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Regional Reviews: Chicago

Interview with Hollis Resnik

Hollis Resnik is indeed Chicago's premiere leading lady of the stage. With eight Joseph Jefferson Awards (Chicago's version of the Tony Award), four After Dark Awards and the Sarah Siddons Award (for Piaf ), Ms. Resnik is also Chicago's most honored singer/actor.

Most recently, she has been seen at the Ravinia Festival in Sondheim's A Little Night Music with Patti LuPone and George Hearn. In 2001 she was also in Ravinia's critically acclaimed Sweeney Todd with Hearn and LuPone. She has toured the nation as Fantine in Les Miserables and was at New York Public Theatre in the premiere of Wings.

Ms. Resnik has appeared in countless productions on every major stage in Chicago, including The Goodman, The Court, Marriott Lincolnshire and Shakespeare Theatre. Ms. Resnik's versatile career also includes performances with major symphony orchestras and intimate cabaret concerts. She can also be heard on both Second City Divas - Women of Chicago Musical Theatre recordings.

She recently took some time out of her busy schedule to talk with me about her career. Her first solo CD, Make Someone Happy has recently been released by M.A.M. Records, so naturally our conversation started with questions about its future.

Charlie Eichler:  I just listened to your first CD, Make Someone Happy, and it is fantastic. I know you have been promising it for at least two years and the end result is simply grand. It's a compilation of some of the favorite songs I have heard you sing. You have two selections from Do Re Mi, which I think is due for a major revival.

HR:    It's got a little bit of everything on it. It's currently available at, Tower records and We hope it will be a big hit! Once the theatre season starts, it will be sold at the Goodman Theatre, Court Theatre, Apple Tree Theatre and other venues in the Chicagoland area.

I will be doing an actual release concert on the evening of October 14th at Navy Pier on their Main Stage. [Call Chicago Shakespeare Theatre box office for further information: 312-595-5600]

CE:  Do you hope to make it big in the market and get some air time?

HR:   Unfortunately I'm in rehearsal for the Beard of Avon, which opens at the Goodman Theatre in early October. Then I am thrilled to be appearing at the Courts Theatre's production of James Joyce's The Dead, the surprising Broadway musical success. After that, I go on to appear in a long-wished-for debut in Tom Stoppard's Rough Crossing at the Writers' Theatre in Glencoe.

CE:  Do you ever find time to relax?

HR:   I do love tennis when I can find the time to enjoy the game. I've also done cabaret concerts. I did one at the Symphony Center here in Chicago for their "Day of Music" and will also appear in their Cabaret on January 15th.

CE:  Which do you prefer - cabaret or stage appearances?

HR:   My work is not really cabaret because I do more or less a concert. It's very character-driven. I've tried to add character monologues, funny props etc. It's much more on the theatrical, emotional side rather than a themed cabaret performance.

CE:  Over the years you have gained much prestige as Chicago's own diva. How do you feel about this?

HR:   I'm happy my career has moved in positive ways and received acclaim that way. I have been given the chance to do everything - from Sondheim to Moliere to Ionesco. Not too many actors have the chance to crossover from concert to musical theatre to film, voice-over etc.

CE:  Do you have any aspirations to go to New York?

HR:   The possibilities seem larger ... I'd like to create a role, but I've been doing that here in Chicago.

CE:  I've had the chance to see you create memorable roles here in Chicago. I've travelled all over the continents to see Evita yet your performance at the now-defunct Candlelight Theatre in Summit, Illinois, is the best I've ever seen.

HR:   I enjoyed my career at Candlelight. It allowed me to slide into contemporary sounds. Webber's Song and Dance was certainly a challenge when you are alone onstage for the first 65 minutes.

CE:  What is your musical background?

HR:   I come from a very musical family. My father taught music. My mother sang well and was always involved in community theatre. I grew up outside of Cleveland and attended Dennison University where I received a B.F.A in Theatre. I studied classical music and then came to Candlelight Playhouse where I began to play legitimate roles. As musical comedy changed, I was blessed with wonderful teachers who helped me develop a contemporary sound. This became very exciting. I don't think I'm great at pop music or jazz, but I sing what I love.

CE:  There are so many songs on your CD that I adore. One of my favorites is Stephen Schwartz's Lion Tamer Any background on that selection?

HR:   It's an acting song. Most of the songs on this CD are character driven, like Barbara Song or A Trip to the Library. I think it is important for the acting side of things to come through a recording, as opposed to simply the pop appeal of the music.

Hopefully the CD will lead on to bigger and better things. It literally broke my bank; however it simply says, "I like what I am ... " it says what I did for the past twenty years.

Charlie Eichler:  In my estimation, much of the success of your performing skills are due to the wonderful orchestrations provided by Rick Snyder. I notice that the CD is produced by Rick, yourself and Tom Mendel. How did you all get together as the dynamic trio?

HR:   We all met at the Apollo Theatre in Chicago when I was doing Lies and Legends. Rich is the finest musician I've been blessed to have in my career.

Charlie Eichler:  Does he suggest to you what to sing?

HR:   I pick the material and suggest something to do with the song. He comes up with great arrangements.

CE:  There is a following here in Chicago that could be called "Resnik Fans."

HR:   I'm very flattered. It's always nice to be appreciated. It's not easy what I do. Theatre is not a glamorous life. I'm very diligent in what I do.

CE:  Since I teach high school theatre, what advice would you give to a student who wants to go on to professional standing?

HR:   Get a good solid education. Try to participate in as much non-Equity theatre as you can. The range in Chicago has grown. Chicago theatre has nurtured so much talent because we have a wonderful mayor who promotes the arts. Audition for anything. Performers should have respect for their work. Art is a necessity, not a luxury.

I believe that our society needs the arts as part of its own growth. Working in the arts is very character-building. I have had downfalls. You win some, you lose some.

CE:  Hollis, thank you for this fantastic interview. I wish you well in your performances this autumn and success on your first CD. One last question: If you could play any role, what would you like to conquer?

HR:   I'm still waiting for the chance to play Mother Courage. On the other hand, Ella, in Bells are Ringing would certainly be delightful ... and then of course Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.

CE:  Good luck on that one - I can just hear you singing "With One Look" in your own signature style.

Hollis Resnik appears at the Goodman Theatre, Chicago, through November 9th in The Beard of Avon; 179 N Dearborn; (312)-443-3800.

Her Navy Pier Theatre Concert is on Monday, October 14th.

See the schedule of theatre productions in the Chicago area

-- Charles

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