Actress Janine DiVita has a powerhouse voice that has earned her quite the reputation. Actor and director Mel Brooks said that “when she sings ... she tears the house down.”
DiVita, who grew up in Overland Park, lives in New York City and is known in national theater circles for her 2008 role as Rizzo in the Broadway revival of "Grease” and as Elizabeth in the first national tour of Brooks' "Young Frankenstein" in 2009.
But the St. Thomas Aquinas High School graduate still loves Kansas City. She got married here last fall and views any opportunity to perform on a local stage as incentive for signing on to a show.
“I’m always excited when a show is coming to Kansas City,” she says. “It makes the job more enticing, so I can come home and see my family. This will also be the first time performing at Music Hall since I was 10 years old. I danced with Miller Marley School of Dance, and all the recitals were there. It feels really sweet to get to perform where it all started.”
“Finding Neverland,” based on the Academy Award-winning motion picture by David Magee, follows the relationship between playwright J.M. Barrie and a widow with four sons that inspired “Peter Pan.”
DiVita portrays Barrie’s wife, Mary. “Finding Neverland” picks up with Mary toward end of her strained marriage to Barrie, just as he is befriending the widow.
“Mary is very much high society with servants and she’s all about appearances,” DiVita says. “And J.M’s into being childlike and playful at all the wrong times. I love playing the comedy. It’s written in a comedic way, even though Mary feels like she’s not connecting with her husband.”
"Finding Neverland" marks the first time that DiVita has worked with dogs - or any live animals, for that matter - and she's obsessed with them, she says.
"They’re (two co-sharing) mutts and they're trained by the guy who trained the dogs in 'Annie,' " she says. "They’re the most lovable, big, furry, curly haired. creatures. It’s so wonderful to have animals and kids around all the time. It really keeps the cast grounded."
DiVita most recently performed in Kansas City in 2016 in the musical “If/Then,” at Starlight Theatre, playing Anne, a friend of the lead character, Elizabeth. Before that she played the Lady of the Lake in “Spamalot” at Starlight in 2013.
DiVita graduated from the University of Michigan in 2007. In addition to performing on Broadway and on national and regional tours, she has also acted in a couple of high-profile television dramas. since then. She portrayed a mystery woman on the FX Network’s popular spy drama “The Americans,” though the role ended up on the cutting room floor. She also played opposite Josh Lucas, Kathy Bates and Dustin Hoffman in Hallmark’s controversial"Boy Choir" (aka "Hear My Song”).
“It’s about the power of music and how it can change lives,” DiVita says. “My role, ironically, didn’t sing a lick.”
She's very open to doing more television and film roles, she says.
Meanwhile, she has also started a unique theater company, Empowered Voices, after meeting a woman who was working at the stage door of a show. That woman was a prevention education specialist for the U.S. military, and she and DiVita decided to collaborate.
“We write custom scripts based on the challenges of sexual assault and suicide prevention in the military that include social media as well as interactions in and out of uniform,” she says. “We’ll get 12 volunteer (military) actors and do a performance that’s usually about 20 minutes long. We’ve performed to over 1,500 soldiers at a time. Then we have discussions and get input on how things could have gone differently. It’s an alternative to a Power Point presentation.”
As for her wedding in September, it was a total Kansas City production. She and her husband, Richard Del Bello, were married at Redemptorist Church and the reception was at the Carriage Club.
“A lot of our guests were from out of town, from the East Coast, and I was very proud and excited to show them my hometown,” she says. “We did Jack Stack (BBQ) for the rehearsal dinner, and had a lot of local little favors and gifts like Topsy’s. They loved (Kansas City). They couldn’t believe their eyes. They thought it was the most lovely, beautiful, well-kept secret."
"Finding Neverland" runs Feb. 27-March 4 at the Music Hall. Go to theaterleague.com for ticket information.