Nicole Travolta — yes, you do recognize that famous last name — loves visiting Western Pennsylvania and Sewickley in particular. The Lindsay Theater there has been expanding its offerings as a cultural arts center beyond films.
So when Travolta started touring with her one-woman show, “Doing Alright,” about fighting her way back from debt by working at a Los Angeles spray tan salon, it was a perfect fit to bring it to the Lindsay, which will turn its screening room into a comedy stage this Thursday. It is the first East Coast stop for the LA-based comedian and actress, and it follows her appearances at this year’s Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland.
“I have dear friends who live in Pittsburgh who talked about my show,” she explained. “They [the Lindsay] wanted to expand, and these friends brought my show to Carolina’s attention.” The two had a meeting and came to an agreement, Travolta said. “I’ve been to Sewickley a few times. I love it so much. It’s so different than living in LA. It will bring this chaotic story to a different energy.”
Carolina is Carolina Pais-Baretto Thor, the nonprofit organization’s chief executive officer. “While film is our core offering, the theater is a cultural center, serving the region northwest of Pittsburgh. Every time an opportunity arises to offer relevant cultural experiences, we certainly act on it,” Thor explained. “We were fortunate that our networks overlapped, and we were thrilled when Nicole agreed to include The Lindsay in her tour.”
Tickets at $30 have been selling briskly, theater officials said, and those interested are urged to purchase them online to ensure a seat.
According to Travolta’s website, the show is “searing account of life as a compulsive shopper who freed herself from spiraling debt, shame, a messy divorce and the weight of a famous last name by a bizarre real-life journey through the world of spray tanning.” The job surprised her — she loved it. The show includes impressions of some of the eccentric characters she met on the job, as well as some celebrities — “Sex and the City” characters Carrie Bradshaw and Samantha Jones, actors Drew Barrymore and Jennifer Coolidge, and disgraced Theranos leader Elizabeth Holmes.
The show is co-written by Lauren Burns, a main company member of LA’s legendary comedy improv group, The Groundlings. They met when Travolta took classes there and just clicked, she said.
“She really pushed me when I was in class to go further — say more, be more specific. She is the Amy Poehler to my Tina Fey. I cannot put into words how much gratitude I have for this woman,” Travolta said. “She never tried to change me or change my story. It pushed me to be so fearless. She is immensely talented herself. I am sure this show would not be what it is without her. We work very hand-in-hand.”
Her story includes frank discussions about debt, depression, divorce, addiction and female empowerment — all of which Travolta has experienced firsthand. It’s recounted with humor, something she drew on from appearances on sitcoms such as “Anger Management,” “The Middle” and “Two and a Half Men,” improv and comedy classes, and her standup comedy routines. When the pandemic hit, Travolta practiced it all on her social media, complete with wigs and costumes and props.
She started writing the show in early 2022, and Burns helped her premiere it in LA and Las Vegas this year. Then Travolta headed to the Fringe Festival last month for 12 performances there.
What Travolta, who said her “bread and butter was sitcoms,” loves about live work is the energy of the audience. And that escalated to a new level in Scotland, where she performed at the historic Greenside@Riddles Court in its Willow Studio. The 60-seat studio with a thrust stage gave her the ambition to perform for those audiences “as if they were having dinner with me.”
She drew upon her learning “comedic beats” from the sitcom work and the responses from some that included live audiences, but it didn’t prepare her for losing electricity one night, dealing with no air conditioning and hearing cannons going off somewhere near Edinburgh Castle. “I did part of one show in the pitch black,” she said. “The whole experience for me — I found a lot of strengths. I was tested. But it’s the beauty of live theater.”
The Scotland reviews and the LA Times both lauded the honesty that she offers audiences in her show, especially about money issues that are often considered taboo or seldom discussed, especially in regard to women. The reviewers liked the impressions, too, but what resonated with the LA Times critic was how she ended the show abruptly, her debts only partially resolved.
“To end it and say everything is perfect now, that is not the case,” Travolta explained. “I am a work in progress, and I want the audience to feel that way. We are all a work in progress. You work on these things every day. That is part of life, right? If I said I was done, that would be false. Every day I wake up and work on myself. Some days I am doing all right. Some days I am not.”
She is working on taking the tour to New York City in early 2024, probably somewhere off Broadway. Her dream goal would be to bring the show to the screen, maybe turning it into something for HBO Max. “It would be such an interesting, different story we don’t have out there right now,” Travolta said.
As far as those impressions, Travolta started doing those as a kid, much to the delight of her mother and father, who encouraged her. She reconnected with that skill when she started doing improv.
“I really started honing in on it. The celebrities for me are so fun. I always imagine heightening them. It’s not just about nailing the voice. It’s taking them to a new life and living in them a bit,” Travolta explained. “I just started observing, and the Groundlings really helped me with that. I don’t know why I have that vocal range, if I was dropped on my head when I was a kid or what.”
The hype for her show lists the women she mimics, but Travolta has been known to do spot-on male impressions, too, including Hugh Grant and Timothee Chalamet. As far as that famous uncle John? Not yet. “If I would do him in a skit, I would have to go back in the day. It would have to be ‘[Welcome Back] Kotter’ or ‘Grease’ or ‘Saturday Night Fever.’ ”
The comedy show is a one-night exclusive engagement. All tickets are $30, and online reservations are strongly encouraged.