“Theater is a living, moving art,” says Susie McMonagle, the Evanston actress who is starring in the Chicago production of “Billy Elliot.”
“It’s a collaborative work of art; that’s what I love about it,” she says.
And the theater loves McMonagle right back. She is “Mum” in “Billy Elliot,” which is a great tear-jerker role. The character is dead before the play begins,but comes to Billy at a crucial time to encourage him to follow his dream.
Mum is just one in a long list of credits—everything from “Les Misérables” on Broadway to the lead role in the touring company of “Mamma Mia!” But Chicago is home and it’s where she prefers to work.
“New York is a little more cutthroat,” she says. “Chicago has a wonderful, supportive community. You see the same faces at auditions.”
McMonagle’s feeling is: “If I don’t get the role, I hope you do.”
Working in local theater also gives McMonagle time with her children, Jack, 16, and Elliot, 12.
“Wednesdays are kind of crazy because I have a matinee,” she says. “But most days, I’m home when they get home, then I leave for the theater at six.”
It’s a schedule that seems like a dream compared with the craziness that accompanied touring for a year with “Mamma Mia!” McMonagle remembers that year as a lot of juggling.
As crazy as her life might get, McMonagle realizes how fortunate she is to be working and thriving in theater.
She says she fought it for a long time, trying not to be an actor. But when she kept working and the roles kept coming, she realized that she was, indeed, an actor. And she’s now at the point in her career where she can make some choices. She doesn’t want to go on the road when “Billy Elliot” leaves Chicago.
“I have a nice little niche carved out: theater, musicals, commercials. There’s versatility,” she says.
McMonagle’s success is partly due to her warmth and beauty, but also because of her dedication to her craft.
“I’m never completely satisfied,” she says of acting. “Each night I try to make it fresh, make it real. then I know I’ve nailed it.”
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