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If Claire Avakian, who plays Millie Dillmount in the Broadway Rose Theater Company’s upcoming production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” seems even perkier and more effervescent on stage than the role calls for, it could be chalked up to all the stars aligning for Avakian this summer.CRAIG MITCHELLDYER - Beaverton's Claire Avakian brings perkiness and effervescence to her portrayal of Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie which opens at Broadway Rose Theatre on Thursday, July 2.


After growing up in Beaverton, Avakian spent the last four years at the University of Oklahoma majoring in musical theater and hoping she’d be able to find a job around Portland and spend one more summer at home before she heads to New York and Broadway in the fall.

Avakian found out around the first of the year that she had gotten the role of Millie so her professional and personal lives fell perfectly into place. And just to put the frosting on the cake, Lyn Cramer — an endowed professor of musical theatre dance and a professor of 15 years at the University of Oklahoma where she mentored Avakian — is back at Broadway Rose directing and choreographing “Millie.”

While Avakian does it all — dancing, singing and acting — she confesses that dancing is her first love.

“I knew when I was 3 that I wanted to be a dancer,” she said. “I have danced from age 3 until today. I sort of remember and have seen the video of several of us dancing with little dolls to ‘Mother Needs a Helping Hand.’ And we performed at the Schnitzer and Keller auditoriums while I was little so I got used to performing in front of a lot of people in cool venues.”

A graduate of Westview High School/Arts & Communication Magnet School, Avakian started taking voice lessons her sophomore year and also performed in musicals and other shows.

“After I graduated from high school, it was a hard decision whether to major in dance or musical theater,” she said. “But I chose musical theater, and the University of Oklahoma was my first choice. Lyn Cramer really challenges you.”

Avakian earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in musical theater at the university.

“It was a great experience, and I was surrounded by people like me,” Avakian said. “But 20 minutes off-campus, it was totally different — it was rural and rustic — but there was a lot to do on campus.”

Then came the alignment of stars that led Cramer to Broadway Rose and Avakian back to Cramer.

“After Lyn was hired to direct ‘Millie,’ she asked, ‘How would you like to be Millie?’” Avakian recalled.

Avakian sent an audition tape to Broadway Rose producing artistic director Sharon Maroney and got the part, noting, “This is the perfect situation. A few friends from high school and six people from Oklahoma are in the show too.”

As for moving from Broadway Rose to the “other” Broadway, Avakian said, “The New York lifestyle is so fast-paced and different from here. But I could deal with living in a closet if I could dance.

“If I don’t find work there, I will go where I can be artistically satisfied. But I know I’ll regret it if I don’t give New York a shot. I’ll give it a year at least. I’m a realist — I know there’s a chance I won’t be cast in anything for a year.”

Avakian’s ace in the hole is that her brother lives in New York and is a lighting technician for shows, although his main job is playing a theater organ and touring.

Avakian said that her parents “wish New York was closer, but know it’s where I need to go.”

In fact, she sounds a lot like Millie, who arrives in New York City in 1922 in search of a new life.

“She wants to be a modern woman,” Avakian said. “She has very specific expectations, but the story shows how you can’t have such high expectations and think you know what you want when you might miss what is right in front of you.

“The story is so relevant today. You can come into a new world and break out of the mold, but you can’t lose who you are as an individual. Girls of that time wanted to be independent but often got taken advantage of. The show appeals to all ages.”

And once the show ends, Avakian will become modern Millie herself: She has already been auditioning for shows in New York and will be packing sooner than later.

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