For Maria Briggs, life on stage would seem like a dizzying, even charmed whirlwind.
Five years after leaving the Twin Cities for the Big Apple, the young dancer, actor and singer has performed in the ensemble with the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” in New York and on the road (though she herself has not been a Rockette, because she’s 5 feet 3 and the minimum Rockette height is 5 feet 7). She has been in other big productions, including the limited national tour of “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” that opens Tuesday at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis.
But even a chorus dancer, one who is doing what she loves most in this world, has to have paid her dues. For Briggs, a Coon Rapids native, those dues included a two-hour round trip by bus for four school years to the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts.
It was in high school where Briggs first met onetime Broadway star Kerry Casserly-Carter, who was teaching at the time and who, with her sisters, runs the Lundstrum Center in north Minneapolis. Casserly-Carter recognized Briggs’ potential right away.
“She could ace ballet, singing and tap, so we had to get her acting and singing,” Casserly-Carter said. “The thing about this business is that it takes a lot more than talent to succeed. You have to have the desire, the heart, the hunger for it. Maria has those things. She’s able to take direction like a sponge, and she has a photographic memory.”
Casserly-Carter described Briggs’ style as “clean and bubbly, with solid technique in tap, ballet and jazz.”
For the average person, the rigors of the industry could be a turnoff. There is constant rejection at auditions.
“It’s not personal, it could be about anything from chemistry to personality to look,” said Briggs, who smiles through it all, steeled in the joy and adrenaline she gets from kicking up her heels and tapping onstage.
“There’s nothing like it, really,” she said. “I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing.”
Briggs is one of eight women and six men in the dance chorus of “White Christmas,” a battleship of a show with a cast of more than 30.
She vividly remembers the audition process, which involved a cattle call for dancers, then callbacks that included singing. Now she gets to perform in her hometown, where her parents, who nicknamed her Jellybean, and extended family can see the fruit of their support all these years.
“We do all the dance numbers in the show, and some scene work as well,” Briggs said. “We get an intermission break but we’re on almost the whole time.”
Her favorite number?
“There are too many to count,” she said. “I do love the very first big number, ‘Let Yourself Go.’ [It’s like] we’re … shot out of a cannon. It’s high-energy, and full of tap. ‘Blue Skies’ is glorious and sexy. It’s very classic, like the MGM movie. We wear white tuxedo tops, white fedoras, rhinestone tights and high heels.”
Briggs is the only Minnesotan in the national cast. She wants to take her fellow actors to see the Stone Arch Bridge. Of course, they all want to go to the Mall of America.
Coming home near the holidays reminds her of her family, and what the show is all about.
“I get to spend time, good time, with my family,” she said. “The show is all about gratitude, a reflection of my blessings.”
The tour rehearsed in Peoria, Ill., then it was on to Pittsburgh. After the Twin Cities, they will fly to New Haven, Conn., and Boston.