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Q & A: ‘Young Diva’ Jessica O’Keefe loves adrenalin rush the stage provides
By Bill Buell
Gazette Reporter
Published: Sunday, July 26, 2009
 
Jessica O’Keefe loves everything about the theater: even the auditions. A senior at the Long Trail School in Dorset, Vt., this fall, O’Keefe was a regular performer at the Fort Salem Theater in Salem long before Jay Kerr came up from New York City and bought the place in the fall of 2006. She no longer has to audition for Kerr, who, along with bringing talented New York actors to Washington County each summer, knows an extremely talented vocal local when he sees one.

O’Keefe recently finished a production of Corn! The Musical, at Fort Salem, and next weekend will be one of three homegrown talents on display when Kerr presents Green, Imhof & O’Keefe: The Young Divas, at Fort Salem Theater on Friday and Saturday nights only. O’Keefe, from Salem, will be joined by Cambridge’s Abigail Imhof, a student at Adirondack Community College and a member of the U.S. Army Reserves and Greenwich’s Andrea Green, a senior theater student at SUNY-New Paltz.

These three young women, all of them filled with plenty of potential in the musical theater world according to Kerr, will sing as a group and also do solos, offering up musical numbers made famous by Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli and Mariah Carey. The show will also include an appearance by another talented Washington County product, 12-year-old Brendan Dailey of Saratoga.

Along with spending her summer performing at Fort Salem Theater, O’Keefe works parttime at the Banana Republic in Manchester, Vt.

Q: When did your love for the theater begin?
A: I had seen a few shows as a little kid, and then when I was 9 or 10 I auditioned for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I played one of the children listening to the story. After that I really got into it and played one of the orphans in Annie the next year. I loved the adrenalin rush, and I would get that same rush just going down to the theater to audition. I realized then that this is what I really wanted to do.

Q: When did you begin to recognize your singing ability?
A: I had been singing in the chorus at school and then I started taking voice lessons. While I was doing Annie, I worked hard trying to build up my voice and get it to the level where I felt comfortable singing. I started enjoying singing more than anything else. I love listening to all kinds of music, and I enjoy singing all kinds.

Q: Were your parents active in the theater community?
A: No. It was something I really did on my own, although my older sister Lucianna is really talented and also did some shows at Fort Salem Theater and is still involved. My parents never pushed me, but they supported me in every way. They did everything they could to make things happen for me, and I think my interest in the theater may have inspired them to help me even more.

Q: What was your experience like in Corn! The Musical?
A: I played Molly Settle, one of the daughters, and it was great working with Sue (Ciccarelli Caputo) and Shannon (Rafferty). Everyone was so sweet and nice. It was a real learning experience for me working with those people. I think the show went very well, and the audience seemed to enjoy it. It was also great working with Jay. I can remember when he first came to the theater and he came to one of my shows. I contacted him after that and said I would like to work with him and keep on doing things at the theater. He’s been great.

Q: What is The Young Divas all about?
A: It’s a musical revue, but there is sort of a story line behind it because we’re all singing songs that make sense in our lives right now. We’re still trying out songs and figuring out what works best. It’s going to be a lot a fun, and Brendan Dailey is a very talented young man. I couldn’t believe the voice that came out of this small 12-year-old kid. It shocked me, it was so powerful.

Q: Do you see yourself sticking with musical theater, or would you like to do some straight dramas?
A: I’ve done a few dramas in school, and I like doing them, but it’s the musical theater that I really enjoy. I’m just much more into musicals. I love singing on stage, and it gives you a great feeling knowing you are bringing happiness to other people. It’s a wonderful feeling knowing you can use your talents that way.

Q: Do you have a favorite musical or a favorite entertainer?
A: There are so many great musicals. That’s a tough question. I don’t think I have afavorite. But I do love all the old classic musicals and the old black-and-white movies. And, there are so many people out there that are so talented I just can’t pick one. I enjoy all of them.
     
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