SALT LAKE CITY — Don’t tell Leenya Rideout she can’t do something, because she has a knack of proving skeptics wrong.
As a student at the University of Colorado, Rideout was a voice performance major and a violin minor, also fitting in as many acting and dancing classes as she could.
“Professors told me, ‘You need to choose one; you can’t do everything,’” Rideout recalled. “For good or for bad, when people tell me that, I think, ‘Watch me.’”
That determination has landed this self-described jack-of-all-trades a handful of roles in Broadway and Off-Broadway productions, including parts that require more than professional-quality singing, acting and dancing.
In Pioneer Theatre Company’s upcoming production of “Cowgirls,” Rideout, who plays Jo, and the other stars will not only showcase their skills as triple threats, but they will also be playing their own instruments onstage.
For Rideout, who has also worked as a puppeteer in Broadway’s “War Horse” and as an actor-musician in the 2006 Broadway revival of “Company,” the process of learning a new talent is becoming more and more common.
“Once you start learning how to practice and multitask, you can learn how to perfect a technique quickly,” she said.
Director Karen Azenberg said “Cowgirls” is one of her favorite shows because audiences are charmed by the story and because it requires extraordinarily skilled actors.
“It’s a musical, but there’s no sound coming out of the orchestra pit — it’s all onstage,” she said. “The actors are their own orchestra, and sometimes the notes they’re playing aren’t the notes they’re singing.”
Besides the performing prowess a production such as this takes, this musical also boasts an all-female, all-Actors’ Equity Association cast and, in addition to director Azenberg, a female musical director and female stage manager.
“One of the themes of the show is women who support each other and are excited by other women’s triumphs,” Azenberg said. “Like the show, our cast is all about working together to be successful.”
Rideout said it would be easy for someone to assume the storyline is like a chick flick, but she thinks the plot is even stronger because there’s not a love story.
“The musical has a lot of real, fleshed-out characters. Everyone can relate to someone in this show,” she said. “It’s been a collaborative, positive and creative process — and no one in this cast is worried about breaking a nail.”
Set in Kansas, “Cowgirls” follows no-nonsense Jo, who is desperate to save her father’s honky-tonk. She thinks she has figured everything out by booking a country group, but when a trio of classical musicians arrives, her last-ditch effort gets a little more complicated.
“Showing these classical musicians learning to become country musicians within 24 hours is pretty hilarious,” said Rideout, who plays the guitar, piano and mandolin in the production. “As a classically trained musician, I know what it’s like to straddle those two worlds.”
The comedy is meant to be fun, but it’s not frivolous, Azenberg said.
“It’s a traditional musical with all of these bonus features,” she said. “There’s a little bit for everyone. It isn’t for just one type of demographic; you can bring your kids, friends or spouse.”
Rideout added, “You’ll be surprised at the stories you relate to. I haven’t seen many comedies that are hilarious and also earn the touching moments. It’s hard to find that balance.”
Content advisory: Mild language. According to the theater's website, "'Cowgirls' is suitable for all general audiences, including children ages 10 and older. Younger children should attend at a parent’s discretion."
If you go ...
Where: Pioneer Theatre Company, 300 S. 1400 East, Salt Lake City
When: March 25-April 9; Mondays through Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturday matinees, 2 p.m.
How much: $40-$62; $5 more day of show
Emily Edmonds is an online communications instructor for BYU-Idaho. She is the former editor of BYU's Marriott Alumni Magazine. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's in mass communications from BYU.