If you saw Kate McKinnon’s killer cold open on "Saturday Night Live" a couple of weeks back -- and if you didn’t, you should check it out immediately -- you might have marveled, “Not only is she a hilarious comic actor, but she can sing and play piano too?” If you followed that up with some Google research, you’d find she also plays guitar and cello.
That’s the kind of surprising surplus of talent you see in Nicole Oberleitner. The striking brunette first caught my eye in her hilarious turn as the title character in Swift Creek Mill’s 2013 hit, "The Drowsy Chaperone." Boozy and ribald, her comic chops were supplemented by a knockout voice. The role earned her a Richmond Theatre Critics Circle award nomination, one of five she’s racked up since her local pro theater debut in Virginia Rep’s 2011 musical, "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels."
One of those nominations was as a choreographer, which turns out to be her primary interest and the role she’s filling for the first time at Virginia Rep for its production, "A Christmas Story: The Broadway Musical."
“I’ve wanted to choreograph something at Virginia Rep for years,” Oberleitner says. “But every time I’ve discussed it with [director] Chase Kniffen, he says, ‘I’m sure you’d be great but there’s a part in the show that you’d be perfect for.’ I’ve always trusted his judgment so I haven’t been disappointed but I am glad to finally get this chance.”
Oberleitner has picked a heck of a show to choreograph: the musical version of the Christmas classic has a cast of 31 actors, with a wide range of ages and abilities. She has a no-nonsense attitude about getting her job done. “With that many people, you just plow forward,” she says. “I’m very focused; I don’t want to be wasting their time.”
The mother of two landed in Richmond after years working as a dancer and choreographer on numerous cruise ships, a stint on Broadway in the cast of "Urban Cowboy: The Musical," and months traveling with the USO World Tour. Born in New Orleans, she was packed and ready to head back there when Hurricane Katrina hit, scuttling her plans.
Happily settled here now, she is only one of many Broadway caliber professionals associated with the show, included lead actors Duke Lafoon and Andrea Rivette. While not dancers by trade, both have numerous NYC credits and Oberleitner says they make it work. “Duke is not scared of anything,” she says. “And Andrea naturally moves like a dancer.”
It’s a good thing because Oberleitner makes few concessions to those with less dancing experience. “I’m not a fan of dumbing the steps down,” she says. “I make it clear what we’re working toward and, during auditions, I only pick people I know can get there.”
By The Way: Oberleitner may not be on stage in "A Christmas Story," but there are plenty of other opportunities to see her perform. Not only is she is the lead singer of MoneyPenny, a pop rock cover band, but she’s also the founder, producer and director of The Bellini Sisters, a 1940s singing trio that does shows for veterans groups and appearances at special occasions like Flying Squirrels baseball games. She has a day job in the healthcare field, teaches dance at The Dance Space studio, and presumably does not sleep.
Running: Oy, the Christmas shows! Triangle Players’ "Scrooge in Rouge" runs through Dec. 17, "A Christmas Story" until New Year’s Day and "A Tuna Christmas" at Swift Creek Mill doesn’t wrap until Jan. 7.
On Deck: Add "The Charitable Sisterhood Christmas Spectacular" to the list, opening Dec. 2.