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R.I. women make good on the Great White Way


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Perhaps the lights are bright on Broadway - but so are some Rhode Islanders.

Right now, not one, not two, but three former residents are shining in New York's celebrated theater district -- acting, singing and dancing out their dreams.

In Rent, Ava Schlink Gaudet, formerly of Providence, plays Maureen, one of the production's main characters.

In The Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular, Kim Calore, formerly of Warwick, performs as a Rockette.

And in the just-opening Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life, Madeleine Ehlert Kelly, formerly of Cranston, serves as dance captain and associate choreographer.

As with the old joke about Carnegie Hall, there are many ways to get to Broadway. However, Kelly, Gaudet and Calore all went the same way: via the Carolyn Dutra Dance Studio, in Warwick.

"It takes passion, dedication and perseverance" to make it to Broadway, Dutra says.

Dutra, who danced decades ago as a Rockette, refers to her three former students as her "triple threat." Each, she says, not only has the talent and ambition to be on Broadway, but the charisma, too.

"I've produced some technically fabulous dancers who are not fun to watch," Dutra says. "They're boring. They don't have an inner quality to share with us. We don't want robots."

'A dream come true'

Gaudet used to be a dancer, but she's not now. She also used to go by the name Schlink, but has prematurely taken the last name of her fianc, Rob Gaudet, formerly of Warwick.

"Every male in my family is named Rob, then I got engaged to a Rob," Gaudet says. "I have to be specific when I say Rob, my brother Rob."

Gaudet, 27, grew up in the Mount Pleasant section of Providence, daughter of Carol and Robert Schlink. Gaudet's mother teaches theater at Mount Hope High School, in Warren. Her father teaches in the ensemble department at the Berklee College of Music, in Boston, where Gaudet graduated in 2001.

To find the roots of Gaudet's stage aspirations, you've got to go way, way back.

"I knew since I was a baby that performance art was where I wanted to go with my life," she says.

At age 3, Gaudet began taking dance classes at the Dutra Studio, and went with a strong sense of purpose.

"I was shocked to hear other girls in dance class say they wanted to become teachers," Gaudet says. "My reaction was, 'What? Don't you want to be a dancer?' "

After more than a decade of dance classes, Gaudet wanted to be something else, too -- a singer and actress. In 1997, a year after graduating from Providence's Classical High School, she got her first professional stage gig, with the former Theatre-by-the-Sea, in Matunuck, performing in Jesus Christ Superstar, Annie and Oklahoma!

"It was really intense," Gaudet says. "I rehearsed all day, did the show at night, did the cabaret after the show, slept for a little while and did it all over again the next day."

AT BERKLEE, GAUDET studied singing and songwriting. After graduation, she moved to New York City to live as an artist, and perform as one -- in Rent.

"I understood that in the performing arts you go from job to job," Gaudet says. "That's how it is. I learned from my family how to survive on the bare essentials. I knew what to expect out of this business, and I'm content with the inconsistency of this business."

Last year, Gaudet played Maureen in the touring production of Rent, Jonathan Larson's contemporary remake of Puccini's La Boehme, featuring young artists and others struggling to make it.

In the show, the character of Maureen is not called upon to dance. But Gaudet says she feel fortunate having the training.

"In dance, you learn to connect every part of your body into form," she says. "Acting being a visual art form, that's important. What the audience is looking at is what you're trying to perform. There are so many things you do with your body language."

Now, for the first time in her career, Gaudet is speaking with her body and her voice on Broadway, which she calls "a dream come true."

"Being on Broadway is the goal you have in your mind as a child," she says. "Even if I do nothing else in my life, I did this. I've always wanted to be on Broadway. Now I'm on Broadway."

Gotta dance

Technically, Kim Calore is not on Broadway. Radio City Music Hall is on Sixth Avenue, but has Broadway stature.

"We are not really considered Broadway," she says. "There is a separate identity here in New York."

Broadway shows come and go. The Rockettes stay - for 78 years and counting.

The company has become so popular that it sometimes performs six shows a day, sometimes by the same group of dancers, who have an hour between shows.

"We take showers, eat, lounge around," Calore says. "And then, boom, we're off and running."

Or kicking, as the case may be.

The Rockettes' show is precision line dance, which is different and difficult for many dancers who want to do their own thing and be creative, Calore says.

"We create the illusion of being one," she says. "It's very clean and crisp, which is why it looks good."

Calore, 28, daughter of Linda and Bob Calore, formerly of Warwick and now living in Griswald, Conn., started dancing at age 5 in a studio filled with Rockettes paraphernalia. At 16, before graduating from Toll Gate High School, in Warwick, in 1995, Calore auditioned with the Rockettes with the encouragement of Dutra, who thought it would be a good experience for her.

"I was just tagging along," Calore says. "I ended up getting the job."

But Calore couldn't accept the job because she was too young. So she went back home, and returned a few years later. Calore has been a Rockette nine years now.

"It's just something I love being a part of," she says. "I love the camaraderie, and meeting young girls after the show."

ROCKETTES, WHO RANGE in height from 5 feet 5 inches to 5 feet 10 inches, dance in a line, going from shortest on the outside to tallest in the center. Calore, at 5 feet 8 inches, is sixth from center this year.

This year's Radio City Music Hall program includes an article about Dutra and Calore, and the passing of Rockette tradition from teacher to student.

Previously, Calore performed in the all-dance Broadway show Contact, and also with Disney on a cruise ship production of Beauty and the Beast. She played the stunt role for Belle, and also a dancing napkin.

"We did this whole can-can kick," Calore says.

Later this month, Calore, who previously had background roles in the movies The Stepford Wives and Hitch, has her first speaking role, in The Producers.

"It's not actually a line," Calore says. "It's more of a scream."

The movie is about two producers (Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick) who try to produce a play so bad that it bombs, then make off with the investors' money. To help bring about disaster, one of the producers (Lane) says good luck to one of the dancers (Calore).

"I scream because they say [in the theater world] it's bad luck to say good luck on opening night," Calore says.

Maybe Calore will get noticed by a real movie producer soon. And if not, she still has time.

"I'm pretty happy where I am right now," she says. "However, a dancer's career doesn't last. So acting is definitely something I'm looking into."

Captain of the dance

Madeleine Ehlert Kelly didn't look into becoming a dancer until she was 14, which is late. And, technically, she wasn't actually looking. She was just trying to get out of class at Park View Junior High School, in Cranston.

"I wanted to get out of homeroom," Kelly says. "It was boring."

In lieu of a homeroom study period, students were allowed to take an extracurricular dance class, taught by Dutra. Kelly, a self- described tomboy, signed up.

"I had no aspiration to dance," she says. "It just wasn't a part of my life."

Then Kelly's life changed.

"There was just something deep inside me that loved dance," Kelly says. "And I was pretty good at it. I got lucky."

Kelly began taking classes regularly with Dutra, in exchange for cleaning the dance studio. And by the time Kelly, now 37, graduated from Cranston High School East in 1985, she had dedicated herself to a dance career.

At age 17, Kelly, the youngest of six children of Adam Ehlert of Cranston and the late Doris Ehlert, told her parents she was going to New York City.

"They were fearful, but agreeable," Kelly says.

KELLY STAYED WITH friends of Dutra, found a job working the desk of a dance studio, and eventually found her way to Broadway.

"It was amazing," Kelly says. "You reached your goal. Then, at the same time, it was like, 'Now what?' Then it's a job. But it's a job you love."

Kelly has performed on Broadway in Taboo, Starlight Express, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (with Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker), and Annie Get Your Gun (with Bernadette Peters).

"This is someone I always admired, and here I was dancing on stage with her," Kelly says. "But as far as how I feel dancing, that doesn't matter. I just love to dance. It could be in my room by myself. But there's nothing like Broadway, and you're getting paid, and paid well."

Now, Kelly is the dance captain for Chita Rivera, which began previews last month and opens on Broadway today. She trains the other dancers in the production and fills in for one when needed.

"I love going to work," Kelly says. "I love my job."

And Kelly has done her job despite not being a prototypical dancer. She's 5 feet 21/2 inches tall.

"I get to be in the front row a she says. "It's kind of nice."

For tickets to the Rockettes, at Radio City Music Hall, $10 to $17, call (212) 307-7171, or visit www.radiocity.com.

For tickets to Chita Rivera, $121.25, or to Rent, $54 to $108, call (800) 276-2392, or visit www.broadway.com.

* * *

Ava Schlink Gaudet appears with John Michael Richardson at 2nd Story Theatre, in Warren, in 2002. Today, Gaudet is on Broadway, in Rent.

* * *

Kimberly Calore, left, formerly of Warwick, is a Rockette in New York City's Radio City Music Hall. At right is another former Rhode Islander: Madeleine Ehlert Kelly, formerly of Cranston, who is dance captain in Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life, which opens on Broadway tonight.

* * *

Ava Schlink Gaudet, formerly of Providence, plays Maureen in Rent on Broadway.

JOAN MARCUS

(C) 2005 The Providence Journal. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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