So I was sitting in my seat at the Maine State Music Theatre last summer waiting for the curtain to open on the musical classic, “Hello Dolly,” and I struck up a conversation with the man to my right. “Where are you from?” I asked. “Carlisle, Pennsylvania,” he responded. “And what brings you to Brunswick?” “My wife is in the show. She’s playing Dolly.” “Your wife is Charis Leos?” I asked, “She’s amazing!” “Yes, she is,” he said, “We love to laugh, and we have a lot of fun together.” I got to meet Charis at a reception after the show, and she’s as down to earth as her husband Greg.

Charis Leos has long been an MSMT favorite, having appeared on stage every year since 2006. When she first walks onto the stage, usually playing the role of a character or sidekick, members of the audience often laugh or cheer. They know they’re in for a treat, as Charis always nails her part with great gusto and swagger.

Maine State Music Theatre had to cancel its season this summer, so I decided to check in on Charis to see how she’s doing and learn more about this woman who owns the stage.

Charis, the daughter of a military man, was born in Panama and bounced around as a child, moving from state to state and attending three different high schools. She sang in the choir in high school, but never participated in acting. “I knew I wanted to be in actor ever since I was in my first show in preschool,” she recalls. At the age of 5, she appeared as the youngest of the Snow children in the West Point Players production of ‘Carousel,’ and her scene-stealing antics were mentioned in a review.

She attended college as a theatre major at North Texas University. “I did everything there,” she says, “from Greek tragedy to musical plays to Shakespeare. I also worked on costuming and did some directing.” After graduating, she immediately began performing for the Dallas Repertory Theater. A reviewer for the “Dallas Morning News” once referred to Charis as, “A comic powder keg with a blowtorch voice.”

This “comic powder keg” has made her mark for decades at theaters around the country. Name a musical and she’s probably been in it: from

Chicago and Sister Act to South Pacific and the Sound of Music. The three venues at which she’s performed most often include the Casa Mañana Playhouse in Fort Worth, Texas, the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and right here in Brunswick at the Maine State Music Theatre, perhaps her all-time favorite place where she can strut her stuff.

“Every year when I get invited to come back to Maine State Music Theatre, I think, ‘Hey, they want me back,’’ she says. “And when I cross the border, I feel like I’m home. MSMT is like a family to me, and I’ve made some lifelong friends.”

Charis is impressed with the sheer professionalism of everyone associated with MSMT, noting the exceptional quality of the work, show after show, summer after summer.

I asked Charis why she’s so passionate about acting and singing. “In a way, the theater chooses us,” she explains. “I’ve loved it ever since I first performed before an audience at age 3. This is who I am; this is what I was meant to do.”

Asked to name her favorite role, Charis laughed and said, “The one I’m currently doing.” That answer makes sense, because she totally throws herself into every role every night. She admits, though, “I loved playing the lead roles in Gypsy and Hello, Dolly, because I usually play the sidekick.” She confesses that the most fun she’s ever had in a show was playing the part of Rosie in Mama Mia. “I felt like a rock star.”

Like everyone, Charis has had to adapt to a different life during the pandemic. She fills some of the time doing jigsaw puzzles for which she seems to have a knack. “I wish I could get paid for doing them!” She also cooks a wide variety of tasty meals, and sometimes goes riding on a motorcycle with Greg. Incidentally she’s very devoted to her husband, noting that, “He’s awesome. I can totally be myself with him, and he’s got a great sense of humor.”

Not surprisingly, Charis Leos really misses not being able to perform with MSMT this summer. She’s also concerned about the current state of the theater, saying, “For me, life is often about getting together in large groups to share experiences, but now there are so many unknowns. The country has to support the arts.”

She is so right. Imagine the emptiness of a world without the arts, without theater and music and all those other times when we can experience our common humanity. And yes, imagine Maine State Music Theatre without Charis Leos. Hopefully, things will be back to normal next summer. The show must go on.

David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary and suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” columns. [email protected]

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