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Fair Lady Rising —Andrea Prestinario finding spotlight in key musical roles

AndrePrestinario stars as title character musical “Gypsy” Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

Andrea Prestinario stars as the title character in the musical “Gypsy” at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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◆ Through April 1

◆ Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace

◆ Tickets,$35-$46

◆ (630) 530-0111;

Updated: January 26, 2012 11:26AM

Transformation is the name of the game for any serious actress. And this season, Andrea Prestinario has had the opportunity to star in two major productions of musicals in which profound metamorphosis is of the essence.

In September, she played Eliza Doolittle, the Cockney flower girl who ultimately passes for a princess in “My Fair Lady,” and she easily wowed audiences who caught that lavish inaugural production of the Broadway Series at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora. (In November, she played Eliza again, at the Asolo Theatre in Sarasota, Florida, in a very different, and far more intimate production directed by Frank Galati.)

Now, in the Drury Lane Oakbrook production of “Gypsy,” Prestinario is playing Louise, the overlooked daughter of a rabid stage mother, who grows up in vaudeville and eventually emerges as Gypsy Rose Lee, the beguiling striptease artist and star of burlesque.

“These sorts of transformative roles give you so many colors to work with, and are such great fun to play,” said Prestinario. “Both Eliza and Louise are people with a huge amount of determination; they just wear it differently. And this is something I’ve discussed alot with Bill [William Osetek], who is directing ‘Gypsy’.”

“One of the first things I did when I got this role was to read Gypsy Rose Lee’s memoir. It was fascinating to have such a direct source for understanding her and seeing how smart she was. Mostly what came through was her sense of humor, which I’ve tried to incorporate into my performance. She used humor as a tool for survival, which is not that easy for me. It’s just not the first thing I reach for in a difficult or tragic situation, although as I get older I think I’ve become less uptight.”

Prestinario, 30, grew up in Palos Heights and began singing at the age of six. Her first big professional break came in 1993 as a member of the Oak Lawn Children’s Choir, one of several groups selected to perform in the hit revival of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat,” starring Donny Osmond.

“That was an intense experience that sort of changed my life,” said the actress, who also credits her early vocal coach, Karyn Wolcott, for giving her a great foundation. “It was my introduction to theater discipline and professionalism. I was onstage at the Chicago Theatre for three months, and I still remember the moments when we high-fived Donny.” (About the same time, Prestinario appeared in an Oak Lawn Park District production of “Gypsy,” playing Mama Rose’s favorite show biz kid, Baby June, Louise’s sister.)

Prestinario eventually headed off to Ball State University in Indiana where she earned a degree in musical theater and gender studies, the latter “feeding my love for playing intelligent female characters.” And she quickly began to build an impressive resume, amassing many credits at the Marriott Theatre, Drury Lane and others, and understudying several actresses she admires, including both Jessie Mueller (who recently made her Broadway debut in “On a Clear Day”), and her sister Abby, and Kate Fry (whose bout with pneumonia gave Prestinario the chance to perform in the Writers’ Theatre hit, “Oh, Coward!”).

“The quality of Andrea’s singing, her grace, her physical beauty, her ability to take direction and to be flexible — it’s quite a package,” said Jim Corti, artistic director of the Paramount Theatre, who cast her in “My Fair Lady.”

Prestinario, who has spent time auditioning in New York, freely admits: “I definitely want to be in that city at some point in my life, but I am ambivalent about when to go because there is such a great, nurturing community here. Yes, it can feel insular at times, but overall it is so positive and uplifting. And I have been lucky enough to earn my living working here.”

As for her post-“Gypsy” plans, Prestinario said only “a couple of things are brewing.” But she didn’t hesitate when asked about a dream role.

“I’d love to play Dot [the artist’s model and lover] in Sondheim’s ‘Sunday in the Park with George’,” she said.

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