Diana DeGarmo Takes on Iconic Role in “9 to 5”

Recently, while on tour as leading lady Doralee Rhodes in 9 to 5: The Musical (which sees a DanCap-helmed run at the Toronto Centre for the Arts from June 29 to July 10), the extremely talented Diana DeGarmo was kind enough to take some time to talk with Cadence.

Recording artist, runner-up for Season Three of American Idol, and a very much experienced musical theatre actress (she’s had roles in productions of such shows as Annie, Hairspray, Brooklyn: The Musical, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat), the Alabama-born 23-year-old has built quite an impressive career for herself.

Now, though, as she’s been cast in 9 to 5′s aforementioned Doralee Rhodes’ role, she’s accomplished something that not too many aspiring acting-talents can attest to: she’s taken a role originally brought to life by a major inspiration of hers, Dolly Parton, and made it into something her own.

Having come so far and done so much as a young talent, DeGarmo commented on what the whole experience has been like thus far.

Was it nerve-wracking to take on the role of Doralee Rhodes, a character originally brought to life by the legendary talent that is Dolly Parton? Did you feel you had a lot to live up to?

I was very excited, and still am, to play such an iconic role, but I definitely had that moment of “what did I get myself into?” about a week into rehearsal. Once I calmed down, figured out my interpretation of Doralee, and then got Dolly’s blessing, I hit the ground running and have been ever since! Since Doralee is such a legendary character, originally done by such a legendary woman, people do expect a level of “Dolly-isms,” which luckily come naturally for me. And I bring my own flare on top of it!

What about 9 to 5 prompted you to get involved in it? Did the film hold a special place for you or inspire you to some extent in pursuing your career as an artist and performer?

I have idolized Dolly for as long as I can remember. I even worked at Dollywood as a kid! So, being a good Southern lady, I grew up loving the moving 9 to 5 and ran to see it when it was on Broadway! I was so impressed with Megan Hilty’s version of Doralee, and knew I wanted to be in the show somehow, someway, and the tour made that come true!

When developing your portrayal, did you listen to a lot of Parton – in order to get a firm grasp of her style?

Growing up loving Dolly helped me with attaining both her singing and speaking “style,” for sure. I knew how to portray her vocally before I even realized it! I just did it automatically.

What was it like to perform alongside such players as three-time Tony Award-nominee Dee Hoty and Mamie Parris?

I am so honoured to not only sing the music of someone I idolize every night, but I also get to share the stage with two other amazing women eight times a week. Working with Dee and Mamie has not only been a lot of fun, but also very educational. I learn so much from them and love them both so much. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it! [Winks]

What have been some of your favourite memories and moments while with the 9 to 5 production?

Having Dolly during our tech process in Nashville and then also getting to celebrate her birthday with her are two very special memories for me from 9 to 5. But the most special moment for me was – after we were supposed to sing at the Opry together, and unfortunately our rehearsal schedule kept me from doing it last minute – she gave me a bracelet with a heart charm that read “From one Doralee to another.” It was such a sweet gesture that she didn’t have to do, and I cherish it greatly.

If people grow and evolve with each experience, then what would you say you’ve gained or learned while being involved with 9 to 5?

Since being in 9 to 5, I’ve learned to trust myself and my acting choices more and more, particularly when it comes to comedy!

Following the close of 9 to 5′s tour at the end of July – as well as a reprisal of your Penny Pingleton role in Hairspray in August – what other projects are you involved in, and what other goals do you have for 2011?

I do have a couple future projects in the works for the rest of 2011 and leading into 2012. They are still on the “hush, hush,” but I am just going with the flow of my career. It hasn’t let me down yet!

According to your site, you’re a big supporter of charities like the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Music for Relief, among others. Tell us about the fundraising work you’ve taken part in and how the experiences were.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with many charities over the years, and it’s hard to pick a favourite! I appreciate charities that have a small overhead and give directly to those in need. So, instead of 95 percent of your donation going to administrative costs, 100 percent of your donation actually goes to whomever they are helping!

Similarly, in the past, you’ve supported America’s troops with your overseas USO show performances, so can the troops expect to see you out there again in the near future?

My first USO tour was with the 16th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, and a new Chairman is about to be sworn in. With that being said, I would love to go out again this holiday season, but it’s up to the Chairman to invite me!

Who in your life inspires you most?

I am inspired most by life! I want to live it to its highest extent and love with as much of myself as I can!

What words of wisdom can you give to aspiring talents?

My “words of wisdom” to other aspiring talents – I say other aspiring talents because I feel as though I still am and will always be aspiring to be better – would be to (1) Do it all! Do every show, take every class, and meet as many people as you can. (2) Be the person you want to work with – and you only get one reputation and once that’s tarnished, it’s very, very hard to fix it! (3) If you’re not enjoying it, then don’t do it. This is your life, and live it how you want to live it.

For more info on 9 to 5, be sure to check out DanCap’s official page.

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About Jacob Goguen

Raised as he was on Beatles LPs and '80s action flicks, it's little surprise that Toronto-native Jacob Goguen -- who's been interested in writing and the arts from a very young age -- today holds an Honours B.A. in Film Theory, History, and Criticism from York University. When not writing for Cadence, Jacob loves to explore music -- whether he's writing it, playing it on his guitar, or experiencing it live -- run long-distance, and travel.