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PVI Graduate Sticks to Her Dreams

Five years ago, Elise Molinelli (pictured at right), who had never tap danced, practiced for a role in the College of William and Mary’s production of the musical "42nd Street" by "tapping" in her socks for hours at night in her dorm hallway. In late August, she will tap dance with Tony Curtis in the musical "Some Like It Hot" at Wolf Trap. Molinelli’s stage experience began with theatre classes at Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, where she won roles in productions of "Hello Dolly" and "A Midsummer Night’s Dream." But, Molinelli was first of all a dancer, starting with $2 a pop ballet lessons at the age of five, her mother Judith Molinelli said. "When a dancer reaches the age of 17, she has to make a decision whether to pursue a dance career or go to college," Elise Molinelli said. The 1993 PVI grad decided to attend William and Mary in Williamsburg, as a biology major who took theatre electives. "There were not many tap dancers at William and Mary," Molinelli explained. Tap is integral to the story of "42nd Street," about the staging of a 1930s musical. Each day, Molinelli learned tap routines from girls with years of experience before returning to her nocturnal practice sessions. Through sheer tenacity, the novice tap dancer won a part in the production. After graduation, Molinelli went to New York City and, after gaining admittance to the actor’s union, began rounds of auditions while working waitress, bartending or temp jobs and taking acting and dance classes. Her dancing and singing talents, paired with her "1930s face," won Molinelli roles in "Anything Goes" and "No, No, Nanette." By then, she describes herself as having become an "adept tapper." Prior to "Some Like It Hot," Molinelli toured with Ann-Margret in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" for about six months. Molinelli, who lives in Manhattan, was one of about 600 girls who auditioned for 10 ensemble parts in "Some Like It Hot," the musical version of the classic Billy Wilder film. When she arrived about noon on the second day of auditions, she was number 250. Girls tried out in groups of 40, she said. Only five girls were retained from each original group. They were given a more intricate combination of dance steps to learn and, after another round of auditions, girls were called back to sing two or three songs in soprano and alto belt voice before being asked to read dialogue. It was 6 p.m. when she left the audition. Molinelli went through six callbacks. Producers were looking for an array of types to fill out the ensemble. Five weeks passed between her first audition and the offer to join the cast. Judith Molinelli describes Elise as "very determined," even as a young dance student. Elise explains this is a necessary trait at very competitive New York auditions. Her determination has paid off. Molinelli is part of the Wolf Trap-bound (and probably Broadway) production based on the 1959 movie in which Curtis originally co-starred with Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe. Now, more than 40 years later, the 77-year-old Curtis, as Osgood Fielding, is tap dancing in his first live show. From Dallas, where the show has been well-received, Molinelli said Curtis is a "very gracious" actor, who remembers the names of his fellow cast members’ families. At dinner with the cast he has told the much younger actors about his own career and arrival in Hollywood at age 19. He advises them to "keep on learning and growing and working on our careers," Molinelli said. "My best friends are still my friends from PVI," Molinelli said about a core of eight friends who come to see her shows, including a recent trip to North Carolina. "It’s exciting to have them come," she says, especially people who may have "thought I was crazy after graduation when I didn’t go to law school or graduate school," but instead followed her dreams to New York. Together with her Catholic roommate, Molinelli has visited a number of New York Catholic churches to find a comfortable fit. Recently, they have settled on traditional St. Paul the Apostle Church on West 59th St., which has a Latin Mass, young adult group and family-style pot luck dinners. Judith Molinelli says she thinks Elise’s faith gives her strength. "You really have to have your head on straight," she said about life in her daughter’s chosen profession. Elise Molinelli’s advice to theatre students or anyone else is, "Stick by your dreams. If there is anything you feel passionate about, give it a try." During a break from rehearsals in Dallas, where the show is currently playing, Molinelli said "Some Like It Hot" is booked through January and should make it to Broadway. A big stop along the way will be Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, where PVI friends can catch Molinelli as a tap dancing nurse on PVI Night on Aug. 28, PVI Alumni Night on Aug. 31 or at another performance between Aug. 27-Sept. 1. For information call Tom Opfer at 703/352-0925 x345. PVI Students in Summer Production of ‘Grease’ Paul VI Catholic High School sophomore Marisa Behan and senior Liz Shelton have roles in American Music Stage, Inc.’s T.A.D.A! production of the musical "Grease" at George Mason University in Fairfax. Behan will appear as Betty Rizzo, leader of the Pink Ladies, and Shelton will act as assistant to director Steve West. Behan and Shelton are also members of PVI’s Show Choir. Shelton has previously appeared in lead roles in two AMS productions. "Grease" recreates life at fictional Rydell High in the 1950s. In keeping with the ’50s theme, a concession stand will offer candy from that era during intermission. T.A.D.A! is a musical theatre summer performing arts program at George Mason University. American Music Stage is a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing quality family musicals to Virginia and the surrounding area. The summer performing arts program includes teens who are economically disadvantaged or educationally challenged, as well as gifted and talented, but who all share a love of performing. "Grease" will be presented at the Harris Theater on the campus of George Mason University, 4400 University Dr. in Fairfax on Aug. 2-4, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. For information and to reserve tickets, call 703/425/9280. 

Copyright ?2002 Arlington Catholic Herald.  All rights reserved.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2002