NEW YORK — It’s a dream come true for a chorus girl — in the ensemble one day and headlining a show the next.
Jessica Grové, 22, a member of the “Thoroughly Modern Millie” chorus since the show opened in 2002, gets a chance at stardom this weekend in the Encores concert production of “Bye Bye Birdie” at City Center. (The series is often a breeding ground for new talent.) She plays Kim MacAfee — the role made famous by Ann-Margret in the film version — a teenager on the brink of womanhood from Sweet Apple, Ohio, who has been chosen to kiss rock star Conrad Birdie before he’s off to the Army.
“I was never around during my high school years, so I didn’t get to play this part then,” says Grové, who grew up in Columbus, Ohio. She spent her formative years on national tours of “Oliver!” and “The Wizard of Oz,” not to mention practicing “How Lovely to Be a Woman,” one of her big numbers from “Bye Bye Birdie,” in her bedroom for an audience of one — her cat. “But I’m probably better at playing 15 now than I would have been then.”
Grové was cast in the production in late March, and she’s taken off two weeks from “Millie” to put together “Birdie.” “It’s fast and furious,” she says of rehearsing the show’s nuts and bolts in a matter of 14 days. “But it feels like I’m on vacation — it’s a mental break.”
No matter the excitement of “Birdie,” which she hopes will have a longer life than the scheduled six performances, Grové can’t wait to return to “Millie,” where she also understudies the part of Millie’s friend, Miss Dorothy Brown. “It’s funny to go from being exposed back to your comfort zone,” she explains, adding that she still regularly goes out on auditions. “I’ve been in ‘Millie’ this long, I might as well stick it out. If it runs as long as ‘Cats,’ well, that’s another story.”
— Marshall Heyman