Jersey Woman Magazine

May/June 1988

From "Cats" to "Phantom of the Opera" - Dodie Pettit Bursts Onto Broadway

When she was six years old, Dodie Pettit was taken to a performance of a “Hansel and Gretel” ballet. “Do you want to do that?” her mother asked her casually.

But there was nothing casual about Pettit’s reaction to what she had seen. “I loved it instantly- and I knew I wanted to perform!”

There were the years of ballet lessons in her native Princeton with Mila Gibbons, the woman Pettit calls a “legend.” There were the hours and hours of practice.

Then, in her teen years, Dodie Pettit decided to foresake ballet, and to plunge, instead, into the seductive world of rock music, a world she found alternately “crazy” and “happy” for several years. “ I got caught up in the feverishness of it all,” recalls Pettit, who is currently light-years removed from all of that as a performer in the Broadway production “Phantom of the Opera.”

Music had seized Dodie Pettit’s hear and soul, but a small voice still resonated with echoes of earlier dreams. “When I saw an announcement for auditions for ‘Cats” that specifically asked for a ballerina who could also sing, something clicked, and I decided on the spot to go for it.”

The first rime out, Dodie Pettit didn’t get the role. So it was off to a dinner theater production in which she played a singer-dancer and also played with the band. “they got their money’s worth…”

In a second round of auditioning, Pettit caught the brass ring, and opened with “Cats” on Broadway. She was so naïve, she recalls, that when she was invited to join the cast as a “swing” member, she was too embarrassed to admit that she didn’t even know what “swing” meant.

What it meant was several roles in the hit Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, from a frisky feline to a glamorous white Persian. And it meant the singular experience of dancing on Broadway.

“It was certainly a kick- and it was a great relief to be removed from the sleazier side of the music industry. I felt I’d finally got it right, that I was where I belonged.”

“Cats” was a physically demanding show, one that kept Dodie Petit purring until last November. When she left the show for the product that Broadway was buzzing about before its opening, “Phantom of the Opera”, two performers were hired to replace Pettit. “No wonder I was so exhausted!”

Her final audition for “Phantom” was, recalls the Princeton woman, “the scariest of my life.” Andrew Lloyd Webber and Hal Prince were both in the audience as Pettit stood alone on a bare stage to sing. “I didn’t even dance at that last audition, which was a bit of a relief. It took all my courage just to find my voice!”

In Broadway’s hottest show, Dodie Pettit plays a 17-year-old-ballerina, managing four complete costume and wig changes during the two-and-a-half hour production. For her thirty minutes on stage eight times a week, Pettit must still rehearse long hours, keep fit through daily classes, and scramble to find time to schedule the relentless obligations of “real life.”

Pettit will be the first to admit that even the glitter of Broadway, and smash, hits, can leave anyone exhausted, even as it exhilarates. “My dream is a vacation to anywhere in the immediate world.”

The sacrifices have also taken their toll. Dodie Pettit sometimes looks longingly at old friends who have opted out of show business, and who are living sanely in the suburbs. “My trade-off has been having children and a successful marriage,” notes Pettit, who has been married twice but who is single again. While she can’t blame the failed marriages on her career, “it’s a factor.”

But then there are those nights when Dodie dances onstage in “Phantom”, and when she can almost feel the audience’s passion for the play. “There have been standing ovation after every single performance, and that’s a great thrill each and every time.”

Her contract for the run of the play gibes Pettit a sense of security that was never hers to claim during those days of playing clubs with various bands, struggling to survive.

“Ironically, my hope is still to make a record that hits big,” she admits. “I still write songs, and I perform whenever I can fit it in.”

The ultimate dream for Dodie Pettit is balance-and not of the ballet variety.

“I guess I want it all-home, family, career, security. And while most of us don’t get all that, it’s always inspiring to try.”