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Out of Towner.

Byline: Randi Bjornstad The Register-Guard

We always hear about people in the performing arts world with stars in their eyes heading off to New York City to make their fortunes - or at least pay the rent. But occasionally, the pilgrimage leads the other way.

It did in the case of Colleen Darnall Dietz, who moved west in September and has just made her directing debut with Actors Cabaret of Eugene, with "Once on This Island," a musical running through April 12.

Admittedly, the 28-year-old might not have landed in Eugene if her husband, Zachary Dietz, hadn't chosen to come to the University of Oregon to pursue a master's degree in arts administration. But she's happy with the decision.

"It's definitely a change, but it takes a lot of energy to live in New York," she said. "It's nice to get away, at least for a while.

"It's so beautiful and peaceful here."

Darnall Dietz, who grew up in Stockton, Calif., knew from childhood not only that she wanted to be involved with show business, but that she wanted to be a theater director.

"I've always loved community theater, and from the time I was a little kid I could visualize a whole show as I wanted it to be performed," she said.

"I put on 'Annie' in the backyard when I was 5. My original ambition was directing, not acting."

After high school, Darnall Dietz went to Columbia University in New York City. She majored in English and racked up an impressive rsum of projects as director, music director and stage manager.

"At Columbia, they encouraged students to self-produce shows," she said, "so I did as many as I could."

To pay the rent, she drew on her other childhood pursuits: studying piano and voice. Darnall Dietz worked as a music copyist on a variety of productions, from "Newsies" to "The Little Mermaid" to the "Radio City Christmas Spectacular."

"It's a weird job - you take the score from the composers and arrangers and make up all the individual sheet music for all the musicians," she said.

The music copyists use a music notation computer program called Finale to edit instrument and vocal scores. Part of the job is to track the inevitable revisions and additions that happen as the show comes together.

An ACE of a fit

Darnall Dietz met her husband when both of them were working on "In the Heights."

The show eventually moved from a 2007 run off-Broadway - meaning a theater with 100 to 499 seats - to a larger theater in the Broadway district itself in 2008, where it ran for 1,184 performances until its close early in 2011.

When it came time to move west, Darnall Dietz said, "I looked around for arts possibilities, and I sent a rsum to Joe Zingo at Actors Cabaret.

"They take on the big Broadway musicals, which are dear to my heart, and we share a lot of the same philosophy toward theater. I feel privileged to be part of what they are doing."

In choosing "Once on This Island," Actors Cabaret "actually asked me if I had anything in mind that I wanted to do," she said.

"I mentioned this one - it's one I've wanted to direct since I was a kid, because the music is so accessible and melodic, and the show moves very smoothly and gracefully. And it's relatively unknown here."

One of these days, someone could be doing one of her original shows.

"I'm writing a couple of things myself - and they're musicals," Darnall Dietz said. "I'd love to see them done here locally.

"I've learned so much from doing 'Once on This Island,' and I just want to keep on honing my craft."

As for her favorite musical ever, "Part of me wants to say 'In the Heights,' because I worked on it, and everyone was so completely sympatico and did their jobs so well," Darnall Dietz said.

But a minute later, "Oh, changing my mind," she said. "I have to say 'Ragtime' is the best I've ever seen. And the composers from that show (music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens) are the same as for 'Once on This Island.' "

Follow Randi on Twitter @BjornstadRandi. Email randi.bjornstad@registerguard.com.

PLAY PREVIEW

Once on This Island

When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through April 12; 2 p.m. Sunday and March 30

Where: Actors Cabaret, 996 Willamette St.

Admission: $16 to $27, dinner and show $42.95; less for Sunday brunch

Get tickets: 541-683-4368; actorscabaret.org
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Title Annotation:Theater
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Mar 20, 2014
Words:757
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