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Liza? No, Steffi!

Musical theatre performer looks, acts like Minnelli, hopes to play her one day

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Life is a cabaret for musical theatre performer Steffi Didomenicantonio.

"At least once a day someone will tell me I look like Liza Minnelli," says Didomenicantonio. "It just became constant, on the street or at a restaurant. The joke is that I know what I will look like when I'm 50."

At 23, with her raven-coloured Liza bangs and large dark eyes rimmed with thick eyelashes, the Ottawa native is a dead ringer for the young Minnelli, who starred in The Sterile Cuckoo at the same age and earned her first Oscar nomination.

Didomenicantonio also shares some of the same personality traits -- she's adorable, talkative and full of bounce -- that emerge as she chats about her appearance in the Winnipeg Studio Theatre production of Rooms: A Rock Romance.

She first came to public attention as a 17-year-old finalist on TV's Canadian Idol in 2006 (she finished fifth). It was then that people began noticing her resemblance to Judy Garland's famous daughter. The budding triple threat knew Minnelli was considered a show-biz icon but she didn't really understand why until she was introduced to the musical movie Cabaret, in which Minnelli left her indelible mark as bohemian chanteuse Sally Bowles.

"It made me want to follow in her footsteps," says the bubbly singer/actor, who went by the easier-to-pronounce moniker Steffi Di during her Canadian Idol run. "My ultimate plan in life is to play Liza Minnelli in a biopic. I'm waiting for it. I have to make sure they ask me first."

Until then, she will have to make do with fate throwing Minnelli in her path. In a soon-to-be-released Canadian horror movie musical called Stage Fright -- starring Minnie Driver and Meatloaf -- she portrays a young musical-theatre camp-goer obsessed with Minnelli.

When she read the script for Rooms, a relatively new musical penned in 2005 by the husband-and-wife team of Paul Scott Goodman and Miriam Gordon, she was floored that it included a reference to Meatloaf, involved a talent show and featured a scene where her character, Monica, does a Minnelli impression.

"You should have seen my face when I read all that in the script," she says.

Rooms is the story of Monica, a superstar wannabe looking for someone to write music for her songs in late-'70s Glasgow. She finds Ian, a reclusive rocker, and the two quickly begin to make sweet music -- and love. They win a talent contest that takes them to London, where they fall into the burgeoning punk and rock scenes. The success of their professional partnership strains their personal relationship.

"I see a lot of myself in Monica," says Didomenicantonio, who followed up her Canadian Idol run by being cast in a North American tour of the rock musical Spring Awakening. "I was 19 when I went to New York for my callback for Spring Awakening. Nothing scared me. Monica is like that. She's so driven. I was like that."

Didomenicantonio finished high school after Canadian Idol and went to George Brown College Theatre School for stage training. That was interrupted by Spring Awakening, in which she toured as Ilse for more than two years, in 45 cities and over 600 performances.

"It was the school of life for me," says Didomenicantonio, who made an impressive Winnipeg debut last season in Next to Normal at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre. "I didn't go back to the school after the tour. It was my coming of age."

She had been preparing for a stage career since the age of seven, sure it was the only life for her. But her plan to break into theatre was suddenly put on hold by Canadian Idol, where her powerful personality charmed the voting viewers. Prior to her first audition she had never sung a pop song.

"I kind of discovered a part of me I didn't know I had," says Didomenicantonio, who has her own folk-pop band called Good Together with fellow Idol contestant Chad Doucette. "I know there is some negativity surrounding some of those talent shows. I had nothing but a wonderful experience."

Monica in Rooms marks her first lead role -- and with only one other actor (Tim Porter) onstage (along with a five-member band) she shoulders more of the responsibility for the musical's success.

"This is exactly the kind of work I want to be doing,' she says. "This show is one of the hardest I've done. If I can do this, I can do anything."

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 2, 2013 C9

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