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CLO ENCORES: CLO chorus role launched Scott Holmes' acting career

Wednesday, July 12, 2000

By Christopher Rawson, Post-Gazette Drama Critic

Second in an occasional series on CLO 2000 performers who are returning to Pittsburgh.

It was the "most relentless audition of my life," recalls Scott Holmes, 48, of the three-day battle he survived to win a place in the 1976 CLO chorus. But the payoff was his Equity card and formal entree to the career in which he's been busy ever since.

Oddly enough, until he returned to play Juan Peron in "Evita" (through Sunday), he's never been back at the CLO. "I've always wanted to work here," he says, "but I think they always saw me as a chorus kid."

But he's been back to Pittsburgh plenty, because "Pittsburgh's one of our favorite cities in the U.S. -- we come every year." And that's because his wife of 25 years, Pamela Harris Holmes, is a native.

She's a native not just of Pittsburgh, Holmes is quick to point out, but "West Mifflin! Kennywood Park! Where my son, 13, would spend his life if he could!" Pamela's parents are still here, so they visit every year, especially around the Fourth of July, going to a Pirates game and enjoying the Kennywood fireworks right from the Harrises' back yard.

Pamela also got her Equity card at the CLO, three years earlier, in 1973. So did her better-known sister, Nikki Harris, a successful Broadway dancer and choreographer.

But in spite of the natural assumption, it wasn't at the CLO or even in Pittsburgh where Holmes (born in Oxford, Pa., near Philadelphia) met his wife. "It was in college in North Carolina. The first day, I saw her walking through the student union, and I thought, 'That's for me.' "

After college, they did a non-Equity tour of "Godspell" for 11/2 years. "We agreed when we had saved $10,000, we'd go to New York." But first came the CLO, then at Heinz Hall.

"It was a huge theater. When you walk into Heinz Hall, that's a whole different ball game -- you know the ketchup people are in town. It's just gorgeous. I was very intent on being good and perfect and noticed. We worked our butts off, but it was a joyous season."

He remembers the 1976 shows without prompting: "Most Happy Fella," "Oklahoma," "New Moon," Shenandoah," "Damn Yankees" and "George M." (There was also an unusual seventh show -- "1776," natch -- that he wasn't in.)

"They featured me a lot. I got to sing the tenor solo in 'Shenandoah.' In 'Most Happy Fella,' I sang the tenor part in the quartet, 'Standing on the Corner.' I'm real musical, I'm quick, I read -- the musical director liked me a lot."

Poring over old programs, Holmes ticks off the sometimes abortive careers of several long-ago colleagues. He remembers a party given one night by Margaret Hamilton, who had earlier said she didn't want to answer any questions about "The Wizard of Oz," but at this one time answered them all.

He remembers also Pittsburgh's Marshalls, Rob and Kathleen, CLO alumni who've also done well in New York. More to the point, Holmes says, "They're still great people -- they're Pittsburghers living in New York." To explain, he says. "My wife and I always prided ourselves on living in New York but not getting hard."

He quotes approvingly the saw about how everyone should live for a while in both New York and L.A., leaving the first before getting too hard and the second before getting too soft.

"I'm a Manhattan guy," he says, so "Pamela had to drag me out of New York [to the suburbs]. But the first morning, with a cup of coffee in my own backyard, I said, 'What was that all about?' "

Pamela, for her part, left the theater to become an Eastern Airlines flight attendant; now, she's seen the world three times over working on corporate jets.

Returning to the CLO for "Evita" is completing the circle for Holmes in another way -- he was in the first post-Broadway tour of "Evita," playing Che, and then led the Broadway cast.

"I'm thrilled to be here. And I can do it -- eight times a week is fine for me," says the actor best known now for his 13 years as Tom Hughes on "As the World Turns." But he's also worked with some theater powerhouses, including Hal Prince, Michael Bennett, Tommy Tune and Kander & Ebb.

For "Evita" information, call 412-456-6666.

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