At her Pennsylvania high school -- where they luckily did a Broadway musical each spring -- Jana Robbins was cast as Nellie Forbush in "South Pacific" her junior year and played Eliza Doolittle her senior year in "My Fair Lady," helping to support and solidify her love of theater.
"I loved expressing myself and sharing my talent and received a great deal of encouragement from my family," said this year's Okoboji Summer Theatre's artistic director. "By the time I was ready to attend college, I knew that I wanted to major in theater so that I could perfect my craft, grow as a human being and pursue my career at the Broadway level."
Robbins chose Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., which has owned and operated the Okoboji Summer Theatre since 1957.
"My parents and especially my mother were my biggest supporters," she said. "They paid for me to attend Stephens and underwrote my move to New York until I landed my first job."
Robbins' first show on Broadway was "Good News," starring John Payne and Alice Faye, where she played Patricia Bingham, the Sorority Queen. Other Broadway shows followed including the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Crimes of the Heart," in which she played Lenny one year after the play won the prize.
The president of Stephens College asked Robbins to be the artistic director of the theater this summer.
"I was extremely honored and leaped at the opportunity to return to my roots, to the summer theater that nurtured my dreams and my career," she said. "I'm thrilled to be able to share the knowledge and experience I have gained in working in the regional theaters, off- and on Broadway with the seniors who will be starting their careers -- just as I did -- when they leave 'Boji.'"
Robbins recently played the title role in "The Drowsy Chaperone" for the Human Race Theater Company as part of the Victoria Theater's Broadway Series.
"I have been lucky to have a number of memorable roles, so it would be hard to choose my favorite," she admitted. "Playing Aldonza in The National Company of 'Man of La Mancha' opposite Jose Ferrer at 21, just one year after graduating from Stephens. Playing Lenny in 'Crimes of the Heart' on Broadway one year after it won the Pulitzer Prize. Standing by for Tyne Daly on Broadway as Mama Rose in 'Gypsy' and getting to star in the show for a whole week when she took a vacation. Those are three big ones in my mind. but I'm also looking forward to being on stage at Boji again in 'The Last Romance.'"
"Crimes of the Heart" is one of the two plays Robbins will direct this summer.
"I LOVE directing," she insisted. "It's being part of the whole -- not just your own role -- and helping to guide others to being better than they ever imagined that they could be."
Robbins directed "Crimes" at Stephens in 1985. Her other directorial undertaking will be the musical "Little Women," which she produced on Broadway and directed on the Stephens campus just three years ago.
"Randall Wreghitt, my late producing partner on "Little Women," who passed away a year ago, is from Iowa," she said. "I dedicate my first season as OST artistic director and this production of 'Little Women' in his memory."