Marlana Dunn is playing Belle, as in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.  Talk about typecasting!  Marlana could be a real life Disney Princess.  She has big doe eyes, beautiful clear skin, and long, raven-colored hair.  Her singing is hypnotic.  I first saw her perform in CLO’s great Always…Patsy Cline.  In a testament to her talent, I saw that show almost as many times as I saw Christopher Nolan’s Inception.  Let’s just say I could count on two hands how many times I saw that movie.  (I know…I’m a dork.  Don’t even get me started with Avengers.)

It was my pleasure and joy interviewing Marlana.  She’s a natural and real talent, and I can’t wait to see what she does next!

How is it working with Northshore Music Theater?

NorthShore is absolutely wonderful. It is incredibly familial. Everyone is professional and loves what they do in this business. Those two factors alone always make for a pleasurable experience. Also, the area reminds me a lot of home. I love that!

Which comes first for you, an amazing script or an amazing director?  

First for me would definitely be an amazing director. If the script is not so great but you are working with a stellar director, they will find a way to make it work!  I have worked with many wonderful directors.

Right now I have both!  Our director for A Christmas Carol is one of the best I have worked with, Arianna Knapp.  She has an amazing vision.  Also, she wants to hear the actors input on their character, motivation, etc.  She sparks creativity and brings out the best in us all; she’s brilliant!

Your resume is quite impressive.  You’ve really played some eclectic roles.  What makes a wonderful character for you?  Are their particular attributes you look for, a certain writing style?  As a writer, I am always very interested in what makes a great character. 🙂

First and foremost I look for the arch of the character, their journey. I have been able to play some fabulous women who ventured from one extreme to another; “Ruthless..”,  “Reefer…” Come on! 😉

Next, I look for the detail.  I look for the specifics laid out by the writer in regards to the character. Everything from physical description, reaction in the stage direction and character traits within their dialogue.

Finally, I find a way I can relate that character to myself/my experiences or someone close to me that I was affected by; thus, helping me dive into the emotions, etc.

In regards to the writing style, I like witty writing. I am very drawn to strong women. However, I instantly look for a vulnerable, sensitive side/moment.

Belle, is a small role in “A Christmas Carol” but pivotal. Her scenes are very different. The first is light hearted and exciting. The second is hopeful then moves to angry and sad. She wants Scrooge to choose her over money.  He won’t so she has to be strong and walk away from the man she loves. I tear up just writing about it!  I feel bad for him; he looses his love.  Thankfully the play ends happily, as we know!

Okay, let’s switch gears a second.  You traveled the world with Stiletto Entertainment and Holland America Cruise Line for several years as their lead singer/dancer.  Your costumes were just to die for!  Loved them!!!  A job that has you putting on a marvelous headdress every night has got to be great, right?  What are some surprising things you’ve learned on the tour circuit?

The costumes were absolutely amazing!  I miss dawning them!  Our designer is the fabulous, Bob Mackie.  For one thing, dancing on a moving vessel was interesting. I have many a story!  99% of our dancing was done in heels. Dancing in heels on a moving vessel- I can now dance anywhere without fear! Also, on board Americans are at an extreme minority. Working and becoming friends with people from other cultures has made me grow immensely as a person.  Visiting the places I have also aided in my growth.  All of this makes me a better performer!  I have many people and experiences to pull from.  I am so thankful for that opportunity and can’t say I won’t go back out in the future!

In addition to Stiletto, you’ve starred in Anything Goes and Always…Patsy Cline.  The songs you’ve been able to sing are just incredible and your voice is pure perfection.  Any plans to release a cd???  (Please say yes!)

You are too kind in your words. Thank you.  I am looking into the logistics of it all!  Of course, Pasty will be a big part of it.

Do you have any favorite songs that you’d definitely make tracks on the Marlana Dunn debut album? 🙂

Firstly, Patsy for sure. I put together a show of her music and stories of how her music has touched my life along with stories of her life I found interesting. We worked it and performed it while I was out at sea.

Also, I am a HUGE Christmas music fan so I would love to make that happen along with some musical theatre classics; Gershwin, Porter, R & H- AND some Sondheim (he is one of my favorites)

Let’s talk about Patsy Cline a minute.  I saw that show many many times.  You were amazing in it.  The hair, the accent, the style of that singer…you had her down pat.  What do you do to prepare for a role?

Again, thank you. That show was so special to me in many ways.

The research I did was rather extensive. Patsy wasn’t much taller than me but she was heavier. I had to find ways in my posture, walk, etc to make myself appear bigger.  I read a couple of her biographies. Also, YouTube helped a lot. I found some old clips of her performing on there. That helped a lot to see how she “grooved” while performing. The hardest thing was nailing her speaking voice. Her’s was much lower than mine.  I had some great vocal exercises I gathered during my training at PointPark. That show did wonders for my vocal range. Expanding it significantly and discovering colors in it I didn’t know I had!

You’re originally from Pittsburgh and graduated from Point Park University.  What are some of your fondest Pittsburgh memories?

There are so many!   I LOVE that city and my alma mater. I love the kindness of people and the sincerity of our western PA mentality.

The Steelers winning the Super Bowl while I was in college was an amazing experience.

The roles I played in college- having my uncle watch Reefer Madness from the second row… Haha.

My experiences in the Pittsburgh theatre community are the most memorable 🙂

Marlana, please give us some advice about breaking into the Pittsburgh arts scene.  What are some things a performer should be aware of, some pitfalls they maybe should avoid?

I would say the biggest thing, as in any city, is to network and keep trying.  Try not to get discouraged.  You will hear “no” a lot- never give up! Once hired, be a good person, a hard worker- everyone knows each other. Pittsburgh has a wonderful arts scene, I certainly miss it and the people!

You’ve traveled the world.  What are some things that are uniquely Pittsburgh arts?

I must admit, this question stumped me a bit. I believe one of the beautiful things about the arts scene in Pittsburgh is their support of new works and local playwrights.

Finally, you’re 5’5 and an enviable 118 pounds.  (Website, people!  Check it out!  You’ll be very impressed.)  What are your diet and exercise secrets? And yes, I’m writing this down.  🙂

I did the P90x program and saw amazing results. Having finished it, I have set a consistent gym schedule. I can’t consume dairy or red meat due to allergies and dietary issues so I started looking into other things to eat. I was a vegan for a while but working on cruise ships didn’t make that very easy. I am now a pescatarian.  Eggs are a big part of my diet. I love kale and spinach. I have never had a sweet tooth so that helps too! lol. In regards to the gym and food, I believe the key is to consume both in moderation!