At the beginning of 2020, Brookfield resident Lily Kocourek was looking forward to a fun year ahead — eighth-grade graduation, the start of high school and the realization of a lifelong dream of tap dancing on stage in a professional theater production.
But a global pandemic brought that dream to a halt, leaving Kocourek wondering if just when she’d be able to realize her goal of dancing professionally.
Fast-forward 21 months.
Now 15 and a sophomore at Riverside-Brookfield High School, Kocourek is ready for her big-stage debut later this month, starring as Charlie Winslow in Drury Lane Theatre’s production of “Holiday Inn.”
Based on the classic 1942 film, “Holiday Inn” follows a retired song-and-dance man’s efforts to bring entertainment to his small Connecticut town. With the help of a talented teacher, he’s able to turn his farmhouse into an inn and produce spectacular shows celebrating all holidays.
“Holiday Inn” is a family-friendly musical, featuring upbeat dance numbers, laugh-out-loud comedy and a host of hit songs by celebrated composer and lyricist Irving Berlin, including the Academy Award-winning “White Christmas.”
Kocourek, who has tapped since the age of 4 at Jo’s Footwork Studio in Western Springs under renowned tap master Jay Fagan, was originally recommended to audition for the show in February 2020 by Fagan, who told her Drury Lane was specifically looking to cast a teenage girl with experience in tap dancing for the role of Charlie Winslow.
Luckily for Kocourek, three days after she auditioned for the part, she found out she made the cut. However, the pandemic soon shut down the entertainment industry and Drury Lane postponed production.
This fall, Drury Lane sprang back into action, with rehearsals for “Holiday Inn” picking back up in October. The show is set to run Nov. 19 through Jan. 9 at the theater in Oakbrook Terrace.
For Kocourek, the comeback to live performance means realizing her goal of beginning a life of performance on the big stage.
“It’s been very exciting,” she said about rehearsals. “I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time and I’m so happy to be a part of it. I’m looking forward to showing people my tap dancing skills and learning how to act on stage, and singing the few lines that I have.”
In her role as Charlie Winslow, Kocourek is slated for the big tap duet number (the famous “Firecracker” dance) with character Ted Hanover (played in the film by Fred Astaire).
“Charlie is very naive,” Kocourek said about her character. “She’s younger, but she’s a hard worker and she’s very sarcastic.”
For rehearsals, Kocourek says it’s been fun to get to learn the ins and outs of live theater while running lines and dance scenes with her fellow actors, including the other actress who portrays Charlie Winslow for half of the performance dates.
Outside of Drury Lane, Kocourek stays busy with both dance and other extracurriculars. Alongside tapping, she studies ballet, lyrical and jazz dance and has recently participated in festivals in downtown Chicago, Michigan, North Carolina and New Hampshire. And, she stays busy at RBHS as well, participating with the Orchesis dance team, Repertory Dance Ensemble and poms team, and running on the cross country and track teams.
So, what is it about dance that has kept Kocourek involved all these years?
“I think being able to dance with all of my teachers keeps me going, and getting to experience traveling and dancing with different teachers and choreographers is one of the main reasons why I love dancing so much,” she said.
Following “Holiday Inn,” Kocourek says she hopes to perform in other professional productions in the area, and in the future hopes to perform as a tap dancer on Broadway in New York City and abroad.
Her advice for local teens who want to chase after their dream of working in the arts is simple — pursue your passion to the fullest.
“Work hard in everything you do and keep looking for opportunities, because there’s always going to be stuff that’s out there and things you can participate in,” she said. “Do things you love and what makes you happy.”
For more information about Drury Lane Theatre and “Holiday Inn,” including purchasing tickets, visit the Drury Lane website.