Interview: Denise Whelan on Embracing the Diva Life in LIVING ON LOVE at Stage Door Players


As a general rule, I won’t say no to any show that has the phrase “demanding diva” in its description, and actress Denise Whelan assures me that her latest project has this in spades.

Whelan will bring to life opera diva Racquel in LIVING ON LOVE at Stage Door Players, opening this Friday and running through June 10. Let me set the scene: Racquel’s maestro husband begins writing an autobiography of questionable integrity with the help of an excessively attractive female ghostwriter, so Racquel decides the best revenge is to draft her own writer in the form of a lovely young man. Farcical shenanigans ensue.

I caught up with Whelan recently to get an inside look at the piece, and she couldn’t say enough about what a delight it has been to work with Stage Door Players Artistic Director Robert Egizio. She says his elaborate vision brings a physical comedy emphasis to the table, resulting in a hyper-hijinksed (it’s a word y’all) evening of flying sparks, flying silverware, etc. Check out the full conversation with Whelan below!

How has LIVING ON LOVE been going so far?

It’s good! It’s really good. And Robert works at a break- neck pace [laughs], which is good because then on the back end, we can really take our time to pull it apart and put it back together again. His vision is a lot of fun. He’s turned it into a really fast-paced farce, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.

So what can you tell me about this show?

This is the regional premiere, so it’s the first theatre that’s going to be doing it in Georgia, and it’s your typical [farce]- there’s a conflict because the maestro is a lothario, but he really loves his wife and they really love each other, but things get in the way. And of course you have the other two characters that come into the scene to ghostwrite the autobiography, and then there’s two butlers… So there’s just a lot of misunderstandings- it’s hard to explain! It all works out in the end, but a lot of hijinks happen before you get to that ending.

It sounds like a very classic farce. So what can you tell us about your character and how you play into all of this?

She is an opera diva. She’s an aging opera diva, so she’s a very typical ingénue soprano. And as happens when you age, she just becomes less bankable, but she still sees herself in that diva way, and she thinks very highly of herself, even though she knows she’s become a thing of the past.

Have you worked with Robert as a director at Stage Door Players before?

I have! I worked with Robert last year. We did BOEING BOEING, and at Stage Door Players, they have theatre awards, and I won a Woody for Best Supporting Actress, which was really cool because it was the first time I’d ever performed in Atlanta! My husband and I relocated here from Philadelphia, New York area. There’s not a lot of theatre here as compared to where I came from, but Robert did give me a great opportunity, and that was a ball. We had a ball! It was such a great show.

So far with your rehearsal process, what have you learned about your character and the show?

Well, Renee Fleming played this on Broadway- she’s a very famous opera singer/soprano. I do sing in the show, little bits and pieces, and I am a singer, but my background’s not in opera. So I watched her on YouTube, got some of her CDs, tried to listen to her, so I concentrated on that, trying to get my voice to sound more opera-like than musical theatre.

And then there’s that the process of, you know, memorizing, memorizing, memorizing! That horrible, horrible process before you get to enjoy it. That’s the hardest part, especially when you’re doing a farce because things are so physical, and your interaction with other characters is paramount to your character, so to have a book in your hand just stalls the process. We have made so many strides, and I have gotten to see what the other actors are bringing. So it just motivates you to get that book out of your hand so you can play with them. So that’s basically my process as of right now.

What has been your favorite part of this process?

I guess, first of all- I think the cast is incredible. I’m always amazed at how Robert can pick the best people. He really is good at casting. Myself aside, it’s so wonderful to just sit back and watch the other actors and see what they bring to the table. I guess when we had the readthrough, to hear his vision of it, because even though I say it’s a farce, it’s really not a true-true farce because he’s taken it, and he really wants to tweak it and pull all the farcical elements out of it, and that’s what’s going to make it so interesting. Otherwise, it’s kind of like an, “oh, you know, they have a miscommunication… blah blah blah,” but I think it’s the hijinks that is really going to make it that much better.

So far, I’ve enjoyed just understanding what his vision is and listening to the other actors and their take on their characters. It’s motivating to see the other talent and to know what Robert’s vision is. That makes you want to get on the wheel and start working.

I’ve heard great things about Robert as a director, so this is all just confirming that for me.

Yes, and I’ve known Robert for, gosh, 30 plus years, and I knew him as a fellow actor/singer/dancer, so his background, that’s why he’s such a good director, because he speaks our language. He knows exactly what we’re thinking before we even think it. He’s also extremely open. He can tell when we have a question, he can tell when something’s not fitting on our bodies, and he will say, “Let’s figure out what works for you.”

That’s so exciting! So for theatre fans around town who aren’t familiar with LIVING ON LOVE and might be on the fence about coming to it, what would you say to them?

It’s a laugh a minute. I laughed so hard at the read through, and then when we started blocking I was laughing. So it’s an enjoyable night, and just so funny! And you don’t have to think hard. And I guess the best thing is, I have a 14-year-old and a 13-year-old, and they’ve been with me for my whole career, even when they were in my belly, I was performing. So they asked, “Are we going to be able to come see this show?” And I said, “Yes, I think you’re going to really like it!” It’s just so funny. Everybody can come see it. There’s nothing in it that’s offensive, little kids are going to laugh, so it’s a show for the entire family.

It sounds like it’s going to be a lot of fun!

It is. Like I said, from the moment that the first actor steps on stage. You know that you’re going to have fun from the moment the first actor steps on stage. That’s the best way I can describe it.

This sounds great!

Yes! I just have to get the words in my head, and we’ll be all good! [laughs]

LIVING ON LOVE opens on Friday, May 18, 2018 and runs through Sunday, June 10, 2018. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 2:30pm. (Additional performance Thursday, June 7, 2018 at 8:00) Single tickets are on sale now at the box office (770-396-1726), or online at www.stagedoorplayers.net. Tickets are $33; senior, student, and youth discounts are available.