They fall in love on the Olney Theatre mainstage for everyone to see — and married-in-real-life actors Tracy Lynn Olivera and Evan Casey are loving it.
“Oh, it’s awesome,” said Olivera, who plays man-hunting taxi driver Hildy Esterhazy to her husband’s naïve sailor-on-shore leave, Chip in Olney’s “On the Town.” “We almost never get to play opposite each other, but Evan and I are well-suited to working as a comedy team.
“We do a lot of making out in this show,” she added, laughing. “And we’ve done a lot of making out: we’ve been together for 15 years.”
They met on another stage, in 2004 at the old Signature Theatre where Olivera was one of the female leads in “Allegro” and Casey was in the ensemble. “I remember thinking he was cute, and that he smelled good,” she recalled. “And then he asked me out, and we went out, and the rest is history.”
Also history is “On the Town.” The show grew out of a Jerome Robbins ballet (“Fancy Free”) set to the music of a young Leonard Bernstein; written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, it debuted on Broadway in 1944.
“It was the first fully integrated Broadway musical,” said Olivera, noting that the original cast featured six African American performers and an Asian American playing Ivy. In 1949, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Betty Garrett and Ann Miller took “On the Town” to the screen, and while the story about 24 hours of romantic adventures in New York, New York — a wonderful town — has become a classic, it’s also a light and airy comic escape.
“It’s fluffy,” Olivera said. “It’s not ‘West Side Story.’ It’s definitely Bernstein’s fluff piece. It’s been super-fun to work on — and I think we do need a little fluff right now.”
Managing the fluff — and a handful of the area’s top actors like Sam Ludwig, Donna Migliaccio, Bobby Smith and Rachel Zampelli — are director Jason Loewith, Olney’s artistic director; Helen Hayes-nominated choreographer Tara Jeanne Vallee and musical director Christopher Youstra, who has called in a 14-piece orchestra. It’s a big production, and Olivera sees it as a perfect summertime diversion.
“I’m working with a lot of my friends, and that’s always fun,” she said. “What more could you want? It’s a big broad comedy. It’s not high art; it’s not a think piece.” And yet, in many ways, “On the Town” was ahead of its time.
“The two women in particular, Hildy and Claire, are very forward for their time,” she said. “They drive the story, in a way. They’re sexually driven, sexually open; they both have kind of ‘men’s jobs,’ and they’re both very forward about what they want.”
Indeed, nearly every character in the musical wants the same thing: romantic love. For Olivera and Casey, that’s art imitating life — and they’re enjoying the experience.
“It’s great,” said Casey. “Tracy and I don’t get to do it nearly as often as we’d like to. I think we pair well, especially as a comedy team. I think she’s hilarious and wonderful, but when you work with an actor that you know so well, you have a shorthand for each other. We can work things out together.”
Casey said that he may be the “more reserved, more introverted” one in the relationship, but the character of Chip lets him show his lighter side. “In comedy, in general, you have to give over to the understanding that yes, you play it honestly and earnestly, and there are more exaggerated moments — more opportunities for silliness and goofiness,” he said. “I think that we all have that inside of us. You just have to give yourself permission to unlock that box and let that part of your brain run free.”
Casey started out in the drama program at Howard County’s Centennial High School before heading to the Catholic University of America (CUA) for a bachelor of music degree in musical theater. Olivera is also a CUA alum, with a bachelor of music degree in musical performance. “The training at Catholic was a full, comprehensive slate,” he explained. “We had training in music, dance and acting.”
Although “On the Town” features extended dance sequences, Casey downplays his own dance skills, saying that high school athletics taught him to be “a good mover,” but “my main strengths come from my singing and acting. I can certainly find my way around a choreographed set piece, especially with a choreographer like Tara Jeanne Vallee.”
Vallee, he explained, “encourages us to find our innate language for what we do. My character, Chip, expresses himself differently: ‘comedic’ is definitely the right classification.”
A big switch from Casey’s last project, assistant-directing Olney’s “The Crucible.” “It’s a great credit to Jason and what he does,” he said. “Olney Theatre’s base is diverse, and he diversifies his programming. I think it’s fantastic that you can go from something as deep and heady and powerful and serious as ‘The Crucible’ to something as light and fun and effervescent as ‘On the Town.’ It’s a credit to the production staff, to Jason and to the people working there.”
Casey can’t help but be effusive in his praise of Olney Theatre, where he and Olivera had their very first professional shows (his was “Bye Bye Birdie;” hers “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”) and where their artistic journey continues.
“It’s very much a part of our theatrical life,” he said. “We continue to return there, and it’s always a wonderful experience.”
Especially when they’re onstage together.
“Literally, I’d like to do every show with Evan,” Olivera said. “I married Evan because I really like spending time with him, so it’s never too much for me.”
“On the Town” runs through July 29 on the mainstage at Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney. There will be a sign-interpreted performance at 8 p.m. Thursday, July 12, and an audio-described performance for the blind and visually impaired at 8 p.m. Thursday, July 19. Tickets start at $42, with discounts available for groups, seniors, military and students. Call 301-924-3300 or visit www.olneytheatre.org.