"She taught me ballet from the time I was 7 years old," Patterson recalled last week. "I had many other dance teachers but she was the reason I got to New York and was ready and disciplined and able to dance on Broadway."
Patterson credits Grandi with changing her focus from classic ballet to Broadway when she cast her in a Concord City Arts production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Cinderella."
"I had taken tap class and jazz but was on a ballet focus," Patterson said. "I didn't know that much about Broadway except watching the Tony awards. She cast me in 'Cinderella' and everything solidified -- this is what I wanted to do."
After graduating from College Park High, Patterson traveled to the Big Apple where she'd been accepted into the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.
"I went to school for 15 months. It wasn't a true college," Patterson remembered. "I was 'ignorance on fire'! I just wanted to go to New York and dance. My parents said, 'Wait -- you can't just get off the bus with a suitcase.' But I didn't want to waste time in college."
Patterson also auditioned at Steps Dance Studio, which is known for its rigorous training and its access to people in the industry.
"I was insane," she said with a laugh. "I would go to school all day, then go to Steps and dance all night. I graduated and five days later got my first job.
"I went on two national tours," she continued. "It took me about seven years to get to my first Broadway show. But I was 24, still pretty young.
"I was very lucky early on but I worked extremely hard. And Lois mentored me. She worked with me on my audition. I ended up doing a couple of shows with her at Concord City Arts but haven't done anything since."
Patterson just finished a national tour of "White Christmas" and made sure to work her schedule so she could perform in "A Chorus Line."
"It's such a great show, and it's such a great role," she said, noting that although she'd auditioned to play Cassie years before, she was too young. Now, at 38, it's a perfect fit.
Last year Patterson moved from New York to Los Angeles, where she was doing more acting, leaving the aggressive dancing to the younger generation.
"I wanted to move back to my home state. I'd just had a baby (Maxwell, who will be 2 in June) and I wanted more of a suburban life," she said.
"I'm staying with my parents while doing the show," she added. "It's very nostalgic."
The cast includes other professionals from the Bay Area. Lauren Bratton-Kearns, who grew up in Pleasanton, is returning from New York to play Val, the sassy gal who belts out "Dance 10, Looks 3."
Patterson raved about the Firehouse Arts Center venue, particularly for "A Chorus Line."
"I love the fact that the theater is very intimate," Patterson said.
On her Christmas tour she played in a variety of theaters and was able to compare cozy ones, such as the Firehouse, with more impersonal venues.
"When people are close to the stage, I don't know if they realize they are a part of the show -- we can see them as well as they can see us," Patterson said. "I love when the audience has a reaction, clapping and being audible, not sitting as if they are sitting watching television. The more fun they have, the more fun we have."
"That's what's so great about live theater: You share the space, you feel each other's energy," she added.
She also likes the fact that the show has simple sets, and everyone is wearing audition attire from the 1970s, when the musical debuted. It's like stepping back in time, she said, in terms of the dance clothes, references to people such as Steve McQueen, and the lack of cell phones, now omnipresent.
"When the show opens, it is with an audition and everyone is dancing their hearts out," she said. "That is what it's like in New York. It's a very personal show, and it's a rite of passage to be in the show as a dancer."
What: "A Chorus Line"
Who: Pacific Repertory Theatre
When: Jan. 24-Feb. 9
Where: Firehouse Arts Center, 4444 Railroad Ave.
Tickets: $17-$38; call 931-4848 or visit www.firehousearts.org
The matinee at 2 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 26, offers special perks. From noon to 1 p.m., guests may attend an Open House and learn part of the opening dance combination and song from the musical. Then after the musical, the audience is invited to stay seated for an Inside the Show discussion with the actors and director. Both of these extras are included in the price of a ticket.
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