only on closing night he decided to say, "Whipped cream on a baby's butt." It was a great, and lasting, lesson in stifling the giggles, even while the audience is in stitches.

What is your favorite pre-show ritual? It really varies by show, but I will say that my all-time favorite was when I was doing Tommy, The Rock Opera in Monterey, California, and we would all sing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" while we were putting on our makeup, to warm up our voices. There was just something magical about everyone hitting all of these fun harmonies and playing. It was wonderful.

What's your most memorable "the show must go on" moment? About six-and-a-half years ago, my husband David and I were doing a production of The Wizard of Oz at the Jewish Community Center. He was the Scarecrow and I was the TinGirl and David Arnholter was the Cowardly Lion. The whole rehearsal process I had felt like I was part of The Three Stooges – it was just so magical. About one week before we opened my brother, Max, committed suicide. He was a musician, an amazing musician, and a wonderful brother, who used to compare me to Lucille Ball. Dan McGeachy, our wonderfully sweet director, called and said he would completely understand if I needed to pull out, and I asked to think about it. After a lot of soul searching I asked if we could dedicate the show to him and decided that the last thing on earth Max would want would be for me to pull out of the show. Opening night, when they made the dedication I had to steel myself, like I'd never thought possible and I made it all the way through until my line, to Dorothy, "I know I have a heart, because it's breaking," when we're saying goodbye. It was one of those moments that we, as actors seem to get so many of, where art and life run a tight parallel. I felt like I was telling my brother goodbye, every night.  And I felt like my heart was breaking, every night.

What's your dream role? My answer used to be The Witch in Into the Woods-well, you did say dream role, right?

Who's your theatrical crush? Hugh Jackman, Neal Patrick Harris, Bernadette Peters-varying degrees of crushiness-but crushes, nonetheless.

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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor oustanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror.


 
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