Jenn Colella talks thespianism and lesbianism on and off Broadway


Jenn Colella is a bona fide Broadway leading lady. She has starred in numerous shows on and off Broadway including High Fidelity, Chaplin, and The Beebo Brinker Chronicles. Hey, not many people get to say that their Broadway debut (Urban Cowboy) also happened to be in a leading role. Jenn is a true triple threat whose star is always on the rise. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Jenn a few times over the years, and she is as lovely as she is talented. Her performances are show stealers, and her powerhouse belt and comedic timing easily make her one of Broadway’s great, young stars.  The out actress talked to AfterEllen recently about her life on the boards. 

Jenn Colella performing at Birdland

Photographer Seth Walters

AE: You are a very funny lady, and you’ve have played many wonderfully comedic parts. Prior to coming to NYC, you were a comedienne in LA, correct? What was that experience like?  

Jenn Colella: Ah, I loved doing stand up. Working in that capacity really taught me a great deal about courage and trusting my instincts. The toughest part was negotiating the negative energy flowing from some of my fellow comics. It’s a strange truth, but comics can be a dark bunch. That was hard for me. I try to surround myself with positive people who are inherently respectful of other artists.  

AE: Can you tell the AfterEllen readers a little about your first experience on the Broadway stage? 

I played Sissy (the female lead) in Urban Cowboy the Musical. The dreamy Matt Cavenaugh was my leading man and it was both of our Broadway debuts. It was a blast! I got to sing, dance, fight, screw, and ride a mechanical bull. What more can a girl ask for?

AE: Absolutely nothing! You also played the title role in The Beebo Brinker Chronicles, a show based on Ann Bannon’s lesbian pulp novels. What was it like playing Beebo, a very important character in the lesbian American canon? I imagine you picked up quite a few, new gay fans along the way!  

JC: Playing the iconic Beebo was a challenge for me, quite honestly. Seducing the girls felt natural and easy, but playing a true butch proved to be a bit more difficult. What’s more, Beebo is known to be this hulking figure and I am simply not that. My director, the beautiful Leigh Silverman, was very nurturing and supportive. She let me wear these huge batteries in the front pockets of my jeans so that I could effectively shift my center of gravity to my pelvis … things like that. I learned an awful lot.

Marin Ireland and Jenn Colella in The Beebo Brinker Chronicles

Photo by Dixie Sheridan

AE: We know that the theatre world has almost always embraced gay men. As an out female performer in theatre, what has been your experience? Has it been any different?

JC: I have felt nothing but love and support from my community on all fronts. When I first got to New York I was advised not to come out, which was a bummer. That didn’t last very long! Everyone knows now and I much prefer it that way.

AE: That’s interesting that you were advised not to come out initially. What was the reasoning you were given at the time?

Some directors and casting directors’ vision of you in a straight role can sometimes be skewed if they know somewhere in the back of their mind that you’re gay. I had both directors and CDs (casting directors) say that to me. But, that was ten years ago and I think the mindset has shifted quite a bit since then.

AE: You are, as the expression goes, one of the “hardest working people in Show Business.” You just finished a run on Broadway in Chaplin. You work consistently as a performer on Broadway and Off-Broadway, which is no small feat. Why do you think that is?

JC: Oh, geez, I think luck plays a huge part in that. I say “yes” to a lot of readings and workshops of new material, which keeps me in the game. And I love it. I’m so humbled when writers trust me with their material.  It’s an honor.

Jenn as Hedda Hopper in Chaplin 

Photo by Joan Marcus

AE: What projects do you have lined up at the moment?  

JC: I’m working on two new projects right now… The first is a new musical called Piece of My Heart about the songwriter Bert Berns, who wrote that tune and many others. “Cry baby,” “Twist and Shout,” “Hang on Sloopy,” “I Want Candy”… The list goes on and on. The other project I’m involved in is a new piece by the Pulitzer Prize-winning team Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey called If/Then. We’re doing a lab of that next month and I’m sooo stoked about it.

AE: Some of our readers may not know, but when you are in a Broadway or Off Broadway show, you have very little down time. What do you like to do in your precious off time?  

Once spring arrives, I will spend most of my downtime in Central Park wearing as little as possible, curled up in the sun with a good book.

AE: What advice would you give to performers who want to take the plunge and move to NYC?  

JC: Practice gratitude and being kind, especially to yourself. Oh, and have rich parents.

Follow Jenn Colella (@JennColella) on Twitter, or for updates on her new projects.

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