When I spotted Northwest Indiana actress Danni Smith performing in a silly comedic role last year in "The Great American Trailer Park Musical," I knew her versatility would lend her to be in stage demand.
And now Smith, the daughter of Dan and Karen Smith and originally from Logansport, is starring in this year's new series at Steppenwolf Theatre Company's fourth annual Garage Rep in a new production by the Bailiwick Chicago theater company.
"See What I Wanna See," featuring words and music by Michael John LaChiusa and directed by Lili-Anne Brown with music direction by James Morehead, started previews Feb. 15 and the press opening is set for this weekend.
"This production tells a great story with music and the intricate details of characters an audience cares about," said Smith, who plays a wife character early in the story and later, ages dramatically to play "Aunt Monica."
"I think it's my ability as a character actress, including what I did playing the character Betty in 'The Great American Trailer Park Musical,' that got me cast as the aunt, which I really wanted."
Her recent credits include "Some Enchanted Evening" and "Pump Boys and Dinettes" at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre and "A Christmas Carol" at Drury Lane Oakbrook, along with "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum" and "Ruthless!" at Noble Fool.
Smith, who received her bachelor's degree from Ball State University, said she still thanks her parents for helping her overcome her shyness as a young girl growing up in rural Indiana.
"When I was age 4, I was painfully shy and so my parents decided to get me interested in community theater," she said.
"They wanted me to meet other kids and they new the Logansport Junior Civic Theater Company was doing a production of 'The Wizard of Oz.' Luckily, they had a rule that they didn't turn anyone away who auditioned, even if that meant 120 little kids on stage all playing Munchkins, which was the scene I was part of and I loved it. That was the day my parents gave me a gift to last the rest of my life, even if they didn't realize the extent of what their encouragement meant at the time."
Under the leadership of Steppenwolf Associate Producer Jacob Padrón, the Steppenwolf Garage Rep selects innovative storefront companies to perform in rotating repertory for a 10-week run which will last through April 21.
Performances are 8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in The Steppenwolf Garage, 1624 N Halsted St. in Chicago. Single tickets are $20 and three-play passes are $45 by calling (312) 335-1650 or steppenwolf.org.
Starring with Smith in this new production are Harter Clingman, Sharriese Hamilton, Evan Tyrone Martin and Peter Oyloe.
"See What I Wanna See" is a three-part musical explores lust, greed, murder and redemption through the stories of a 1950s murder noir, a priest's crisis of faith, and the final tryst of two lovers. It's billed as "a lush musical score combining jazz, pop, classical and Asian influences."