Matthew Reddin

“A Chorus Line” brings a former Milwaukeean home

Mary Leigh Christine, originally of Racine and Milwaukee, plays a hopeful performer chasing her dreams – on and off stage.

By - Jan 2nd, 2013 04:00 am

Mary Leigh Christine, a NYC-based actor originally from Milwaukee, plays the role of Tricia in the touring production of “A Chorus Line,” coming to the Milwaukee Theatre this weekend.

The question that drives A Chorus Line is simple: Why did you start dancing? Insert the appropriate medium – acting, singing, painting, writing – and it’s the integral question for any artist.

Former Milwaukeean Mary Leigh Christine, a member of the show’s touring ensemble coming to the Milwaukee Theatre this weekend, can’t remember a time when dancing and acting weren’t her dreams.

Her parents were both theater people themselves, which helped ­– Christine recalls traveling about the country with them and even being on stage as a child – but as early as elementary school in her hometown of Racine, she began dance and singing lessons, and hasn’t strayed since. “It’s the only thing I’ve ever tried to be good at,” she says.

Thus far, that trying has led her from theater and dance scholarships for Milwaukee’s Pius XI High School and a full theater scholarship at Viterbo University in La Crosse to relocating to New York and this national tour. Christine plays Tricia, one of the first dancers cut in A Chorus Line, a musical about a group of veteran dancers trying to snag one of the few spots open in the chorus of an upcoming show.

The dancers’ plight is one Christine, and the multitude of performers like her, face on a daily basis. “Auditioning is the job,” she says. “Performing is just the icing on the cake. That’s why A Chorus Line is so timeless – because that’s how it’s been and that’s how it’s always going to be.”

It’s a truism that made Christine’s audition for A Chorus Line almost a too-perfect practice for the role, with one big difference: The real-life audition was successful.

To say it came at a good time is an understatement. When Christine first arrived in New York in 2010, she got a gig quick: an ensemble role in A Christmas Carol at the highly acclaimed McCarter Theatre in Princeton, N.J. It was a coup for someone so new to NYC, and Christine remembers walking out of the experience feeling like she was on a roll, ready to win her next part. She didn’t get another job for 18 months, when she made it through the open call audition for the Chorus Line tour.

Telling the story now, Christine admits the long stretch was harrowing, but it had the side effect of proving she was willing to struggle for her career. After A Chorus Line, she hopes having a national tour on her résumé will help open doors to her back in New York – or at least shorten the time between jobs.

The experience itself will help too – a hectic one, with most of the tour’s time spent performing, preparing or busing from one city to the next. Added into the mix are Christine’s duties as an understudy (she’s a potential stand-in for three major roles). She’s gotten to go on a few times, including a longer stretch earlier in the run after an actor left the show, but says the experience isn’t fun until the second or third time with a part – before then, the pressure to get everything just right is too stressful for an actor to enjoy.

Whatever role she ends up portraying in her two nights at the Milwaukee Theatre, she says she’ll be glad to give Milwaukee friends and family a chance to see her before she gets back on the road – a road leading her back to New York, and whatever lies on the other side of all the auditions yet to come.

A Chorus Line runs at the Milwaukee Theatre Jan. 4 and 5, with Friday’s show at 7:30 and Saturday’s at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $38 to $68 and can be ordered online at Ticketmaster. 

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