‘The Rise and Fall of Little Voice’ coming to the Walnut

Den­ise Whelan

Even though it was years ago, Den­ise Whelan still re­calls her en­thu­si­asm when she saw the film ver­sion of the play titled The Rise and Fall of Little Voice.

“I re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘This is a little gem!’ I loved it!” said the Am­bler act­ress.

That “little gem” premiered in Lon­don in 1992, then two years later, went on Broad­way. It’s won the Olivi­er Award for Best Com­edy. The film ver­sion was re­leased in 1998 and earned an Oscar nom­in­a­tion.

Now the Wal­nut Street Theatre is giv­ing the play new life as part of its In­de­pend­ence Stu­dio on 3 sea­son. This per­form­ance space is much smal­ler than the down­stairs main stage, and the plays presen­ted here are es­pe­cially suited to this in­tim­ate space.

Whelan plays the role of the moth­er of Little Voice. She was de­lighted to land this role. Little Voice, played by El­lie Mooney, is a shy girl who loves to sing and spends time in her room, singing along to her late fath­er’s re­cord col­lec­tion and im­per­son­at­ing his fa­vor­ite sing­ers. While Little Voice is shy and re­clus­ive, her moth­er is any­thing but.

“She says whatever’s on her mind, without re­gard to wheth­er it hurts any­one,” said Whelan of her char­ac­ter. “She does what she wants to make her­self feel good.”

Dir­ect­ing the cast is Dan Olmstead, who’s been in nu­mer­ous Wal­nut pro­duc­tions — as an act­or. This play marks his de­but as dir­ect­or.

”He’s won­der­ful,” said Whelan. “Be­cause he’s an act­or, he speaks ‘act­or’s lan­guage.’ He knows how to dir­ect the cast to get what he needs.”

Of the cast of six, Whelan has worked pre­vi­ously with all but one.

“Dan as­sembled a cast that is really right for the roles, and they’re great to work with,” said Whelan.

She con­fesses that she was some­what in­tim­id­ated when she first read the script.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God! I’m on every single page!’ ”

In­deed, dur­ing the two-act play, she’s in al­most every scene. Some of these take place in a gritty nightclub, where Whelan is seated on a bar stool, be­com­ing in­tox­ic­ated.  

“In some scenes, she talks non­stop and doesn’t real­ize what she’s say­ing or who she’s hurt­ing. And in some scenes, she’s shout­ing or scream­ing,” said the act­ress.

Whelan has en­joyed per­form­ing in many Wal­nut Main Stage pro­duc­tions, of­ten in mu­sic­als where she’s belted out show-stop­ping so­los. Her first lead­ing role at the Wal­nut was as Al­donza in Man of La Man­cha. Oth­er fa­vor­ite Wal­nut roles in­clude Velma in Hair­spray, Molly Mol­loy in Windy City and Yente in Fid­dler on the Roof and Jean in Good People last sea­son.

Whelan earned a Bar­ry­more nom­in­a­tion for her role as the beg­gar wo­man in the Ar­den Theatre Com­pany pro­duc­tion of Sweeney Todd and was also nom­in­ated for a Broad­way­World.com award for Best Act­ress in a Mu­sic­al for her por­tray­al of Norma Des­mond in the Fulton Theatre pro­duc­tion of Sun­set Boulevard.

Al­ways eager to test her­self, Whelan is pleased to take on her new­est role as the moth­er in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice.

“It’s a very chal­len­ging role,” she said. “It’s pushed me out of my com­fort zone, which is al­ways good.” ••

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice opens this Thursday, March 27, and con­tin­ues through April 13. Tick­ets ($30-$40) by phone at 215-574-3550 or on­line at www.Wal­nut­StreetTheatre­org or Tick­et­mas­ter.

You can reach at rrovner@aol.com.

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