As the current revival of “Singin’ in the Rain” entertains audiences at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, there’s an Italian-American actress lighting up the stage as the seductive Lady in the Green. Cara Salerno, who lives in Chicago’s Uptown/Edgewater neighborhood, claims Calabrese and Abbruzzese roots on her father’s side. (Her mother is of Irish ancestry.)
“Growing up with Italian relatives forced me to be outgoing,” Salerno says. “There are so many of us, and if you want to get a word in at the house, especially in the kitchen, you have to make a statement. Everyone is always dancing, playing music, talking about old films, about the old neighborhood.”
Amidst a boisterous upbringing, Salerno started dancing at age 5. She stayed with it all the way through her college years and then realized that dance offered an ideal entree into the world of musicals. She joined Actors’ Equity in 1996, a year after performing in her first musical, “Sweet Charity.”
“I find that if I’m not genuine, I’m not bringing anything fresh or exciting to the table,” Salerno says. “I feel it’s important to keep making new choices as the run of a show goes on. Consistency is important, so I make them subtle, but I feel it keeps me alive and brings something for my fellow actors to play with as well.”
As for her current role, Salerno says, “I’m so thrilled to have this now, versus years ago. I can bring so much more to the table. Years ago, I would not have been nearly as comfortable with myself as I am now, and most certainly I would have been in a different mental place as the Lady in Green, stopping Don Lockwood in his tracks to seduce him.”
Salerno also enjoys a vibrant life off the stage. She’s a certified massage therapist and loves running, traveling, writing, and discovering great new spots for food and wine.
But acting continues to be her main passion, a circumstance that finds her full of gratitude. She hopes that as time goes on, she can blossom into a long career that develops her singing and acting skills, while perhaps eventually trying her hand at directing and choreography.
For now, though, she’s content. “I feel so blessed to do what I love and to make a living doing so,” Salerno says. “I often say how great it is that we are among the very few people who get applause at the end of the work day. And as this applause is happening, I’m smiling because I am grateful and laughing because I am thinking, ‘Wow, I’m at work right now. How great is this?'”
“Singin’ in The Rain” plays though Jan. 13 at the Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace. Tickets range from $20-$68. For reservations, call the Drury Lane box office at 630-530-0111 or visit www.drurylaneoakbrook.com.