Donna Migliaccio bemoans the scarcity of challenging parts for women her age. “I've spent the past two years doing housekeeper roles, and I'd like something with a little more meat on its bones,” says the 56 year-old award-winning actress who has performed on area stages for more than three decades.
She finds that the plight of mature women is not all that different in theatre as in the real world. “Mature women tend to be more marginalized than men of the same age, onstage and off. For every role written for a middle-aged woman, there are ten for men of the same age range,” Migliaccio observes.
An upcoming stint in Olney Theatre Center’s production of Cinderella offers a welcome change. “One of the reasons I wanted to play the Stepmother,” she says, “is because in this particular version of the story, she's more of a man-hungry cougar — the antithesis of the ‘housekeeper’ types.”
Cinderella’s director Bobby Smith and musical director Christopher Youstra, who worked with Miglaccio on Olney’s Sound of Music in 2011, are pleased to have her back. Smith calls her “a tour de force and a consummate professional [who] brings experience and a joyful energy to the process, no matter the show or the role.” Migliaccio has, Smith adds, “something that you mine from deep inside, something that you call soul . . . in spades.”
Youstra notes Migliaccio’s unique ability to be simultaneously funny and transmit warmth. “She can slay you with the way she phrases one word or the way she can give a quick sideways glance, but then melt your heart with her gentle side,” he says. “She is also a very good singer with a great ear who puts the word ‘alto’ in alto.” He anticipates she will play the role with “humor, but not in the way you expect. She will not just give you the standard ‘witchy’ stepmother, but will bring you a highly-nuanced slant on this archetypal role.”
The stage was not the original career plan for this recipient of two Helen Hayes Awards and nine nominations, although her proclivities were present early. The seven children of a career Army officer and a dancer would sing “in the car to pass the time . . . on the road as we traveled from one military installation to another.” As a result, Migliaccio acknowledges, “All my siblings are musical; many play instruments, and all of us sing.”
Acting was “something I did for fun,” she says, fondly recalling the days of putting on shows at home, and playing Big Billy Goat Gruff in kindergarten and Old Sally in a community theatre production of Oliver! in seventh grade. At the University of Hawaii, Migliaccio chose to study journalism.
“Even when my acting career is in full swing, the urge to write is always there,” she says. To this day, Migliaccio devotes ample time to fulfilling that inclination. Having completed the first of three books in a fantasy series, The Gemeta Stone, the author is looking for a publisher. She also blogs and tweets (@donnamig).
As an actress, Migliaccio, who did not take the stage professionally until her 30s, admits, “I’m largely untrained. I didn't study acting in college, so everything you see on stage, I picked up as I went along. I learned to watch my fellow performers, analyze what they were doing, and decide what could work for me and what wouldn't.” Her awards and her reputation for having a “full and bright” singing voice, stage presence, and a flair for comedy are testament to the fact that her instincts are keen.
Favorite roles have included Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, which she did three times; The Reciter in Pacific Overtures, traditionally played by an Asian man; and Emma Goldman in Ragtime, both at the Kennedy Center and on Broadway. About the latter, she says, “It doesn't get much better than that.”
Still, Migliaccio has her eye on a few plum roles. “I'd love to have another crack at Rose in Gypsy because I don't think I did it very well the first time. I have a couple of roles I'd like to do as I get older: Madame Armfeldt in A Little Night Music and the Old Lady in Candide.”
From her interpretation of the Stepmother in Cinderella to her show stopping rendition of “Rubber Ducky” at Show Tunes & Cocktails earlier this month, whatever role she takes on, it's always brimming with Migliaccio's distinctive charm, likability, and intellect.