DIVA TALK: Catching Up With Chaplin Star Jenn Colella

By Andrew Gans
21 Sep 2012

Colella in Chaplin.
Photo by Joan Marcus

Question: Since you weren't familiar with Hedda at all, what kind of research did you do or how did you go about approaching the part?
Colella: Well, I just got my hands on as many books as I could. There's a wonderful biography by Jennifer Frost called "Hedda Hopper's Hollywood." There's another great book called "Hedda and Louella." It's a biography of those two women. Louella Parsons was her big rival. And then Hedda's book, "From Under My Hat," has been a tremendous piece of source material for me as well. And then I tried to find as many things as I could on YouTube to get her voice and really get the feeling of her radio personality as well.

Question: How would you describe the Hedda that you're playing?
Colella: [Laughs.] You know, it's so fascinating because I've never been the villain… I'm having to fight and embrace the "twirly-mustache" aspect of it because there has to be some. I mean, there's no doubt. She's the villain, and there are some lines that are purely "twirly mustache," and it calls for it, and you just have to embrace it. But I'm also really trying to find some humanness in her and some vulnerability and really understand where she is coming from, rather than just being vindictive and shallow. She had morals and values that she deeply believed in, and I wanted to get a better understanding of what those were and what exactly she was fighting for, so that I wasn't just "twirly-mustaching" all over the stage.

Question: Since you've been involved in different productions of Chaplin, how much has the show changed or how much has your character changed throughout?
Colella: The show has changed tremendously. When I first started in La Jolla, they had like half of a second act, and Hedda is mostly the second act. So it's grown a lot, and I've been very fortunate to be a part of that growth. And, watching [director-choreographer] Warren Carlyle and [composer-co-librettist] Chris Curtis and then [co-librettist] Tom Meehan coming in, and [music director-arranger] Bryan Perri, especially with the music. They've created it together, and I've been with them through most of that process.

Colella at opening night curtain call
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Question: Tell me about sharing the stage with Rob McClure.
Colella: Oh, man! It's incredible. It's definitely a tour-de-force performance. What he is doing is mind-blowing. If, for no other reason, I think people should come and see this particular performance that he is offering. It's incredible. And, not just the way he embodies the Tramp, the character—that's genius, yes—but he is making this a three-dimensional person and sharing so much of himself in this role. It's exquisite what he's doing, but offstage Rob is also such a tremendous leader. He has worked harder than anybody else, but he continues to show this gratitude for being where he is at all times...and this graciousness. And, his sense of play is completely infectious. He is one of the best leaders I've ever worked with.

Question: Do you have a favorite moment for yourself in the show, something that you look forward to?
Colella: I enjoy my big number in the second act, mostly because that's the most amount of stage time that I get with Rob. And, that, to me, feels like I'm right in the pocket. Every night that music starts, and I get a feeling of being in the flow state—like athletes feel like they're in the zone—I sink in, I look into his eyes, and I feel like I was born to be right here in this moment.

Question: Sometimes when you play a villain, reception at curtain call can be an odd experience. What's that been like?
Colella: [Laughs.] You know, they've been super sweet. Because I'm belting my face off, there's a big cheer for me, which feels lovely. Every once and a while, there's some boos interspersed, which also is incredible that this means I'm doing my job. It's pretty cool!

Question: Is there any talk about a cast recording at this point?
Colella: We haven't had any talk of that, but I really hope that they're able to preserve Chris Curtis' music. I think it's beautiful, and I'm really proud of what Bryan Perri has done with it as well. And, the orchestrations that Larry [Hochman] has done…We only have, what, ten pieces? And, it sounds like this huge full orchestra. I really hope that that's in the works.