Dreya Weber is ready for some onstage antics as she takes on the role of Racón in A Comedy of Tenors at the Walnut Street Theatre. Mistaken identities, romantic coupling, and a comedy of errors all take place in Ken Ludwig’s madcap farce. Ludwig’s idea for the show is based on a 1990 charity concert taking place on the eve of the World Cup Finals. Ludwig set his story in 1930’s France and brings back some of our favorite characters from Lend Me a Tenor. Weber talks about her career and debut at the Walnut Street Theatre.
A Comedy of Tenors is playing at the Walnut Street Theatre January 15-March 3, 2019.
Debra Danese: This is your debut at Walnut Street Theatre. How did you get involved with the production?
Dreya Weber: I met Frank Ferrante, the director and star of Comedy of Tenors, eight years ago when he and I were cast in a cirque style cabaret show, Teatro ZinZanni, in San Francisco. He had developed an original character named “Caesar” and I was cast to play Cleopatra opposite him. The show had a ridiculously absurd plot with Caesar and Cleo colliding, clashing, and ultimately falling for each other. It had great original songs written by Martha Davis of The Motels and tons of world class circus acts. We both come from a theater background and had great fun working together in the odd hybrid world of live improv comedy, cirque and theater.
Since then, we have collaborated on seven cirque/cabaret shows, a five-part web series that I directed, and a recent production of The Cocoanuts. I have also directed Frank’s one- person show, An Evening with Groucho, at Milwaukee Rep, the Cincinnati Playhouse, Bucks County Playhouse and the Pasadena Playhouse. An Evening with Groucho will be playing at the Walnut on February 25th, our off night.
DD: Tell us about your character, Racón, and how you prepared for the role.
DW: Racón is a world- famous Russian opera star who gets tangled up in the wonderful madness of mistaken identity in The Comedy of Tenors. I am lucky to have grown up in a musical household. My mother is a classical singer who was constantly doing vocal scales and learning songs for whatever show she was in at the time. Music and musicians rehearsing were a constant during my childhood. My first appearance on stage, when I was 5 years old, was at the side of a giant, sweaty, loincloth-draped John the Baptist for the opera, I Am the Way, and as an adult, I was in a production of Manon starring Renee Fleming at the Met in New York. I’ve been fortunate to witness firsthand the grandness of opera stars and the opulence of that world. I’ve also worked on many shows with elite Russian athletes who have become circus artists, so I’ve been able to marinate in the music of the Russian accent a great deal over the years.
DD: What’s your favorite moment in the show?
DW: I pretty much love every moment Racón has. She is grand and extravagant and a little crazy, just like the world of opera. But there is a particularly delicious moment when Racón describes her seduction fantasy in a flight of imagination and operatic grandeur, “when you are sick with desire, I will twist around you like Russian ivy twist around strong Russian elm tree.” She is so much fun.
DD: What type of roles do you most enjoy taking on?
DW: I love playing strong, larger than life survivors. So many women fight ferociously to pursue lives of self -determination with a clear-headed understanding of the cost. I’ve been fortunate to have played terrific women onstage and in film. I produced and appeared in “A Marine Story,” a film about the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. The film was a wonderful opportunity to explore the complexity of those who above all wanted to serve our country but who were not allowed to because sexual orientation.
I am currently developing a one woman show titled Witch Piece. Playing a game of “ancestral leapfrog,” I conjure three women connected to each other by blood and rooted to their own distinct places in history. The show focuses on how women’s power has been questioned, disregarded, and engendered fear and persecution. As a result, female intellectuals, eccentrics, medicine women, and many more were accused of and burned for witchcraft. The show is woven together using spoken word, song, and aerial dance creating a twist on the conventional witchcraft narrative and highlighting the true power of the collective female lineage.
DD: You also have a background performing and choreographing aerial arts. What was it like working with artists such as Pink and Cher?
DW: Working in the pop-superstar world is very intense. The financial and emotional stakes are extremely high. I was introduced to the world of arena tours on Cher’s 2002 Farewell Tour, where I was hired to choreograph all of the aerial numbers, train the dancers to be aerialists, and perform as one of eight dancers. That tour lasted three years and introduced me to Pink and many others. Cher is a glorious person to work for, truly one of the most generous human beings I have ever met. She would take the whole crew, band, and dancers out for movie nights, boating trips, and glorious meals. She even got Disney World opened up for us to play in when it was closed. I started working with Pink in 2004. She had never done aerials before and she fell in love with the form quickly. Over the years, I have had a lot of fun envisioning and inventing new ways to explore her growing aerial skills. I love the myriad forms of entertainment and consider myself very fortunate that I get to work in so many different disciplines.
DD: What was the best advice you ever got as a performer?
DW: The best advice came in the form of a question. At a time when I was frustrated about not working as much as I hoped, I was challenged with this concept, “What do you contribute to a project? Why would someone hire you instead of hundreds of other qualified people?” That made me examine and reframe my whole concept of what an artist is. I realized that what I wanted to bring to the artistic table was to be a collaborator, a colleague, and a critical thinker. A person who is willing to bring their strength to taking risks for the good of a project.
[Walnut Street Theatre, 9th and Walnut] January 15-March 3, 2019; walnutstreettheatre.org