True West Award: Jacquie Jo Billings

True West Awards Jacquie Jo Billings



True_West_Award_300.I’m guessing it ain’t easy being a Billings. Or a Worley, for that matter. Jacquie Jo Billings is one of both, which must have made it harder for her to get the attention she deserves growing up among that prolific tribe of theatre artisans. But 2014 was most definitely Jacquie Jo’s time in the spotlight.

First, some introductions: Billings is the granddaughter of the late P.K. Worley, who spent 25 years as a director with the Evergreen Players. P.K. fathered busy area percussionist Tag Worley and new Miners Alley Playhouse co-executive director Brenda Billings. Jacquie Jo is among six grandchildren who include Tucker Worley, now on tour with Mamma Mia; Jamie Billings, who performed in the national touring production of Spring Awakening and is now studying direction at a fancy school in London; and … oh, so many more. As the youngest of eight siblings myself, I can only presume that perhaps Jacquie Jo, too, got left behind at a few rest stops on family vacations.

Billings, who graduated from Denver School of the Arts and The American Musical and Dramatic Academy, has put together a solid resume over her years with the Evergreen Players – notably playing Ann in All My Sons, Penny in Hairspray and Sheila in Hair. But 2014 was her chance to spread her wings. She played Thea in director Nick Sugar’s Spring Awakening at the Town Hall Arts Center in Littleton. She is currently a principal player in Songs for a New World, Jason Robert Brown’s loose collection of contemporary song-stories about life choices. It plays through Sunday at Miners Alley in Golden, and, surprise – her mom is the director,  and her Uncle Tag is the percussionist.

Over the years, Billings has been nothing if not evidently cute. But it was her disquieting turn as distressed damsel Luisa in The Fantasticks at Miners Alley that made it abundantly clear there is a tiger underneath that porcelain doll.

Full disclosure: I am a sucker for The Fantasticks. Well, at least for the part about smitten lovers Matt and Luisa. Audiences have been lulled into loving the world’s longest-running musical for 55 years. But if you don’t leave a little bit shaken by it all at the end, the players haven’t done the play right. There should be something disturbingly Grimm about this tale of two neighboring fathers who trick their children into falling in love by pretending to hate one another. A mock abduction is staged so that our young, fake hero can save the day and reunite the families. But when the children discover the scheme, they rebel, hurtling themselves on a necessary, and necessarily painful, downward spiral of disillusionment.

The Fantasticks allows the actor playing Luisa the opportunity to fully transform from a silly 16-year-old who fantasizes herself to be a princess into a bruised and much more realistic woman who now understands the lie of a love unearned. The fallacy of romance. The masks we wear every day. There is something very Spring Awakening-like about Luisa’s odd fascination with seeing Matt be abused and beaten. There is real hurt in being called childish by the man you love. And it takes real vulnerability to give your mother’s treasured necklace to a dark and alluring stranger.

Billings fully formed a character I think many directors are too afraid to fully form.

The Fantasticks is not a whimsical musical. It is a disturbing treatise on the end of innocence, and Billings gave us all of that.

We can’t wait to see how she applies those lessons learned in 2015. She’ll be going down a whole different “rabbit hole of pain” as the overachieving, invisible daughter Natalie in the devastating rock musical Next to Normal at the Town Hall Arts Center. It’s about a mother’s struggle with bipolar disorder and the damage her illness wreaks on her family. It stars Margie Lamb, is directed by Nick Sugar, and opens Feb. 13.

1: Norrell Moore
2. Kate Gleason
3. Amanda Berg Wilson and Jeremy Make
4. Ben Cowhick
5. Robert Michael Sanders
6. David Nehls
7. Adrian Egolf
8. Emma Messenger
9. Buntport’s Naughty Bits
10. Tim Howard
11. Gleason Bauer
12. Daniel Traylor
13. Aisha Jackson and Jim Hogan
14. Cast of ‘The Whipping Man’
15. Rick Yaconis
16. Michael R. Duran
17. Laura Norman
18. Jacquie Jo Billings
19. Megan Van De Hey
20. Jeremy Palmer
21. Henry Lowenstein   
22. Sam Gregory
23. Wendy Ishii
24. J. Michael Finley
25. Kristen Samu and Denver Actors Fund volunteers
26. Matthew D. Peters
27. Shannan Steele
28. Ludlow, 1914
29. Spring Awakening and Annapurna
30 Theatre Person of the Year Steve Wilson

The True West Awards, which began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001, are the longest-running continuously administered awards program in Colorado theater. This year, the awards have been re-conceived to simply recognize 30 award-worthy achievements in local theatre, without categories or nominations. A different honoree will be singled out each day for 30 days.

The True West Awards are administered by arts journalist John Moore, who was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since founded The Denver Actors Fund and taken a groundbreaking position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist.

*The DCPA Theatre Company is not considered for True West Awards, which are instead intended as the DCPA’s celebration of the local theatre community.

Moore’s daily coverage of the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

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