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Actresses Ashley Bush and Katie Johnston-Smith

Katie Johnston-Smith

Katie Johnston-Smith

You never know where Italian Americans might lurk in Chicago-area theater, especially if their proud lineage is obscured by a non-Italian last name. But when the subject is love — a matter in which Italians are decidedly fluent– it makes sense that one spunky show has not one, but two Italian-American ladies leading the cast.

“Cupid Has A Heart On: A Musical Guide to Relationships” just celebrated its 10th anniversary. And helping to drive the witty, zesty proceedings are Ashley Bush and Katie Johnston-Smith. Both actresses witness proudly to their Italian ancestry, yet also share a cultural coincidence: They grew up in Pittsburgh, Pa., a hub of vibrant Italian-American heritage.

Johnston-Smith traces her roots to the Lago Maggiore area in Italy, where her paternal great grandmother was born. “I loved growing up with a big supportive Italian family,” she says. “Being Italian gives me lots of permission to be in touch with my emotions and fully commit to any role I embody. My heritage also gives me permission to be a non-skeletal actress because of … Italian food, am I right?”

Ashley Bush

Ashley Bush

And for Bush, the Italian lineage comes from her mother’s side: Her maiden name was Ciccone and her bloodline is Calabrese. “The passion my Italian heritage gives me is a huge asset to my acting career,” she says. “I attribute the ability to emote freely to my Italian family and the way we passionately and dramatically interacted and communicated with one another.”

In “Cupid,” the pair takes on a challenging mix of material. At times raunchy but decidedly sweet, the show combines sharp writing and catchy songs to create a humorous take on relationships, love and life. Johnston-Smith most enjoys bringing ” a sweet nerdy quirkiness to most everything I do onstage. I really enjoy infusing the nerdy quirk into the songs I sing in ‘Cupid.'”

And for Bush, the most enjoyable part of the show “is working with a family. You know every move these people will make on stage and I completely trust them. They make me better on stage and I just love being with them. It’s not work. It’s like hanging out with the most talented, funny friends anyone could have.”

For her that includes Johnston-Smith, who stresses that the feeling is most mutual. “I connect on a great level with Ashley,” she says. “She is so sweet and genuine. Not only is she also Italian, but she’s from Pittsburgh, just like me.”

So how do these Keystone State ladies deliver the goods on stage? Ah, some questions of art, love and lineage are best answered in person. It’s a worthwhile investment if you don’t mind romantic humor with a razor’s edge. Named a “Best Sketch Comedy Group” by the Chicago Reader, “Cupid” also happens to be the longest running sketch comedy show in Chicago history. Who says love doesn’t last forever?

“Cupid Has A Heart On: A Musical Guide to Relationships,” is presented in an open run at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago. Showtime is 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $20 and available at Stage773.com or by calling 773-327-5252. For more information call 773-929-7367.

About Lou Carlozo

Lou Carlozo is award-winning journalist who spent 20 years reporting for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Chicago Tribune. He began writing for Fra Noi in 2007, and claims maternal and paternal southern Italian lineage. The monthly Lou&A columnist and a music reviewer/writer, his work has appeared in Reuters, Aol, The Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor and news outlets around the world. In 1993, he was a Pulitzer Prize team-reporting finalist for his contributions to the Tribune’s “Killing Our Children” series. He resides in Chicago with his wife of 21 years, a hospital chaplain, and their teenage son and daughter.