Diana (Jodi Leong, center) sings "Nothing" in the Castle Performing Arts Center production of "A Chorus Line."

Getting that
‘Chorus Line’ feel

Yvette Ortega-Garrison can relate
to her character’s caginess


Friday, July 29, 2005

» Karen Meyer is the director of the Castle Performing Arts Center, and Ronald Bright is the director of "A Chorus Line." Their titles were reversed in a story in the July 21-24 Weekend magazine.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin strives to make its news report fair and accurate. If you have a question or comment about news coverage, call Editor Frank Bridgewater at 529-4791 or email him at corrections@starbulletin.com.

Even after years of performing in front of an audience, some entertainers still get an occasional attack of the butterflies. For actress Yvette Ortega-Garrison, sweaty palms and nervousness come during auditions, tense experiences which correlate perfectly to the plot of "A Chorus Line," the latest production at the Castle Performing Arts Center.

A singular sensation on stage

Castle Performing Arts Center presents "A Chorus Line"

Where: Ron E. Bright Theatre, Castle High School

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 7

Tickets: $20 general and $15 for seniors and students (due to mature subject matter and strong language, this show is not recommended for children)

Call: 233-5626

The musical, which centers around the lives of 18 hopefuls at an audition, is based upon taped interviews with real-life "gypsies" (chorus dancers) about their audition experiences and careers in dance. "A Chorus Line" won Tony awards for best musical and best musical score in 1975 for its frank talk, strong choreography and musical hits like "One."

Winning a total of nine Tonys in its first year, as well as a Pulitzer Prize for drama the same year, "A Chorus Line" continued on for 6,137 performances on Broadway before closing in 1990.

Ortega-Garrison is an architect by trade, but dancing, singing and acting has been a passion of hers since she was 7. Now she plays Sheila Bryant, the jaded sexpot who feels she's past her prime in the musical.

"Sheila ... Sheila is a Las Vegas dancer," said Ortega-Garrison of her role with a smile. "She's an old hat with thick skin. Sheila is playful and sarcastic. She is tough because of the business, but she is also a touch vulnerable because of getting rejected at auditions."

It was Sheila's cagey attitude that drew Ortega-Garrison to the role, made famous on Broadway by such stars as Bebe Neuwirth and Kelly Bishop ("Gilmore Girls"), who won a Tony for her role back in '75.

Ortega-Garrison finds the biggest difficulty of understanding her strong-minded character is in staying true to Sheila.

"Because the show is about real people, it can be difficult to play (such a part)," she said. "But the reward is in absorbing what the person is about and knowing you were able to entertain an audience and these people say: 'Wow. I really felt what you were feeling.'"

She has the approval of Karen Meyer, director of the Castle production.

"Yvette was right for the role. She exuded confidence and sexuality," said Meyer.

ORTEGA-GARRISON, who had only seen the 1985 movie version of "A Chorus Line," did her own research while studying up for the role of Sheila. She read notes and books about the interviews with the chosen dancers, and she talked with other people for their takes on the show and its creator, Michael Bennett.

Almost to the day, this year marks the 30th year of "A Chorus Line." All proceeds from the summer production will go toward continued maintenance of the Castle Performing Arts Center building, which is now 25 years old.

While the timing of the two anniversaries is a coincidence, center director Ron Bright said he has wanted to put on the musical for quite some time.

"This is a summer production because it was not palpable for a high school audience. (But) there was no more special person than Michael Bennett," said Bright. "He sat down with dancers and thought about the lives of these gypsies. He tackled issues at (that time) and it was something."

While most of the actors are former or current Castle High School students, Ortega-Garrison is one of four new actors in the drama community. She and her husband, Jason, who is in the Air Force, moved to Hawaii two years ago after being stationed near Tokyo. Also the daughter of an Air Force member, this is Ortega-Garrison's second return to Hawaii. Her younger sister, Selena, was born in Tripler Hospital 30 years ago.

Ortega-Garrison said she would become a full-time actor if it was possible. Based on her experiences in previous community theater productions of "Cabaret," "West Side Story," and others, she said she and other actors can identify with the doubts raised during auditions, as well as the joy in getting a role.

"All of us can identify with what's happening right on stage," she said. "Even the ones (who are cut) and don't make it."

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