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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Stage Review: Stars of 'Grease!' find you can go home again

By Anna Rosenstein

It seems you can come home again. And what better time to do it than at the new year, when everyone experiences nostalgia for the past and turns a hopeful eye to the future?

That's certainly been the case for three young Pittsburghers who were home for the holidays courtesy of Pittsburgh Musical Theater. Nina Petrucci, Christian Delcroix and Emily Lynne Miller, who star in PMT's "Grease" at the Byham, also get a chance to see friends and teachers again. For all three, PMT, as much as Pittsburgh, is home.

Petrucci, at 20 the youngest of the three, has the sweet innocence to play Sandy (Olivia Newton-John's role in the movie). Tiny and energetic, she perches on Miller's lap for most of an interview rather than seek out an extra chair.

In spite of her young age, she has a 10-year history with PMT and has been dancing since she was 2. She became involved with PMT when her mother, a dancer/choreographer, did "Crazy for You" at what was then Gargaro Productions.

Delcroix, now 23, started at PMT the summer before eighth grade and remembers being sent to theater classes because he had "a lot of extra energy." Before PMT, he took classes at the Civic Light Opera, a creative outlet recommended by a teacher after he came to school dressed as a cowboy. Delcroix still exudes the same energy, cutting up with a few dance steps, cracking jokes and teasing Miller and Petrucci, acting generally like a much-loved and sometimes exasperating brother.

Which makes sense since all three talk about PMT as an extended family. Delcroix happily shares memories of his student days. His first production at PMT was "Grease!" He played Doody, whom he describes as the most naive of the high school boys. Now he's the charming, hip Danny, played in the movie by John Travolta.

"From the runt to the leader," Delcroix jokes.

This earns a groan from Miller, who refers to herself as "the big sister." She started at PMT when she was 17, later than most. She remembers being really into high school and loved cheerleading. She also loved musical theater and planned to major in it in college. At a friend's urging, she decided she needed some training under her belt.

Now 25 and a graduate of Penn State, Miller's already been back to PMT three times.

She had leads in "A Chorus Line," "Evita" and now "Grease!" in which she plays the feisty, hard-shelled Rizzo.

For her, seeing old friends is the best part of returning to PMT.

"Coming back and being able to work with people who were your childhood and your high school years, being able to see them as young adults, it's awesome," she says.

All three have done some teaching at PMT, and now they're seeing their old students as the high school-aged ensemble members their teachers once were. But that works both ways. People who haven't seen them since they were much younger now see them grown and working as professionals. Delcroix worked with actor Tammy Townsend before he left Pittsburgh to attend Florida State University. Now Townsend plays Flodine in "Grease!" and they're working together again.

Since leaving PMT, Delcroix's been living in New York and working in regional theater. Miller's been working in theater, modeling and pursuing a recording career in country music. Petrucci decided not to go to college and actually graduated from high school early and landed a role in the touring production of Barry Manilow's "Copacabana."

All three are members of the Actors' Equity Association, a union for professional actors and stage managers. In fact, Petrucci just earned her Equity card with this production. They credit PMT and Gargaro with teaching them the importance of an Equity card. Otherwise, they wouldn't have health insurance. Rehearsing without the mandated Equity breaks can lead to injury in the very physical world of musical theater. Petrucci recalls several actors who had to leave the non-Equity tour of "Copacabana" due to injury.

"Unions are there for a reason," says Miller.

She hopes Pittsburgh, a traditionally pro-union city, will support Equity-contract shows like PMT's. With two non-Equity shows coming to the city -- "Oklahoma" and "Oliver" as part of the PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh series -- Miller worries that they'll draw ticket sales away from Equity shows.

Delcroix adds that an Equity card really opens doors for actors.

"If you're non-Equity, you can wait four or five hours for an audition."

Miller, Delcroix and Petrucci don't have to worry about that at PMT. The door is always open to them. "I always have a home here," says Petrucci. "I know I can always come back."

(Anna Rosenstein is a freelance critic for the Post-Gazette.)

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