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Penn State Alumna Returns to Campus with National Tour of ‘Jersey Boys’

by and on March 21, 2018 12:00 PM

The U.S. national tour of “Jersey Boys” will make its way to State College next month with two shows in Eisenhower Auditorium on April 17 and 18. Both shows will begin at 7:30 p.m.

“Jersey Boys” tells the story of the Four Seasons, the hit pop rock band of the 1960s and 70s. The four-time Tony award-winning musical features the band’s hit songs and won a Grammy for best musical show album in 2007.

But next month’s on-campus performance will feature a unique Penn State connection in addition to a critically-acclaimed soundtrack. Dianna Barger, who graduated from Penn State with a degree in musical theatre in 2009, will play the role of Francine Valli, Four Seasons lead singer Frankie Valli’s daughter.

Barger discovered her love for theatre in high school through dancing and singing.

“I never really thought of it as something I could do as a career,” she said.

After she performed in her first play, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” and received encouragement from various teachers, she began auditioning for college musical theatre programs across the country.

At first, Barger wanted to study far away from home. The Belle Vernon, Pa., native looked at schools in Michigan and Ohio, but after visiting Penn State, she knew that Happy Valley was the right fit.

“As soon as I auditioned there, I just fell in love with it,” Barger said. “Everyone was so kind, helpful, and informative. It was just a very warm environment that I loved.”

During her time on campus, Barger was featured in musicals including “Merrily We Roll Along,” “The Boyfriend,” and “Big River.” In “Big River,” Barger played a young boy. She said this experience was especially useful — she has since portrayed several child characters in various other productions. Barger said that her roles as a Lost Boy and Jane in the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera production of “Peter Pan” were her favorites so far. Although being able to fly around the stage as a child was an amazing experience for Barger, she hopes to play more adult characters in the future.

Barger said she learned a great deal about the world of theater at Penn State. She cited several classes and professors that gave her the knowledge necessary to act at a professional level.

“They gave me the tools to pull from when I want to build a character or when I want to take notes from the director,” she said, adding that her college training taught her to “be precise on stage.”

But an improved technique wasn’t the only thing Barger built in State College. The emotional support system she gained from friends, classmates, and faculty remain important in her professional career. Barger vividly remembers a particular moment when Dr. Susan Russell, a musical theatre history professor, inspired her to keep working hard during a senior-year slump.

“I remember [Russell] pulling me aside and pointing out to me that I didn’t look like I had the same kind of fire inside of me that I had before,” Barger said. “I just appreciated her pointing that out to me and reminding me why I was there and what I was capable of. That helped propel me into my life after graduation.”

Barger also serves as the dance captain for “Jersey Boys” in addition to her role as Francine Valli. She has been a dance captain in various small shows before, but has never assumed the role in a production as big as the traveling musical. She finds the challenge of having a large responsibility on the road to be the most satisfying part of her job.

She said getting used to the constantly changing venues where her traveling theater company performs was initially “a little bit of a surprise.” The entire “Jersey Boys” cast and crew travels around the country by bus. The group builds its set at each venue, performs for two nights, tears down the set, and then moves on to its next destination.

“You get to test your own level of maturity and expertise when it comes to dealing with all of these challenges,” Barger said. “You get to forge friendships that you wouldn’t normally because you’re under this very difficult schedule.”

You can purchase tickets to see Barger perform in next month’s “Jersey Boys” State College series here.

This post was originally published by the staff at Onward State. Follow Onward State on Twitter @OnwardState.

Jack Bowman is a Penn State student and writer for Onward State.
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