Lyric Arts had a chance to interview Jacleen Olson, who is performing as Betty Haynes, in White Christmas. Read on to hear what she has to say about her experience thus far!
LA: Tell us a little bit about why this particular play interested you?
JO: I was very interested in seeing how the writers of the musical were able to “bring the movie to life”. In the movie, the majority of the songs are just sort of randomly placed in the scenes. In the musical, however, Irving Berlin’s songs become part of the story line and help move the story along as a whole.
LA: For those that are unfamiliar with White Christmas, what can you tell us about the show?
JO: The obvious thing to tell people about WC is that there are countless memorable Irving Berlin songs in it. One thing that sticks out to me personally, is how the show demonstrates the bonds and friendships people make with each other…how someone can come in to your life and have such an impact, that you carry it with you forever and would do anything for them. (ie: Bob, Phil, & Sheldrake’s relationship with Waverly, Betty & Judy being a team)
LA: Talk about the character that you play in White Christmas. How have you developed this character?
JO: I play Betty Haynes in WC. She is way different than any character I have played in the past. I typically play more quirky, off-beat characters, so I really had to transport myself to how a mature, adult woman would act in the early 50’s. I thought about how actresses such as Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor carried themselves in their movies. They had so much poise and grace, and I definitely wanted Betty to carry herself in the same manner. Betty also has a fun side, though. She isn’t afraid to playfully poke fun at Bob or Judy, or speak her mind…so I enjoy playing that part of her personality.
LA: Why should people come and see White Christmas?
JO: If you are one of those people who can’t wait to jump in to the holiday spirit, Lyric Arts is the place to go! You will definitely leave the show with a smile on your face, love in your heart, and more than likely, wonderful songs stuck in your head that you may not be able to stop humming or singing for awhile! That’s okay though, it’s Christmas!!
LA: Talk about your fellow cast members, how do you see their characters developing? Any that you are particularly amazed at?
JO: Everyone seems to be figuring out something new about the character at every rehearsal, whether it’s a way they deliver a line, or carry themselves. One performer in particular I simply love watching is Jon Stiff. He is such a natural on stage. When he is rehearsing a number, he gives it his all, just as if he has a full audience in front of him. I admire him for always giving 110%. I also REALLY wish I had his dance moves!
LA: What do you feel are the "wow" elements of White Christmas?
JO: Under Louis’ wonderful musical instruction, our entire cast sounds AMAZING. We don’t necessarily have the biggest ensemble, but you will not be disappointed by the gorgeous sound we make together. Also- Charise has given us great choreography. The dancers are working SO hard. I can’t wait to see our audience’s reaction!
LA: What is your favorite aspect of the show?
JO: The “Old Hollywood” feel it has is my favorite aspect. There unfortunately probably will never be an era quite like the movie musicals made in the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s- and I’m honored to be bringing that to life on stage.
LA: Tell us what is something that you are particular excited about this show coming to together?
JO: Irving Berlin was such an amazing and talented composer. I’m super excited to share so many of his memorable songs with everyone!
LA: For example, a certain scene, costumes, set, lights, etc?
JO: The Finale is going to definitely be magical, but I am truly most excited for opening night! I cannot wait to share with people what we all have been working so hard on. I know each and every number is going to blow everyone away.
LA: Are musicals easier or harder then straight show or comedies? If so, why?
JO: All productions take a lot of work, but I would say musicals are “harder” because you have to rely on your body so much more. I have done my fair share of straight shows and musicals, and I feel there is added pressure with musicals. For example, if my voice becomes tired or I’m sick, I may be able to deliver my speaking lines alright, but my singing voice may not be working as well. The same sort of thing can happen if you are required to dance a lot. If you sprain your ankle, and you’re a primary dancer in a musical, that is bad news! Also- musicals typically have larger casts than straight shows, which then require a lot more costumes. You can’t forget having to find an orchestra as well….so yes- musicals are harder!!
LA: What is your favorite musical to watch?
JO: The best musical that I’ve seen live was Tim Rice and Elton John’s, Aida. Every element of that show is amazing. The music, choreography, costumes, lighting, etc. will completely blow you away. The story itself is extremely powerful- it will leave you laughing and crying.
LA: What is your favorite thing to do around the holidays?
JO: Spending as much time with my family as possible is my favorite thing to do around the holidays. Whether it’s Christmas shopping or making my Great-Grandma Dora’s lefsa recipe, it’s the time of year when my family is closest. I have two nieces who are 3 ½ and 1, and it’s important to me to pass on our family traditions to them. Also- if you’re in my car, you will be listening to Christmas songs. No ifs, ands, or buts’.
LA: Which do you like better White Christmas the movie or the stage version?
JO: In my opinion, the stage version moves the story along a little better than the movie with its dialogue and musical numbers. That being said, the movie is a classic and just can’t be beat. Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, and Vera-Ellen are irreplaceable. It’s sort of like how no one can replace Judy Garland as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. There are just some shows, that no matter how wonderful they are, can’t replace the spot you hold for the movie in your heart.
LA: To date what is your favorite role that you have played and why?
JO: My favorite role I have ever played was Hope Cladwell in Urinetown. It was my first big comedic/singing lead role in college. I learned so much doing that show…the biggest thing being that when you try be funny, you aren’t. The more honest your character says their ridiculous lines, the funnier it is. I can honestly say that I could play that role for the rest of my life and never get sick of it. The show is hysterical, and I was blessed to be a part of such a wonderful production.
LA: What is your dream character to play on stage?
JO: I would love to play Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. Fanny Brice has so many different levels to her. Of course she’s known for her comedic brilliance, but she also has a sensitive side as well. I of course know I could never replace Barbra Streisand, but to get the opportunity to sing songs such as: Don’t Rain On My Parade, I’m The Greatest Star, People, and My Man, would be such an honor.
LA: Please tell us a little bit about yourself?
JO: I was born and raised playing a lot of sports in Waconia, MN. I did Prairie Fire Theatre growing up, but didn’t really start singing and acting until high school. I participated in the fall musicals, and was a performer in our competitive show choir, Power Company. We had the great opportunity to perform in competitions around the Midwest. I was also part of the first softball team from WHS to go to the MN State Softball Tournament in 2002- something that I am very proud of, considering all the time I spent playing softball! After I graduated high school, I attended MSU-Mankato where I obtained a B.F.A. in Acting. I currently live in Minneapolis and work at MacPhail Center for Music. What many people aren’t aware of is that I am a proud cancer survivor. I keep on fighting every day, but I’m here, doing what I love!!
LA: Any other area that you would like to comment on?
JO: I’m just so blessed to be a part of such an amazing show!