Joco Diversions

Aquinas grad plans to rock Starlight stage in “Spamalot”

Updated: 2013-05-30T19:44:55Z

By RUTH BAUM BIGUS

Special to The Star

Janine DiVita is no stranger to the spotlight. The 2003 graduate of St. Thomas Aquinas first performed at the tender age of three.

“My mom put me in a tutu...and I loved it,” said DiVita. “I was shy as a kid but when I was up on a stage, I felt empowered.”

DiVita’s shyness didn’t stop her from pursuing her love of performing professionally. This weekend she began appearing as Lady of the Lake in Starlight Theatre’s co-production of the Monty Python musical “Spamalot.” The production, done in partnership with Theatre Under the Stars in Houston, continues its run here through June 6. The show is a musical spoof of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table questing for the Holy Grail.

DiVita was cast in “Spamalot” through auditions in New York City, where she now lives.

“When I saw they were going to be in Kansas City, it was perfect,” she said. “I really wanted to take the role.”

The production performed in Houston before making its way to Kansas City.

DiVita really wanted the role of Lady of the Lake.

“It’s such a great part,” DiVita said. “It’s vocal gymnastics. She’s such a diva and it looked like so much fun...What’s different about Lady of the Lake is she’s such a layered character.”

DiVita said the show is clever, smart and silly, all at the same time.

“It lovingly pokes fun at musical theater,” she said.

This is DiVita’s first return to the Starlight stage, where she earned her Equity card in 2005 in a co-production of “Singing in the Rain,” with MUNY of St. Louis. Along the way, DiVita said, she received excellent training that began in Johnson County.

DiVita’s mother, Karen DiVita, started her in dance and singing lessons at the Miller Marley School of Dance and Voice. In a group singing class, the instructor suggested DiVita take formal voice lessons, so she began studying with David Yoss. The match was magical.

“He basically taught me how to sing,” said DiVita of Yoss. “Now I’ve built a good relationship with his students and help them.”

Yoss has nothing but praise for his former student.

“In addition to being amazingly talented, wonderful in all ways and easily the hardest working person who has ever graced my life, Janine has been like a daughter to me since we began working together in June 1995,” Yoss said. He’s looking forward to seeing her perform next week at Starlight.

While growing up in Johnson County, DiVita performed in various productions at Theatre in the Park and with Music Theatre for Young People. She was also a member of the Miller Marley entertainment troupe along with “Spamalot“ cast mate Brian Sears, also from Johnson County.

“We actually did ‘Hello Dolly!’ together at Starlight in 2005 and then ‘Grease’ on Broadway,” DiVita said. “Our star paths keep crossing.”

Following high school, DiVita went to the University of Michigan, where she earned a degree in musical theater.

“I learned how to be versatile and put on the colors,” said DiVita of her Michigan training.

Her Broadway credits include “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” and “Anything Goes.” She’s also appeared in the national tour of “Young Frankenstein.”

Following “Spamalot,” DiVita is off to the Bucks County Playhouse to perform in the Kander and Ebb musical “The World Goes Round” with her current co-star Tom Hewitt.

“And I’m in the process of putting together a solo show for 54 Below,” she said of a New York City club. After that one-night show on July 31, she’ll be back to auditioning. “I have some irons in the fire,” she said.

For now, DiVita is happy to be back in Kanas City.

“I love coming back home,” DiVita said. “I feel my blood pressure goes down...It’s a great arts community. I didn’t realize that until I moved away and came back. It’s an honor to be back.”

And her mother is happy, too.

“It’s been eight years since Janine has performed in her hometown,” Karen DiVita said. “I know Janine is grateful to all of the dedicated individuals who keep theater alive and thriving in Kansas City, and who continue to share their passion with the next generation of starry-eyed dreamers.”

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