Pilar Millhollen puts it all on the ‘Line’
Of all the numbers in “A Chorus Line,” Pilar Millhollen, who plays Bebe, said she always thought the trio song, “At the Ballet,” “was the best.”
And it’s not just because Millhollen is one of the three actresses who sings it nightly at the Ahmanson Theatre.
“[During the song] the director kept saying ‘Be yourself.’ It’s an easy thing for me to tap into,” she said of playing Bebe, whose mother tells her she would be “attractive” and “different,” not pretty, when she got older.
“Growing up, I thought I was hideous,” Millhollen said. “Now as an adult I don’t have the same issue. I was really good friends with my mom, who’d always put down her own looks … and people would say I looked like her.”
When Millhollen first auditioned for “A Chorus Line,” things didn’t turn out quite the way she had hoped.
“I had been up for the revival and I had kind of a not-so-good singing audition — which was unacceptable because I consider myself a singer,” said Millhollen, who grew up in Portland, Ore., and first encountered “A Chorus Line” at a community theater when she was in high school. “When it came around again I wanted to redeem myself. I thought, ‘I’m going to show them.'”
She said that, unlike many of the characters in “A Chorus Line,” it wasn’t “The Red Shoes” that prompted her to start dancing.
“When I was 14, I saw the first national tour of ‘Crazy For You,’ she said. “I saw that show and that’s what made me want to be a dancer. It was the most wonderful thing I’ve every seen.”
“Dancing is visceral,” she added. “It’s really immediate. It speaks more to your emotions than intellect. All you have is a visual connection.”
She says “A Chorus Line’s” longevity is not surprising.
“It addresses people’s basic hopes and fears in their inner psyche,” she said. “You see the on-stage dancing and you hear their stories. Anyone can sit in the audience and relate…. In the 1970s, not a lot of shows addressed [gay] issues.”
Millhollen said one of the hardest things about being one of 17 members of a cast is having to fill in the blanks of your character’s background. When “A Chorus Line” became a movie in 1985, there were several tweaks to the show, especially with Bebe’s character, who reveals she had breakdown after a previous audition where she started crying and couldn’t stop (something that never comes up in the stage production). Millhollen opted to go another route.
“It’s a tough character — [Bebe] has very little material. Besides singing, she only says a few things in the play,” she said. “When we sat around and talked about our characters, there wasn’t a whole lot there.
“[Bebe] was brand new to New York and in the script she’s 22, I’m a little old for that … so we made her 24,” said the 27-year-old who currently lives in New York. “She’s from Boston. I fleshed out that she grew up going to the ballet, and had a complex with her mother. Dancing makes her feel pretty.”
“She is a pretty good dancer with an interesting quality, but she doesn’t put herself together well,” she said, in contrast to the blonde, built Bebe from the film. “Bebe hangs back and doesn’t dress so well. Doesn’t know how to make herself look that way.
Prior to joining the company for “A Chorus Line” Millhollen was the assistant dance captain and cast member for the touring company of “Chicago” and said the two shows couldn’t be more different.
“It’s night and day,” she said. “Chicago is all about cynicism and glitter and covering up something ugly with something sexy. ‘A Chorus Line’ is all about truth. We’re very bare, we’re not dressed beautifully. It’s a very different animal.”
For those who hope to make it to “the line,” themselves, Millhollen offers this advice:
“Be tenacious,” she said. “Be your own advocate and don’t take anything personally.”