BY CARY GINELL
This week we conclude our interview with Renée Marino, who stars as Lola in Cabrillo Music Theatre’s production of Damn Yankees, which closes this weekend at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.
VCOS: OK, so tell me what happened to you next.
RENÉE: Well, I moved into the role of Mary Delgado on the Jersey Boys tour and did that for a year. But I left because my goal was to be on Broadway, and if I wanted that to happen, I had to be in New York. So I went back there and booked West Side Story and got my first job on Broadway. After three days of rehearsal.
VCOS: What role did you play?
RENÉE: I was one of the Shark girls. One of the girls got injured, so I went on for every ensemble Shark girl role, but I also covered three of the Jet girls. I was, again, all over the place. And I didn’t know it was going to happen. Then, Arthur Laurents, who was the director, saw me in rehearsal one day, and the girl playing Rosalia, who sings “America” with Anita, was needed to do another show, so he moved me into that role. So for the last three or four months of the show, I was Rosalia, until it closed. While I was finishing that show, I auditioned for another show called Wonderland and got booked as – you guessed it – a swing. BUT, it was one of my goals because it was an original show and I hadn’t done an original show before. After a month, the show closed. I was covering nine roles, had this huge book of notes I had taken, and it closed after a month. Then I worked on the show Chaplin which was about Charlie Chaplin, but it closed when Hurricane Sandy hit.
VCOS: That must have been a tough break.
RENÉE: Some would think so, but the universe has ways of opening things up for you. I had always wanted to do Jersey Boys on Broadway because my family is all from New Jersey – well, the girl playing Mary went on maternity leave, so they asked me to come do the role for seven months. That was incredible. I was living my dream. I literally lived a block from the theater and I would walk to work.
Then we started hearing that they were going to do a film version of Jersey Boys. Well, honestly, I didn’t think anything of it, because I figured they’d go and hire L.A. actors and a big A-lister for Mary Delgado, so I didn’t even think about it. But then, people from our show started going in for auditions, so I thought about doing that, too. Fast forward. One random Sunday afternoon, I’m back stage in the middle of the show and I heard someone say, “Clint Eastwood’s here!” I went on stage, and I look out into the audience, and about ten rows back is Clint Eastwood. I thought, “Oh…my…God.” So I did the rest of the show, and I got on my agents to get me an appointment. And then I found out they were listing a breakdown for the role of Mary Delgado in the movie, and I started thinking, “Well, this is just a perfect fit.” My agents called and told me that they could only get me a reading for one of the Angels in the movie. So I said, “Wait a minute. I’m PLAYING THE ROLE.” Well, whatever, so I decided to accept it. So I went in and the casting director told me that he saw the show last night and how much he loved it, and I was telling him how I was from New Jersey so this girl is ME. And I said, “I gotta be honest with you. I was really hoping to come in and read for Mary Delgado.” And he looks at me and says, “You know, I was just thinking the same thing.” So I did the audition and felt really great about just having the chance to do it. Two weeks later, I’m at my home in New Jersey, down the road from where the Four Seasons all grew up. And I got a call from my agent: “YOU’RE MARY DELGADO IN THE MOVIE!!!” So I ran into the living room, where my mom, my dad, and my 92-year-old grandmother were sitting, and I’m crying. It was such a special moment. We were ready to leave the house to go to my older brother’s wedding. I mean it was just so special to be at home when I got the news.
VCOS: So how was it, doing the film?
RENÉE: I had never done TV and never done film before. So again, this was like jumping off of a cliff. And it was the best experience of my life. Clint Eastwood is the most upstanding gentleman I ever met. And the people on his team are just as wonderful as he is. I remember I got there the first day and everyone was welcoming me, and then Clint Eastwood came over and said, “Renée, I went to all the different casts and nobody was in your class, and then you came in and did your tape and it was the icing on the cake.” And for the rest of the day, I was holding back tears because this was all so surreal. He is such an incredible director because he gives his actors so much freedom. He would let us do improv on our characters for fifteen minutes. It was the best experience of my life.
VCOS: What did you do after that?
RENÉE: I came home and got engaged. That was the end of 2013. And at the beginning of 2014, I moved out here to figure out the L.A. scene.
VCOS: So you’re out here, and you start doing community theater again in Damn Yankees. Wasn’t that a step back?
RENÉE: Sure, but this is a dream role. And I hadn’t been on stage in so long, I was itching to get back. Jersey Boys was a different experience as far as the females in the show. There’s not a lot of dancing there. So for me to be in a role where I get to dance and be the star and do my thing, that was so good for me.
VCOS: Is this your first starring role, then?
RENÉE: I guess you could say it is! I did Rosalia in West Side Story, but that was just a featured role. I’m so excited about doing Lola. I did it when I was senior in high school but I always wanted to play it professionally.
VCOS: So how do you approach this?
RENÉE: I just work my butt off. Cassie Nickols, the music director and John Todd, the choreographer and I were talking last night and they were laughing and telling me, “Renée, you do everything full out. We tell the ensemble people to do that right away so they can get that muscle memory going.” And I told them that was just my work ethic. I want to utilize my rehearsal time to the best of my ability. So I’m just having a blast. And I’m sore and it feels good!
VCOS: Lola was originally played by Gwen Verdon. And she did it different than anybody else because it was Fosse who designed the role especially for her. She did more comedy than other actresses. It was more comical than sexy.
RENÉE: You’re so right. And it’s funny because I was just watching clips of her and I was thinking that. She was funny. And even when she does “Whatever Lola Wants,” it’s so intriguing to watch her body move in those ways; she did Fosse better than anybody. It was perfect for her. So you’re right. I get the comic side of it.
VCOS: It’s quirky burlesque.
RENÉE: Yes. But my Lola is the vixen who’s your best friend. And I think it’s so fun to be able to show that. Think about it – that’s how she got away with all those jobs she does for the Devil. She can’t be a total b-i-t-c-h because the guys have to fall for her and have this connection with her. So it’s not just because of the sex appeal. It’s the best role ever. I wake up in the morning and think “God, I love this role so much!”
VCOS: The other thing I noticed about the show was how even though the show was written 60 years ago, it’s more relevant today if you think of it in the context of the steroid era. The whole show is a metaphor for stereoids – Applegate is BALCO and Joe Hardy is Barry Bonds.
RENÉE: Oh my God, you’re so right! It was so ahead of its time. My husband used to play baseball in college and even made it to the minors, but even he loves this show. Jersey Boys was the show where you’d see men in the audience standing up and giving standing ovations and yelling. I call it “the straight man show.” Regular, straight guys, standing up, screaming for a musical. This musical is similar because it’s so male-driven, even with the characters. There are way fewer women than men, so I was so happy to tell my husband about it. I love the script. It’s so clever and classic. It’s a theme that will continue will go on with the times. Think about women who go to all kinds of lengths to preserve their youth. Well, that’s Lola. What lengths would you go to to become that young woman?
VCOS: And how has it been, working for Cabrillo?
RENÉE: I just love Cabrillo. I came to see Oklahoma! and I was super-super impressed. So I couldn’t wait to get started. This is Broadway caliber theater and it’s a great group of people. John Todd, the choreographer, is having me do some fun, crazy stuff. And we were talking about all the egos in the business, and I said to him, “I don’t even understand that mentality.” People would warn me about this when I came out here and I said, “Guys, be serious. Nothing’s going to change me.” I feel that if you don’t have that sense of groundedness, get out. That’s the trap that people fall into. My parents were never stage parents, so I was always the driving force and they supported me. And they’d tell me, “How do you come home in the evening after hearing ten “No”‘s. Well, I know that if I go in for an audition and knock it out of the park, and if I stay to true to myself, then I feel good. It’s about keeping your sanity in such an insane business.
Damn Yankees concludes its run at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza this weekend. For dates and showtimes, see the VC On Stage Calendar.