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Cactus Flower - Off-Broadway

Maxwell Caulfield and Lois Robbins star in the off-Broadway revival of Abe Burrows' comedy.

Jenni Barber on the Fun of Playing a '60s Free Spirit in Cactus Flower

Jenni Barber on the Fun of Playing a '60s Free Spirit in Cactus Flower
Jenni Barber at Vynl photographed by Jenny Anderson for Broadway.com
My parents raised me on a diet of Woody Allen, Judy Holliday, Gilbert & Sullivan and the Muppets.

Age and Hometown: 27; Mansfield, Ohio

Current Role: Toni Simmons, a kooky record store clerk involved in a tangled relationship with a much older man (Maxwell Caulfield) in the off-Broadway revival of Abe Burrows’ 1965 comedy Cactus Flower.

Michigan Mafia: Her current starring role brings Barber full circle: She first stepped onto the Westside Theatre stage five years ago at a senior showcase for the University of Michigan’s mighty musical theater department. Within months, the bubbly actress was on the road as Olive in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, later debuting on Broadway in the show’s final months. “We had fantastic training,” Barber says of her alma mater, citing Adelaide in Guys and Dolls as “the role that made everything click” on her road to becoming a comic actress. “My parents raised me on a diet of Woody Allen, Judy Holliday, Gilbert & Sullivan and the Muppets,” she adds with a laugh.

World Traveler: Barber spent most of 2010 circling the globe with Sam Mendes’ Bridge Project, debuting productions of As You Like It and The Tempest at BAM before stops in Hong Kong, Singapore, Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam, Recklinghausen, Germany, and London’s Old Vic. “I never had the finances to travel,” she says, “and here I was, getting paid to do it and performing Shakespeare with people who became my dearest friends. I felt like I hit the jackpot.” Barber’s husband of four years, an Atlantic Records studio manager, encouraged her to go: “We’ve had a long-distance relationship with my work anyway, so we Skyped and he visited me in Madrid and London. He was like, ‘I love your job!’”

Toni Time: As a kid, Barber watched the movie of Cactus Flower with her mom, marveling at her comedy idol Goldie Hawn's Oscar-winning performance as Toni. “Goldie was so adorable in her little skirt, standing on the ladder of the record shop,” she recalls. Now it's Barber's turn to be adorable, outfitted in a wardrobe of mod minis as she navigates a comic romance with Maxwell Caulfield. It helps, she says with a laugh, that she didn't have an intimate knowledge of her co-star's previous work. “I had seen Grease 2 and Empire Records, but I wasn’t part of that cult following. My friends were like, ‘Cool Rider! Rex Manning!’ I thought, ‘Maybe I should watch these again—but after we finish the show, so Maxwell won’t have to be worried about me.”

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