DIVA TALK: Amy Bodnar, Donna Lynne Champlin, Capathia Jenkins, Donna Vivino, NaTasha Yvette Williams On Musicals, Choice Roles, Upcoming Gigs

News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Amy Bodnar
Amy Bodnar

This week's column spotlights five women — four actors and one director — who are part of the 2014 New York Musical Theatre Festival, which continues through July 27 at various venues around the city. Diva Talk posed the same set of questions to each talented artist; their answers, via email, follow. For ticket information visit  nymf.org.

Click here for recent chats with NYMF stars Brenda Braxton, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Mandy Gonzalez, Kenita Miller and Lynne Wintersteller.

Amy Bodnar
Mr. Confidential
The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre
July 21 at 8 PM, July 24 at 1 PM, July 25 at 9 PM, July 26 at 1 PM and July 27 at 5 PM

Question: How did you get involved in this production?
Bodnar: I first got involved in Mr. Confidential through the director, Stephen Nachamie. He invited me to be a part of a reading of it at the York Theatre.

Tell me a little bit about the show and the character you are playing.
Bodnar: I play Jeannie Nelson, who is the showgirl girlfriend of the leading man, Bob Harrison. Bob is the creator or, as Jeannie would say, the "inventor" of Confidential Magazine. This was the first tabloid of its time. Mr. Confidential is the biographical story of Bob, his family, and his girlfriend and the headlines they created about the Hollywood stars of the time and the trouble that ensues from doing so. What other NYMF productions have you been a part of, or is this your first?
Bodnar: Previously, I have been involved in two NYMF shows, The Brain from Planet X, which was a full production, and Perfect Mothers, which was part of the developmental reading series. It was very interesting to be a part of both of these projects.

Why do you think NYMF is so important?
Bodnar: NYMF is such a great and interesting part of a show's creative process — and it's a wonderful opportunity for writers and actors to explore the evolution of a musical together.

If you could star in a Broadway revival of any play or musical, which show and role would you choose and why?
Bodnar: As far as being cast in a Broadway revival, the truth is that I would be thrilled to be in any revival of any show! I always just feel so lucky to be a working actor.

Do you have any other projects in the works?
Bodnar: Currently, I am in a production of How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying at the Walnut Street Theater. I have also been cast in the Walnut's upcoming production of 9 to 5 as Doralee.

Donna Lynne Champlin

Donna Lynne Champlin
ValueVille
The Pearl Theatre
July 11 at 5 PM, July 12 at 1 PM and July 13 at 8 PM

Question: How did you get involved in this production?
Champlin: It’s a kismet kind of story, actually. I was a judge for NYMF to help pick the 2014 festival (as I’ve done for a few years now), and when I returned my show rankings to NYMF, ValueVille was #1 on my list to bring into the season. When Rowen [Casey], the writer, composer and lyricist of ValueVille, got my dramaturgical notes over the phone from Mary Kate at NYMF, I guess he kept saying, “This judge really gets this piece,” which then turned into him asking her if I would direct it. Mary Kate knows I’ve been asked to direct things for years, and I’ve always said no for various reasons, but she said she’d ask me anyway. And, I have to admit, I just couldn’t say no to this piece. I think ValueVille is really so unique, smart, funny and, yes, commercial as well (knock wood, toi toi toi, etc.). I like to describe it as " No Exit Meets A Chorus Line.ValueVille is its own thing, and I had such an immediate connection to it that I don’t think I would have ever forgiven myself if I hadn’t said “Yes.”

Tell me a little bit about the show and the character you are playing.
Champlin: I’ll be playing the part of “The Director” in this piece. As in, the actual director. I know. It’s crazy. Who let this happen? Fire them immediately! Thankfully everyone else on this team is so mind-blowingly talented and experienced that my plan is to hide in their shadows and then take all the credit when they’re not looking. (Insert maniacal laugh here.)

What other NYMF productions have you been a part of, or is this your first?
Champlin: I’m very proud to say that over the years I’ve been very involved with NYMF because I am a huge believer in what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. In addition to being a “celebrity” judge for their Broadway Sensation series and an occasional judge for their seasons, as an actress I’ve been in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Love Jerry, Flight of the Lawnchair Man and Meet John Doe. I also did my one-woman show Finishing The Hat a couple of times as part of their Broadway Spotlight Series.

Why do you think NYMF is so important?
Champlin: NYMF is not only important, it’s essential to the future of musical theatre. It’s one of the few places (especially in NYC) that new writers, creatives, actors, etc. can get their stuff up and out to the world. And the operative word there is "out." It’s relatively easy to get any piece up with enough cash but OUT? Into the world? With the safety net of an established infrastructure (including PR) not to mention a kind, competent and experienced staff to walk you through the whole process? That is an incredible opportunity that they offer 30 musicals every year. Just imagine the last decade of our theatrical cannon without Altar Boyz, [title of show], Chaplin, etc. The Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal started at NYMF for heaven’s sake. Where would these shows be without NYMF? Probably in some trunk somewhere, and what a monumental crime that would be. Look, it’s no secret that producers are taking less and less risks these days, and in their defense, new musicals are admittedly very risky. But NYMF is successfully producing the riskier shows, and I think their track record is undeniable: 90 shows have had a life beyond NYMF, 24 shows have moved to Off-Broadway and 3 have transferred to Broadway winning multiple Tony nominations and awards. One would hope that outside producers are looking at NYMF’s successes and being inspired to follow their lead.

If you could star in a Broadway revival of any play or musical, which show and role would you choose and why?
Champlin: I know a smarter actress would actually name a part and a show that would actually have half a chance of being revived on Broadway, in case any interested producers out there were reading. And then there’s me. But honestly? I would absolutely love to do a revival of Bury the Dead by Irwin Shaw on Broadway, but it would have to be Joe Calarco’s version that we did Off-Broadway at The Transport Group in 2008. It was just one of those amazing shows that didn’t run long enough, and not nearly enough people got a chance to see. I would love to just reunite that whole entire cast, team and show and air lift it back to the Barrymore where it started in 1936.

Do you have any other projects in the works?
Champlin: While I’m really grateful that it’s been an absolute whirlwind of work for me for the last two years, I have to admit after ValueVille, I’m really looking forward to some quality down time with my three-year-old son while my husband (Andrew Arrow) plays Javert in Les Misérables this August. In the fall, there is a concert presentation of Hollywood Arms planned (the play I did on Broadway written by Carol Burnett and her daughter Carrie Hamilton) at The Mark Taper Forum in CA. So…I’m certainly excited about that — but in the meantime, I’m happily reporting for Mommy Duty.

Capathia Jenkins

Capathia Jenkins
Harriet
The Studio Theatre at Theatre Row
July 16 at 4 PM and 8 PM and July 20 at noon

Question: How did you get involved in this production?
Jenkins: I received an email from [ Harriet reading line producer] Matt Schicker asking if I was available and interested.

Tell me a little bit about the show and the character you are playing.
Jenkins: Harriet is about Harriet Tubman, an important figure in our African American history. This enslaved woman helped bring many of our ancestors to freedom by way of the Underground Railroad. And, this is just one of her many extraordinary accomplishments; she was a hero and pioneer on so many levels.

I play Linah, Harriet’s older sister. They were close. Linah was smart, beautiful and loving, and because of the unthinkable circumstances of being enslaved, she gets "sold" away from her family never to be seen again.

What other NYMF productions have you been a part of, or is this your first?
Jenkins: This will be my first NYMF experience, and I look forward to it. Why do you think NYMF is so important?
Jenkins: Well, having been involved with many shows, I can tell you the road to a commercial run can be rough. NYMF provides creators with an affordable way to get their pieces seen by industry peers, etc., who could potentially move it forward. This is vital to the life and future of theatre.

If you could star in a Broadway revival of any play or musical, which show and role would you choose and why?
Jenkins: Interesting question — you know, I’m really not interested in revivals. I have always only wanted to create new roles, and I am so grateful that I’ve been able to do just that.

Do you have any other projects in the works?
Jenkins: I am in the process of creating my own show - Capathia Jenkins is…More Woman Than You Know. We presented a concert version at The Triad Theater on Monday, June 16th and received amazing feedback. Ted Louis Levy directs and Michael O. Mitchell is my musical director. It feels wonderful to be at a place in my life where I'm ready to share more of who I am. [Jenkins will also return to the role of Medda Larkin beginning July 15 in the Tony-winning musical Newsies.]

Donna Vivino

Donna Vivino
The Gig
PTC Performance Space
July 15 at 8 PM, July 16 at 1 PM, July 19 at 9 PM and July 21 at 5 PM and 9 PM

Question: How did you get involved in this production?
Vivino: Michael Cassara was casting it and offered me the role.

Tell me a little bit about the show and the character you are playing.
Vivino: The show is about a group of guys who are amateur musicians that get a two-week gig in the Catskills in the 70s. I play a former TV star who is headlining at the resort where they are working.

What other NYMF productions have you been a part of, or is this your first?
Vivino: This is my first!

Why do you think NYMF is so important?
Vivino: I think that all theatre is important, and it is so hard to get live theatre produced. So NYMF is pretty cool cause it is a festival of musical theatre and lots of works get produced as a result. It is pretty special in that regard. Also, it's in NYC, and that's sweet, too!

If you could star in a Broadway revival of any play or musical, which show and role would you choose and why?
Vivino: Bella in Lost in Yonkers or Donna/Oolie in City Of Angels.

Do you have any other projects in the works?
Vivino: I have an album, "Beautiful Dreamer," that's available on Amazon/ITunes, and I'm writing a new one-woman show, No More Brooms, premiering at 54 Below on October 8th!

NaTasha Yvette Williams

NaTasha Yvette Williams
ValueVille
PTC Performance Space
July 11 at 5 PM, July 12 at 1 PM and July 13 at 8 PM

Question: How did you get involved in this production?
Williams: I auditioned for ValueVille and was favored and received the job.

Tell me a little bit about the show and the character you are playing.
Williams: I play Sharonda, a cashier at Valueville, who appears to be one thing, but later we learn that like most of us, there is more to her story than what is on the surface.

What other NYMF productions have you been a part of, or is this your first?
Williams: This is my first NYMF production as an actor. Prior to this I have only been an audience member for the festival.

Why do you think NYMF is so Important?
Williams: NYMF is important because it gives new writers and actors opportunity to get their work produced and seen; that is always a great thing. The festival also gives the theatre going public cheaper options and accessibility to see and support live theatre. It is great because it develops and fosters creativity and expression. I love the NYMF festival.

If you could star in a Broadway revival of any play or musical, which show and role would you choose and why?
Williams: Well, I must say I would love to be Caroline in Caroline, or Change , [or in] The Color Purple and play Sofia. These are strong women; I would jump at the chance to give a visual voice to the strength of women who have fallen victim to abuse.

Do you have any other projects in the works?
Williams: I am working on Louis and Ella by Trent Armand Kendall. I play Ella Fitzgerald, who was my dad's favorite singer, and I love it cause the piece just makes me feel good. 

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Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

Diva Talk runs every other week on Playbill.com. Senior editor Andrew Gans also pens the weekly columns Their Favorite Things and Stage Views.