Greta Oglesby let her visitors in the back door of the Capri Theater, parked her purse in the sound-and-lighting booth and then turned on the stage lights. She sure acted like she owns the place.
Come Saturday and Sunday, Oglesby will own that stage with her first headline concerts in the Twin Cities.
It's about time. She is probably the best singer in town you've never heard -- unless you saw "Caroline, or Change" at the Guthrie, "Black Nativity" at Penumbra or "Five Fingers of Funk" at Children's Theatre.
Oglesby has been wowing theater audiences since she arrived in the Twin Cities in 2000. Why has it taken her so long to land a solo concert? No promoter or presenter asked. And she doesn't have a music agent or manager to campaign for her.
"I'm not one to toot my own horn," Oglesby said last week at the Capri. "I don't go knocking on doors: 'Can I sing in your venue?' This is actually new for me because I'm a theater artist who happens to sing."
For starters, she's too busy with theater work. Take this winter: From Dec. 27 to March 27, she starred in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" in Louisville (her father just moved there) and then in Milwaukee. The day she returned to the Twin Cities, she had a rehearsal for "The Gospel According to Jerry" (a two-person play with lots of dialogue), which opens April 16 at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre. She begins rehearsals for another Guthrie play ("In the Red and Brown Water") while she's performing "Jerry." And, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, she teaches theater to high school students at the Plymouth Christian Youth Center, which does own the Capri Theater in north Minneapolis. (They'll present a play in late May.)
Oh, she'll also manage to squeeze in two rehearsals for her concert with pianist Sanford Moore. But she's not worried about the solo show.
"I'm not so crazy, because the songs that I've chosen, I know them very well," said Oglesby, who will do separate sets of gospel and Broadway tunes. "Sanford has played almost all of them with me before."
Actually, she's done at least four such shows with Moore in Oregon, where she is a cast member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She's officially on leave from that company because she has too many other stage obligations. It's a good thing that her two kids are in their 20s and her minister husband, Dennis, has his own full schedule.
Even a career in accounting -- Oglesby worked for the city of Chicago for 14 years -- didn't quite prepare her for all this schedule juggling. A late bloomer in showbiz who caught the theater bug in 1992, the lifelong church singer is a self-taught vocalist and actress. With Moore, she has worked up four types of concert repertoire -- gospel, Broadway, blues and jazz. The duo made a recording in Oregon, "Greta Oglesby Live at the Black Swan," which will be available at the Capri.
Reprise of 'Lot's Wife'
Of course, any Oglesby concert must include "Lot's Wife" from "Caroline, or Change." Her emotionally numbing rendition is so stunning that she was invited last year to perform it at New York's Lincoln Center for an all-star tribute to Broadway composer Jeanine Tesori.
"I never, ever thought I would ever want to sing that song again in my life, because it's so taxing emotionally and vocally," Oglesby said with a sigh. "I thought, 'When I've finished that show, I'm done with that song.' But it's a song I've so grown to love."
For her Capri concert, Oglesby will wear outfits rented from the Guthrie. "I'm not going to find what I need at Macy's," she explained. "Because I need like a robe with a train on it."
Given that she's appeared at the Guthrie, wouldn't it seem logical that she perform a concert there?
"I'd love that," she said, then put her hand to her ear, mimicking a phone. "Let me call Joe Dowling."
She said someone asked if the Dakota Jazz Club might be a better setting for her debut. No, she said: "At the Dakota, they're eating and drinking and talking. I love more of a captive audience. I like that my debut is here at the Capri."
Plus, she practically owns the place.