April 6 2010 12:00 AM

For 'Chorus' star Ashley Yeater, every night is an audition

AshleyYeater.jpgHow does a “Chorus Line” star spend her spare time between
shows? For Ashley Yeater, it’s about resting in her hotel room with her dog,
while Nicole Kidman sings herself to death.

“I’m watching ‘Moulin Rouge,’” Yeater said, calling from a
tour stop in Hershey, Pa. That’s a movie musical she likes; the 1985 film
version of “A Chorus Line” — uh, not so much.

“‘At the Ballet’ means the world to me,” she said, referring
to the number in which her character, Sheila, reflects on her childhood. “When
I got to that part in the movie I turned it off: There are some incredible
dancers in that movie that get cut. That get cut!
And I thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’”

Director Richard Attenborough’s movie was a box office flop.
But “Chorus Line” the show has been attracting audiences for 35 years with its
portrait of aspiring dancers vying for jobs in a Broadway musical. Watching
their every move and analyzing their every word is Zach, a no-nonsense director
who pushes each would-be star to not only show off their skills but to reveal
their deepest secrets, ambitions, regrets and desires.

Things have changed for New York performers since
writer-director Michael Bennett began work on his dream project in the
mid-1970s, Yeater admits.

“Most auditions aren’t held on a Broadway stage anymore;
they’re usually in a dance studio,” she said. “And you generally don’t have to
step forward and give your life story — that’s the musical theater side of
things. But the blood, sweat and tears thing is still there, 100 percent.”

As for the directors, “I think they’re a little nicer than
they were back then,” she added.

Besides, as long as there’s a Great White Way, there will be
talented kids trying to find work there.

“People still dream of going to New York and being on
Broadway, and (for dancers) it really is learning combination after
combination,” Yeater said. “I’ve gone to auditions at 10 in the morning and you
don’t leave until 7 p.m. That’s what it is in New York: You wait tables, and
then hopefully you get an hour or two off to go to an audition, or you get your
shift covered.

“Maybe the style of what you wear to an audition has
changed, but otherwise it’s timeless.”

Sheila, a veteran dancer who takes a casual, “whatever”
approach to the audition, is a tough cookie and Yeater said she’s been careful
not to overplay Sheila’s attitude.

“I never want her to come across as, ‘Oh God, get her off
the stage — I hate her,’” she said. “She has some very endearing qualities. She
knows she’s getting older and her career is coming to an end, and she knows
she’s going to open that dance studio somewhere.

She’s a hoot. I have so much fun every night playing her. I
think she’s a bit shocking at first, the way she pushes the envelope. She goes
way back with Zach: She knows how to push the limits and play the cat-and-mouse
game with him.”

Yeater is thrilled to work with Baayork Lee, who was part of
the first “Chorus Line” workshops, originated the role of the petite Connie in
the original Broadway cast and restaged the choreography for both the 2006 Broadway
revival of the musical and the current tour. Yeater said she’s been an
invaluable resource.

“She told us stories we probably weren’t supposed to know
about the people who inspired the characters, and the relationships they had.
We can play on ‘the line’ with those background stories. It’s a lot of fun.”

It’s also a lot of work. “This is not a show you can phone
in,” Yeater said.

“We live it every night; we’re in an audition every night.
So it becomes all about keeping that energy. We gotta keep up on our own
material every day — you can’t be eating cake all day.”

Even if your tour stops in Hershey. “It’s the land that
smells like chocolate,” Yeater said. “It really does. We were all sad the park
wasn’t open yet, but a lot of us have gone on the chocolate factory tour and
gone to the chocolate museum.”

Sheila may not get everything she wants, but for Yeater,
it’s a pretty sweet life.

“A Chorus Line”

Wharton Center

8 p.m. Tuesday, April 6, Friday, April 9, and Saturday,
April 10

7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 7 and Thursday, April 8

2 p.m. Saturday, April 10

1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, April 11