One of the brightest lights to glow in the Seattle Theatre scene the past decade has been Cayman Ilika, a statuesque, raven-haired stunner who first drew attention to herself as Patsy Cline in Centerstage’s Always, Patsy Cline. After that, she rolled onto one great role after another: a searing and torchy Julie LaVerne in Village Theatre’s Show Boat, as well as a practically perfect Mary Poppins; at ACT as one of the trio of Texas gals viewed through decades over friendship in the new musical version of Vanities, and returning there recently as part of a starry local cast in ACT and the 5th Avenue’s co-production of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.
In between these shows and others, she wed her high school sweetheart, Gavriel Jacobs, an honored Marine Corps veteran of the Iraq war, now with the King County Prosecutor’s office. The couple dote on their cherubic three-year-old son Theodore “Teddy” Jacobs, and have Cayman’s parents, Jim and Karen Ilika as both cheerleaders and babysitters.
Cayman, who I have long known and admired, is co-starring now in Centerstage’s Johnny Cash musical Ring of Fire as June Carter Cash, opposite her buddy Jared Michael Brown who plays Johnny. Cayman and I had a lengthy chat about her life, career, family, friends and more.
On Ring of Fire: I play June Carter Cash, but a lot of the show is not a conventional book musical. It’s not like the film I Walk the Line. It’s more a celebration of his music with dramatic interludes. I was cast, and the team at Center Stage knew they had to get the right Johnny Cash. They were able to offer a professional contract, which meant I could suggest Jared Michael Brown be brought in. We had been friends for a while, and always joked about how we’d like to play opposite each other. And now we are and it is so much work, but so much fun. It’s a bit of a drive out to Federal Way, but if people love the Cash songbook, or enjoy Jared, or me, I hope they make the trek.
On Her Roots and Education: I grew up in the Seattle area and attended Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences, but credit Lani Brockman, Kim Maguire, and Susan Bardsley at Studio East for fostering my theatrical passions. I also attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, where I studied Jazz Performance, and figured out pretty quickly Jazz Performance was really not my calling.
On Her Career: I am so grateful to have worked at most of the large and medium-sized professional musical theatres here, and also the smaller houses and community theatres where I got my first opportunities. I was probably the youngest Julie in Show Boat ever, but thankfully the production team saw that I had the chops for it. Patsy Cline, playing her, a legend, when I was so young… how often does that happen?
And Mary Poppins! My son Teddy saw me do it when the family came on a day when a big game was playing in town and we had a tiny crowd. When he first saw me he called out “MAMA” but then not a peep.
Vanities, well what an honor to work on a new musical still in development, and alongside two such talented performers as Billie Wildrick and Jenny Sue Johnson, and get to grow older and examine a character’s life arc.
Lately, Jacques Brel, was such a challenge, and such a wonderful journey. I never dreamed I would get such a response singing material that was so different than what I have done before!
On Her Marriage: Gavriel and I were best friends in high school, and though there was a period where we weren’t as close, I think I always knew we might end up together. It has been an amazing journey so far, so much laughter, so much sorrow with what he went through (becoming an amputee after war injuries and the rehab following), but we have always been there for each other. Now we have this amazing son, Teddy, and I just feel so blessed all the time. And Gavriel really supports my passions for theatre and music. What more could I ask?
On What’s Next: I am going to be playing Sharon, Finian’s daughter, in Finian’s Rainbow for Showtunes, in Concert at Benaroya Hall in March. Opposite (wait for it) Jared Michael Brown! We never got paired in our shows together, and now 2 in a row! And singing the lovely songs like How Are Things in Glocca Morra? and my favorite Old Devil Moon. The show is so charming and funny. Can’t wait to get started on it.
Finally, Cayman’s answers to my Inside the Actors Studio inspired Questionnaire
What is your favorite word? Mellifluous.
What is your least favorite word? Phlegm. For obvious reasons.
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? Empathy.
What turns you off? Intolerance.
What is your favorite curse word? Fuck. Everyone I have ever worked with learned this about me during our first tech week together.
What sound or noise do you love? Teddy (her son) laughing, and an orchestra, starting an overture.
What sound or noise do you hate? A cellphone going off in a theater. Even on vibrate. It makes my blood pressure go up so fast!
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? I’d love to be a travel writer! Rick Steves is one of my heroes.
What profession would you not like to do? Anything involving medicine. I do not do well with blood.
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? You were kind, and you raised a kind, empathetic, feminist son.
Ring of Fire runs Jan. 22-Feb 14, 2016 at Centerstage Theatre Arts Conservatory, 3200 SW Dash Point Rd in Federal Way, WA 98003. Go to centerstagetheatre.com for ticketing and other information.