Dianne Hill-Hines “never thought of herself as God’s gift to the stage,” said Gary Gisselman, who directed Hill in many theatrical productions. “But she was. She could sing and act, she had great warmth, and you could put her in any role and she’d be terrific.”
Hill-Hines, 67, was a longtime presence in the Twin Cities theater scene under the name Dianne Benjamin-Hill. She died Monday of cancer at N.C. Little Hospice in Edina.
“She was everything I wanted to be,” said Molly Sue McDonald, a veteran actor and singer who counted Hill as a close friend. “There was something about Dianne. She had that gift you can’t describe that made you want to watch her.”
Hill-Hines was born in Aberdeen, S.D., with an early love for theater. After receiving a master’s degree in theater at Wayne State University in Detroit, she moved with her then-husband to Los Angeles. After a divorce, she relocated to the Twin Cities.
She and actor Jim Cada dated for years while they were both working with Actors Theater in St. Paul.
“She had a lot of trust from actors and directors,” Cada said. “She took it very seriously — a real pleasure to work with backstage and on stage.”
Actor Sally Wingert, who notably worked with Hill-Hines in “Blue Window” at Actors Theater, considered her a mentor.
“I idolized her,” Wingert said. “She was really gorgeous, and such a good actor — just a beautiful, wicked sense of comic timing but also very heartfelt.”
She was one of the top performers at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres from 1977-85. Gisselman remembered her appearances in “Hello Dolly,” “Beyond Therapy” and “Blithe Spirit.” She also filled in for Susan Goeppinger in “I Do, I Do” for eight months and “Quilters,” which ran for 12 months in 1984-85. She also worked at Mixed Blood and the Old Log Theater.
For several years in the late 1980s and ’90s, Hill-Hines stepped away from the stage to raise her son, Matt.
“She was definitely a hands-on mother,” said her husband, Paul Hines, of Minnetonka. “We used to tell her that eventually she couldn’t accompany Matt wherever he went, especially to school. But she got a bus pass and got on the bus with him for the first day. True story.”
She returned to the stage at Children’s Theatre Company, where she developed a strong kinship with director/choreographer Matthew Howe. Hill-Hines played the Wicked Witch in two productions of “The Wizard of Oz” and also performed in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Pippi Longstocking” in 2001 under Howe’s direction.
“Dianne brought so much to the rehearsal room and the stage,” Howe wrote in an e-mail from Vancouver, where he now teaches. “She had talent, a generous heart, and a deep love and appreciation for those she worked with.”
Paul Hines said that in recent years, Dianne worked in the Hopkins School District with special-needs children. She also spent recent summers working for friends who owned the Southern Colorado Repertory Theatre Company. She and Twin Cities actor Clyde Lund performed “On Golden Pond” there in 2013.
In addition to her husband and son, Hill-Hines is survived by her mother, Doris Evenson, stepchildren Brad Hines and Lesli Launer Hines, and four siblings. Services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at All Saints Lutheran Church, 15915 Excelsior Blvd., Minnetonka, with visitation one hour before the service.