Milwaukee's Mary Leigh Christine comes home in "A Chorus Line"
Stop me if you've heard this one before.
Young girl who dazzled in her high school and college plays and musicals finally thinks she has what it takes and moves to the big city. She gets an apartment on Staten Island just 15 minutes away from Broadway.
For 18 months she goes to one audition after another, but nobody calls her number.
And finally, just as we are all about to give up on her, she lands a spot in a national tour that will take her back to her hometown.
If it sounds like tired old fiction, forget it. It's really the latest chapters in the life of Mary Leigh Christine, late of Milwaukee's Pius XI High School and an itty-bitty college hardly anybody ever heard of in western Wisconsin along the banks of the Mississippi River.
Christine, who is 25, is coming to the Milwaukee Theatre and singing the opening number "I Really Need This Job" as the venerable chestnut "A Chorus Line" comes to Milwaukee for two nights Jan. 4-5.
This play, a Tony Award juggernaut and a Pulitzer Prize winner, is almost 40 years old, but the story of trying, against all odds, to get a chance to do what you love, continues to resonate. Just ask Christine.
"I grew up all over and then we settled in Racine," she said by phone from Manhattan. "I got a scholarship to Pius High School and then went off to Viterbo College. I moved to New York in 2010."
She had a couple of jobs, but then went 18 months without getting a nod.
"And then this," she said. "It's truly amazing."
Now, Viterbo College, which is this tiny college in La Crosse, is hardly the pathway for a musical theater star to take. But it suited her just fine. She got to do lots of different things and she met her fiance, who manages what she called a "high-level club and bar and billiards club in Manhattan." They are getting married after the tour ends in March.
Christine was 5 years old and living in Hawaii when she first stepped on a stage.
"It was a production where I had to play a jester," she said. "My mom would go over my lines with me. Once I stepped on stage, I was hooked. Forever."
Christine studied with Milwaukee's Diane Lane, a wonderful singer and world-class vocal coach. And Lane, who knows a thing or two about this business, knew there was something special about this girl.
"I remember high school-aged Mary Leigh already being what professional performers need to be: tenacious, fearless, eager," Lane said. "She was also deeply talented, but it was her courage that gave me confidence she could make her way in the ultra-competitive music theater world."
Ultra-competitive doesn't begin to describe the career path Christine has chosen. And she understands the work involved.
"Half the battle is to show up. You have to show up. They can't hire you if they don't see you."
She's just 25. She still says "ya know" in every other sentence. But she has already landed a national tour, something that lots of singers and dancers never get. This is just her second professional job.
Friends and relatives are sure to turn out in big numbers to welcome her home after the first of the year.
"I can't wait to see all of them," she said.
Christine and the rest of the show will be in Milwaukee for two performances, Friday, Jan. 4 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Jan. 5 at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased online, via Ticketmaster.com or at the Milwaukee Theatre box office.
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