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Actress Dina DiCostanzo

dicostanzaJeff Award nominee Dina DiCostanzo, who stars as Shelly in the musical “Hairspray” at Drury Lane Theatre, has fine-tuned her acting chops enough for some very discriminating critics to take notice, including Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune, who called her “quirky, droll, empathetic and nimble on her feet.” That’s quite a collision of star qualities, but her talents only begin there: DiCostanzo can also sing and dance (making her the proverbial “triple threat” in stage parlance), and has a flair for comedy as well.

And if being a “full-blood” Italian counts for anything, DiCostanzo scores points there as well. With roots from the Naples area (Acerra) on her father’s side and Sicily on her mother’s side, DiCostanzo (who grew up in Palatine) hopes this will be the year she gets to Italy for the first time.

“Growing up in an Italian-American home was, is, very … dramatic,” she says, laughing. “Everyone’s a character and loud, and outspoken. I wouldn’t have it any other way! I think my family is the sole reason I was able to follow my dreams and hone my talents. Italians are very family oriented. That was pivotal. My dad, Frank, and mom, Sue, always supported me and helped me and guided me. Even though they didn’t know the business they learned and taught me along the way.”

DiCostanzo says that dancing marked her foray into entertainment, and that the acting bug hit her in high school. She’s been at it for 13 years now, and as she geared up for “Hairspray,” she had not seen the original stage production. “In a way, that helped me,” she says. “I had no preconceived notions of what I should be doing. I also created a back story for my character that guides me in my reactions and the way I stand and move. I think that’s really important when you’re in an ensemble.” Before we could ask, DiCostanzo flashed some of her sharp comedic wit: “I’d tell you my back story but then I’d have to kill you.”

Indeed, DiCostanzo is slaying audiences with her talent, at Drury Lane and beyond. But ask her how she’s approaching the craft, and it’s all humility and maturity: “The older I get, the more things I experience, lessons I learn, people I meet, places I go, music I listen to,” she says. “All of that makes me grow as a person and then, in turn, as an actress. Performing has always been about pulling from my own life. I just keep trying to better myself and put one foot in front of the other while doing it.”

Dina DiCostanzo stars as Shelly in the Tony Award-winning musical, “Hairspray,” now playing at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace, through June 17. For tickets, please call the Drury Lane Theatre box office at 630-530-0111 or TicketMaster at 800-745-3000, or visit www.drurylaneoakbrook.com.

About Lou Carlozo

A former longtime staff writer, editor and columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Lou Carlozo is a personal finance contributor to Reuters and the proud writer of Fra Noi's Lou&A column, which spotlights important Italian Americans. He is currently studying for his master's degree at National-Louis University, where he teaches journalism and writing on the graduate school level. He also writes for the Tribune Content Agency and a variety of other freelance outlets including DealNews, Money Under 30 and Yesware. He lives in the North Center neighborhood of Chicago with his wife of more than 17 years, Amy (a hospice chaplain), and two children.