Lawrence native takes break from Broadway to play in KC show

It's funny how notoriety comes about.

Lawrence native Jane Bodle has been belting out show tunes and playing leading ladies on Broadway for 20 years. But these are the lines she's been getting the most calls from her friends about the last few months:

"Are you deadheading?"

"Are you my deadhead to Miami?"

"You're a little late, but I've got a jump seat open."

And so goes Bodle's less-than-glamorous conversation with Hollywood heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio in "Catch Me If You Can," Steven Spielberg's fast-paced flick about the life of con man Frank Abagnale Jr.

For all of about 30 seconds, Bodle banters with DiCaprio from behind an airline ticket counter as he tries to pass himself off as a pilot "deadheading," or hitching a free ride to Miami. He succeeds.

"And I giggle like a middle-aged moron," Bodle said, rolling her eyes.

But it was an entertaining break from her hectic New York stage life and another credit on a resume that includes such noteworthy stints as Fantine in "Les Miserables," Ellen in "Miss Saigon," Betty Schaeffer in "Sunset Boulevard" and Maggie in "A Chorus Line."

This month, Bodle is wielding her talents much closer to her hometown.

Until closing curtain on Feb. 23, the 1977 Lawrence High School graduate is playing the saintly Sarah Brown in Missouri Repertory Theater's production of "Guys and Dolls."

What: "Guys and Dolls" When: 2 p.m. today, 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Feb. 23. Where: University of Missouri-Kansas City Center for Performing Arts, 4949 Cherry St., Kansas City, Mo. Tickets: $10-$47. Call (816) 235-2700 or visit www.MissouriRep.org.

"It's so fun," she said Monday, her only day off from the show. "It's one of the best of the old-fashioned musicals."

Shy girl

Of course, old-fashioned doesn't equal lame. High-stakes gambling, steamy nightclubs and even steamier nights in Havana, Cuba, fill out the tale based on Kansas native Damon Runyon's stories about the shady characters of New York City's Times Square and Broadway.

Bodle's character, a pure-at-heart Save-A-Soul mission worker who gets sucked into the excitement, is typical of the women Bodle plays.

She's been described as the "girl next door with an edge," she said. "Basically, I sing and cry at the same time a lot."

The fact that she's performing for audiences at all might come as a shock to people who knew her as a shy girl growing up in Lawrence.

"Nobody ever thought I would have the courage to actually stand up in front of people," she said. "Maybe that's why I had to do it -- to prove them wrong. One thing I was good at is just putting my mind to something and working hard at it. You have to motivate yourself in this business."

Bodle played the harp in school and sang in the church choir. Acting wasn't really her thing, but she wanted to be a ballerina. So after graduation, she packed up and moved to the southwest, where she joined the dance program at the University of Utah.

Two years into her training, a company touring "A Chorus Line" came through town and took Bodle when it left. She was 20. She auditioned on a lark.

"It got me to New York," she said.

Maintaining sense of self

From there, she did "Cats" for 3 1/2 years, her longest run with any single show. Mustering the energy to deliver knock out performances night after night can be "a grind," she said, but the theater district is an exciting place to be.

Her time there has taught her at least one lesson that she would want aspiring performers to keep in mind.

"The hardest thing, but the most important thing, is to not lose your individuality, your uniqueness, your sense of self," she said. "The truth is, you're hired because of who you are."

Bodle must have some appeal because she's rarely been without work. She's pleased that her latest gig has brought her so close to her home and family. Her parents and four siblings all live in the area.

"I love Lawrence. It was a great place to grow up," she said, noting that the big city seems to suit her better. "My motor runs a little bit fast."

But don't be fooled. At heart, she's still shy. You'd just never know it by watching her on stage.

"It's much easier for me to be somebody else. The moment the lights go down, it's your own little make-believe world," she said. "I go through phases when I get frustrated with the business aspects of it. But when I'm working, I love the work."

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