South Hills natives star in CLO’s ‘Judge Jackie Justice’
For an actor, landing a role often requires a mix of both talent and luck.
The latter certainly came into play for Kara Mikula, who plays the part of Judge Jackie in Pittsburgh CLO’s world premiere of “Judge Jackie Justice - A New Musical Comedy.”
“The weekend I was supposed to fly into Pittsburgh for my audition for Judge Jackie, I was summoned to jury duty in New York City,” explained the Upper St. Clair alum. “I couldn’t believe it ... there I am with this huge audition and a flight booked, and I’m going to get stuck on a jury and miss the whole thing.”
But, Mikula had to go, and her name was called with the first group to take a juror seat. “So, the judge starts to question us and I tell him that I have a big audition in Pittsburgh that I would really love to go to. Surprisingly, the judge excuses me from jury duty completely! I come to Pittsburgh and book the job as the Judge herself!”
Mikula describes “Judge Jackie Justice” as “‘People’s Court’ meets ‘Jerry Springer’ ... kind of.” She said the show, which includes zombies, furries, spaceships, teen pop stars and more, “Isn’t based on any pre-existing reality courtroom show, but does pay homage to a variety of reality shows.”
“Jackie is a tough cookie and tells it like it is – a no-nonsense, witty, powerful judge and the biggest star on daytime television,” explained Mikula of her character. She said the audience will “laugh until they cry,” and that those sitting in the front row will most likely be in the show as there is “a ton of audience participation.”
Also starring in “Judge Jackie Justice” as Henry is Whitehall native but soon-to-be Bethel Park resident Jason Coll. A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama, Coll agrees that the comedy has its Jerry Springer moments, but said, “at its heart, it’s a story about love.
“I play the bailiff, who is secretly in love with Judge Jackie, but battles his own insecurities throughout the show and serves in many ways as a grounding element to the musical.” Coll said that compared to the other zany, off-the-wall characters, Henry is more introverted and observational. “I think the audience will relate to him in a lot of ways and root for him to win the girl, but she’s a tough nut to crack.”
Both Mikula and Coll took a liking to the stage at an early age.
“I did all of the school plays in elementary and middle school,” said Mikula, who holds a bachelor of arts in musical theater from Point Park University. One of her favorite roles was that of the Troll in “Billy Goat’s Gruff.” At the age of 3, she began learning the violin, piano and dance, but it was in seventh grade, when she landed the title role in “Annie” at school, that she realized she belonged on stage. “I was a straight ‘A’ student all throughout high school and could have chosen a career in math or sciences, but I couldn’t imagine doing anything other than performing.”
“I’ve always enjoyed entertaining people, and began playing piano pretty young. That evolved into acting and writing,” said Coll, who has also produced and directed. “Because I’ve been on both sides of the stage, I’m not as fearful anymore as an actor, and I think after this show I will have an even better understanding of the actor’s experience and needs when I work as a writer and director.”
Coll honed his musical theater composition skills at the BMI Musical Theater Workshop in New York City and his dramatic writing skills in UCLA’s Professional Program in Screenwriting.
Mikula currently lives in NYC while pursuing her Broadway dream. When not performing, she teaches voice lessons to children. One of her most memorable roles, she said, was Ethel Toffelmier in “The Music Man” at Kansas City Starlight. “It was my first professional gig and I got to share the stage with a cast full of Broadway veterans,” said Mikula. “It was an amazing experience – incredibly hot, though – 115 degrees in full period costumes. It was rough!” She also loves doing children’s theater, and has performed in many shows at the Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven, N.J.
Coll has turned his love of theater into a business. Frog Prince Creative, he explained, produces events for corporations and nonprofits that put on award shows, conventions, annual meetings and galas. “We add the magic and theatricality to the event, bumping up the production values and energizing the guests about the company’s brand or message.”
He credits a first grade production of “The Frog Prince” with helping him to come up with his company’s name. “I was the frog prince, and when the curtain opened, a classmate dressed as a raccoon vomited all over the stage. The butterfly next to him saw that and vomited out into the audience and our teacher yanked the curtain closed,” said Coll of his first time on stage. “The story makes me laugh every time I think of it, so I named my company after that unforgettable episode.”
Other memorable roles for Coll have included Orphan in “Celebration,” Hero in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and The Ziegfeld Tenor in “Funny Girl.” He has served as the associate artistic director for the CLO Cabaret, had six of his musicals produced by Pittsburgh CLO, and wrote and produced two original television pilots, “Write On!” and “Munhall.” CLO directing credits include “A Musical Christmas Carol” and “The Big Band.” Coll also serves as music director at St. Sylvester Parish.
Coll is currently writing a theater piece about Andy Warhol, and enjoys spending his free time with his wife, Lisa, and children, Liam, 5, and Karina, 2. “I just love watching them grow into little independent people. They’re everything to me.”
With audition season just beginning, Mikula will be busy, juggling auditions in NYC and her role as Judge Jackie. In her free time, she enjoys ‘Downton Abbey” and anything on PBS, a good massage and playing the piano. She said face-timing with her parents, two sister and nephew, who all now live in Charlotte, N.C., is “the highlight of my day.” Her all-time favorite role to date is that of “Aunt Kara” to her new nephew, who, Mikula said, she will be “happy to spend countless hours in Charlotte with” if nothing comes her way for a while.
She added, “I’d like to give a big ‘thank you!’ to that NYC judge for helping me to book this job of a lifetime!”
“Judge Jackie Justice” runs Jan. 30-April 27 at the Cabaret at Theater Square in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District. For performance times and to order tickets, visit CLOCabaret.com.