Las Vegas prides itself on being the entertainment capital of the world. For performer Christine Hudman Pardy, this was the type of place where she could embrace her dream. As the lead female vocalist for “Le Reve,” a premier show at the Wynn Las Vegas, she provided an experience of escape and wonder to a global audience.
“You have these insane, chaotic days and then you come into the theater, and you’re still,” Ms. Hudman Pardy says. “And we get to take you on this magical ride for a couple of hours. And you leave changed.”
All that came to a halt in March 2020 when her show closed. Her husband, a drummer on Broadway, also lost his job. The two have been almost entirely without work for more than a year, surviving on savings and unemployment, trying to navigate pandemic life with their three teenagers. For Ms. Hudman Pardy, losing her dream job was made even more painful because of what came with it: a loss of her sense of self and artistic expression.
And yet even as she wrestles with the challenges of the year, her drive to grow pushes her to reinvent herself yet again.
“‘Le Reve’ was such a highlight of my career. But what do you do when the show closes?” she says. “There’s a reckoning within you. There has to be. What is the next dream? It’s not done for me.”
This is Episode 2 of our podcast “Stronger,” which highlights what women have lost to this pandemic and how they’re winning it back. To learn more about the podcast and find other episodes, please visit our page.
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Christine Hudman Pardy: Le Reve was just magic start to finish.
You walk in and, you know, everything’s sloping down and there’s this giant pool of water. And there’s a bed in the water, floating. You’ve got dry ice coming up. It’s sort of like Narnia or something. You’re reading about it and then you’re in the book. You’re in the story.
You have these insane, chaotic days and then you come into the theater, and you’re still. And we get to take you on this magical ride for a couple of hours. And you leave changed.
Jessica Mendoza: This is Christine Hudman Pardy. She’s an actor, singer, performer. And until March 2020 she was the lead singer at “Le Reve,” the signature theater production at the Wynn Las Vegas.
Samantha Laine Perfas: The show was a big deal – it had a cast and crew of about 275 people, won a bunch of awards. It was the only show in Las Vegas that featured a theater in the round in water.
[Music from Le Reve’s trailer]
Mendoza: We’ve never seen the show live, but we found some videos online. And it’s pretty amazing. There’s people doing backflips and somersaults. Elaborate fountains and soaring music and fire exploding out of the water. It all feels like a really intense dream.
Laine Perfas: Which is kind of appropriate, because “Le Reve” means “the dream” in French.
Mendoza: The show ran for 15 years, more than 6,000 performances. Christine had been the main female vocalist since 2018 and loved it.
Laine Perfas: And then the pandemic.
Laine Perfas: I’m Samantha Laine Perfas.
Mendoza: And I’m Jessica Mendoza. This is “Stronger.”
Laine Perfas: We hear from six women about what they’ve lost to this long, painful pandemic – and how they’re winning it back.
Mendoza: Today’s episode: The Artist.
[Ambient: Christine and her husband show Jess and Sam memorabilia from their shows]
Laine Perfas: Can you walk us through what’s on the wall? It looks like it’s both of your guys’ shows.
Hudman Pardy: It’s both of them. Yeah.
Mark Pardy: Yeah.
Hudman Pardy: That’s – my husband did “Bat Out Of Hell” on Broadway. And that was last – no, not last summer, the summer before?
Hudman Pardy: He was the drummer on “Lion King.” That’s me, like my “Le Reve” poster...
Laine Perfas: That’s Christine and her husband Mark at their home in Las Vegas. Mark also works in show biz, as a professional drummer.
Mendoza: We visited them at the end of April. And they showed us some souvenirs they kept from past shows.
Hudman Pardy: It’s mostly you, honey. “Mean Girls” and – and “Spamalot.”
Pardy: That’s only ‘cause you just didn’t save any of your stuff.
Hudman Pardy: Well, that’s true. He’s got every recording –
Pardy: You know, I have everything, like that’s all the albums I played on. And I don’t know, everything’s organized, but she’s like, “Oh yeah, I did this gig with Carole King.” “Oh, did you keep the program?” “No, no, I forgot.” You know, there’s nothing.
Mendoza: They’re raising three teenagers together: Jack, Harper, and Griffin.
Laine Perfas: And also two dogs, Leo and Lizzie.
Mendoza: Christine herself is very warm – and also blonde and fabulous and a little larger than life. Kind of what you’d expect from a performer.
Laine Perfas: But the past year has taken its toll on her. We all know: live shows were some of the first things the pandemic took from us, in terms of shared experiences.
Mendoza: Things are starting to look up for the industry now. But that doesn’t change the fact that Christine and Mark had basically no work for more than a year.
Hudman Pardy: I hurt for myself and my fellow artists. I know what we give. You know, you’re putting your guts on a plate for people every night. So it feels incredibly frustrating, I don’t know, just like be told, like, “Oh, I heard about your show. God, it’s too bad.” And it’s – it’s not even real.
Laine Perfas: We’ve all said we miss going to concerts and shows and having all these shared experiences that we took for granted. But for Christine that sadness and empathy never seemed to extend to the people who bring those experiences to us. People like her and her husband, and their friends.
Hudman Pardy: I don’t look for people to come and save me, but I guess I just want people to know that this – this is real.
Mendoza: Before we hear more from Christine, a little of bit of context. We first started reporting this series because we wanted to look up close at the personal, real ways that this pandemic recession has affected women. We knew that the parts of the economy that were hit hardest were those that rely on in-person services and events. Those also happen to be industries where women are overrepresented.
Laine Perfas: So we went to a place that depends a lot on those industries – a place with a lot of Christines.
[Music from an ‘80s Las Vegas commercial]
Commercial: “...Come get the best of the U.S.A. Come out and play the American way…”
Suzanne Chabré: We like to call ourselves the entertainment capital of the world.
Commercial: “...Las Vegas in every way, it’s the American way to play!”
Mendoza: That’s Suzanne Chabré.
Chabré: I’m vice president and chief experience officer for the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas.
Mendoza: Ms. Chabré was also an executive in the gaming industry for many years. And she’s a Vegas native. So she gets entertainment and its role in the city.
Chabré: Las Vegas sells escape, and entertainment is a big driver in that. We as a community and an industry try to make everything entertaining and over the top.
Laine Perfas: In 2019, 1 in every 4 employees in Nevada worked directly in leisure and hospitality. That’s according to the Nevada Resort Association.
Mendoza: A huge chunk of those workers are in Las Vegas. Especially on the Strip, which is the big center of hotels and casinos on Las Vegas Boulevard. Every year, the Strip by itself generates billions of dollars in revenue.
Laine Perfas: So when a pandemic hits and all that disappears –
Chabré: Devastating. It’s all there is to say. You’ll find that within a family, somebody is working in that industry and it’s impacting their lives.
Laine Perfas: Last bit of data here, we promise. In February 2020, Nevada’s unemployment rate was at 3.6%. Fairly normal. In March, when Christine Hudman Pardy lost her job, it had climbed up to 6.3%. By April of 2020, it was 28%. The highest in the country at the time.
Mendoza: So that was Las Vegas. It wasn’t the only place in the country that struggled. It wasn’t even the only place in the country where artists struggled. But the city’s experience with the pandemic paints a pretty stark picture of how people like Christine were affected. When we first met her back in March –
Laine Perfas: – through Zoom, where else –
Mendoza: – it was right around the anniversary of when her show closed.
Hudman Pardy: We went from just, this is great and we can have a good life and we can pay our mortgage. And now we’re just living on unemployment. And we lost our health insurance and we lost all our benefits.
Laine Perfas: The blow to the family finances was really hard. But the other, almost more painful part in some ways, was that “Le Reve” was special to her. For a lot of reasons.
Mendoza: For one thing, it let her be a mom in a way that was pretty rare in show business, especially live performances.
Laine Perfas: Although she was doing two shows a night, five nights a week –
Hudman Pardy: – I got to make my kids dinner every night. I mean, even if it was in a Crockpot leaving it for them. But still, I got to come home and they were sleeping in their beds and I was sleeping in my bed. And I got to take them to school in the morning.
Mendoza: Working for a company like the Wynn also had its benefits, literally.
Hudman Pardy: When it’s a long term gig like this, it’s like, Oh, my God, welcome to being a real adult. I have a 401k. I have insurance for my family through my work. I’m making a great salary. And I get to go home. It was kind of just overwhelmingly positive for those reasons.
Laine Perfas: There was one more thing that made Le Reve special. Although she loves Vegas, it took Christine years to figure out how she fit into the fabric of this very young, very hip town. As a woman and as an artist.
Hudman Pardy: To get that in this town at 47, and to still feel like, relevant. Because I think in general, as a woman, there’s always someone like younger, smarter, faster, prettier, funnier. And so you have to really do the work to remind yourself that you’re still – I don’t want to say valid, but you know, that there’s still a place for you, and that you have something to say.
Mendoza: To have achieved the artist’s dream and then lose it all in a pandemic was crushing. And she saw it happening to everyone around her.
Hudman Pardy: As a performer, sort of the collective “we” – we’ve all been going through this. So there is some comfort that, you know, you’re not alone. But what’s the future of all of this? I mean, we were the first to go and we’re like going to be the last, last, last to come back.
Laine Perfas: But in spite of that, Christine is determined to see the glass half full. She has this philosophy. A kind of guiding principle that she applies to her life and to her work and to being a woman. She said it a lot when we talked, which made it hard to forget:
[Montage of different quotes from Christine]
Hudman Pardy: It’s like a constant reinvention. … You know, I think as women, we’re constantly reinventing ourselves. … There’s just this constant – reinvention is the only word I can think of.
Mendoza: “Constant reinvention.” It’s an idea that’s core to who Christine is. It’s the belief that even when seasons end, or life takes a wicked turn, it’s just a new beginning. A way to grow and to evolve.
Laine Perfas: You might be able to tell from her drawl, but Christine grew up in a small town in Texas –
Hudman Pardy: – twenty-five hundred people. My dad – my dad was the wildlife manager on a ranch and my mom was a secretary. So there was no one going off to New York to be an actress.
Mendoza: In high school she auditioned for her first role at a professional theater, in Dallas.
Hudman Pardy: My dad was so cute. He was like, “I don’t know anything about what you’re doing, sister, but I’ll drive you anywhere, you know, you need to go.”
Laine Perfas: What a sweet dad.
Hudman Pardy: Ended up getting hired, and like, all the leads came from New York. So it was really like this summer is either going to eat you alive or it’s going to create that spark that’s going to make you follow this path.
Laine Perfas: It’s kind of the quintessential small-town girl to big-star story: Christine went to New York, majored in theater, and eventually began touring in musicals. That was the first time Christine reinvented herself.
Mendoza: After she’d been performing professionally for a few years, she landed a role in “The Full Monty.” That’s a musical about, er, dancers at Chippendales.
[Music from “Let It Go,” Full Monty Original Broadway Soundtrack]
Hudman Pardy: It was amazing, an amazing experience, an amazing cast, and I don’t know, it was just a joy, a joy from start to finish.
Cast: “...Let it go!”
Hudman Pardy: And it was just one of those things in your career, that you know, it’s like a marker. Everything before that, everything after that. But that was like a special time.
Laine Perfas: After that show, Christine started to think about what was next.
Hudman Pardy: I was 32, 33. I can remember taking a mental note like, “It could be a few more great credits, but then what if I can’t have kids?” And just because you can have kids doesn’t mean you need to have them. But for me, I knew I wanted that in my life. You know, I knew I wanted that experience. So I just, I made a conscious decision: “I’ve been in New York 14 years. I’m ready for a change.”
Mendoza: Her husband at the time had a promise from a friend of steady work in Las Vegas. So off they went –
Hudman Pardy: – and the month we moved here, I got pregnant.
Laine Perfas: Christine realized she had to reinvent herself again: This time from full-time performer to (almost) full-time mom.
Hudman Pardy: The first years of me being here were just like having small children attached to my body. You know what I mean? And not that I thought it would be easy in Vegas. I just thought that I had some great credits. I figured that there would be a way in for me. And there just really wasn’t a lot for me. You know, I would get called back down to the end for, like, oh, all the shows. And I would just never book it.
Mendoza: That period had a lot of ups and downs. Christine loved being a mom. But then she and her first husband got divorced. She reconnected with Mark, whom she’d known a long time. Eventually they got married.
Laine Perfas: But like a lot of women who take time away from work to focus on relationships and parenting, Christine struggled to find her groove again.
Hudman Pardy: When you’re away quite a bit or you have children, you’re sort of like, “Oh, God, who am I?” And it’s like trying to marry the old person with a new person and just – it kind of rocked my confidence a lot. You know? I was just like, Ahh.
Laine Perfas: After years of short term gigs, Christine landed the role at “Le Reve” in 2018. It was a turning point for her career, but also for her as a parent. By then her kids were in their teens. Mark was on tour a lot –
Hudman Pardy: He was gone and gone and gone.
Mendoza: Like in the summer of 2019, for example –
Hudman Pardy: – he went to play “Bat Out of Hell” on Broadway. And then he left from New York to go on tour. He did not come home, not for an hour, not for a day, from June ‘til March of the next year.
Laine Perfas: Wow. That’s so long.
Mendoza: So Christine had to reinvent herself one more time – this time as basically a single mom working full time.
Hudman Pardy: I’d get up at six in the morning and I would take my daughter to high school. I would come back, I’d wake my son up, I would take him to a different school, and then I would like do stuff around the house, because if you don’t do it, it’s not going to get done.
Mendoza: In the afternoon, around 2, 2:30, she’d pick up the kids from school. She would take them home, show them where dinner was, make sure homework was getting done.
Hudman Pardy: And then I had to leave at 4:30. I would go to the show. I’d do sound check at 5:30 and then I would have to get ready.
Laine Perfas: And this is not throwing on a sweater for a Zoom meeting –
Mendoza: – you know, like what we do –
Laine Perfas: – it’s full hair, full makeup, outfit for the stage. And once all that was done –
Hudman Pardy: I would do the first show and then in between I’d FaceTime them, make sure they were going to bed and all that, and that they’d eaten. And then I’d get home at like midnight-ish. And I would just clean up the kitchen and I’d get in bed by 1 or 1:30, and then I’d just do the whole thing over again. And I’m not going to lie. It was really tough. It was really tough.
Laine Perfas: So when the pandemic happened, Christine almost didn’t mind, at least at first. Suddenly her husband was home. She was spending actual quality time with her kids.
Hudman Pardy: The first three months, it was like rediscovering music that we grew up with, dancing all over the house. We were so happy. I think, because we thought after three months we were going back to work. And so then it shifted into the next three months where it was like, OK, a little less dancing, but still so happy we’re together. And then it shifted into the next thing where it’s like – huhhh, oh my god. You know? [Laughter]
Mendoza: But it got harder to laugh as the months went by. Shows stayed closed. Venues pushed back reopening again and again, even when other businesses – airlines, restaurants – began to slowly open back up. And unfortunately it’s easy to see why.
Laine Perfas: “Le Reve” had hundreds of cast and crew members, elaborate props, all kinds of things that need to be funded. Even the water costs money to maintain.
Hudman Pardy: From a business standpoint, it was a smart decision because you can’t really sustain the running costs with 30 percent capacity. I think from their side, you know, you can understand why for sure.
It doesn’t make it hurt less.
Mendoza: And that’s where Christine was a year into the pandemic. Asking herself questions that were difficult but also familiar: “Am I still an artist if I’m not performing? What happens next?”
Hudman Pardy: “Le Reve” was such a highlight of my career. But what do you do when the show closes? What’s the future of all of this? And so there’s a reckoning within you, you know what I mean? There has to be, of like – what is the next dream? It’s not done for me.
Laine Perfas: That reckoning, for Christine and for her family, after the break.
Noelle Swan: Hi everyone, I’m Noelle Swan, the Monitor’s Weekly edition Editor. Artists like Christine bring a special kind of light to the world. In addition to bringing joy and laughter into our lives, they also help us come to terms with our fears. If you’ve appreciated this podcast, the best way to make sure we produce more work like this is to subscribe to The Christian Science Monitor. If you already do, thank you! But if not, you can do that at csmonitor.com/subscribe. We really appreciate your support. Again, that’s csmonitor.com/subscribe. Thanks for listening.
Mendoza: When we left Christine, she was asking herself what happens next. How would she – and her family – deal with what the pandemic has done to their finances, to their careers, to their futures?
Laine Perfas: We caught up with her in real life a few weeks later, to see how she was doing, and to see if she’d been able to answer any of those questions yet.
Mendoza: How is the rest of the family doing, how are the kids holding up?
Hudman Pardy: I mean, everyone’s just doing the best they can. I can’t sit around too long and think about how you catch up from something like this. Just like, to be told that you – “We’re shutting it down and you can’t work. You can’t. There’s nothing. And we don’t know when you’ll be able to,” when you’ve made this your livelihood, your living. You know, it’s very – it feels very frustrating. It feels like a lost year. I mean, a lost year academically for my children, a lost year financially for us.
The ironic part is that collectively, we all turn to music, art in times like this. And no one’s talking about us. They haven’t been. They aren’t. And they aren’t talking about anything for the future. After a while, you do kind of feel targeted in some way. So I don’t know. I wish I knew the answer, but maybe I don’t want to know the answer.
I just have to try to be happy today, and – not that someone’s going to come and save you, but that you’re an active participant in your life. And that you do all the work that you need to do, and then if you keep doing that, the door is going to come down. So I have to believe that there are better days ahead. At least I hope.
Mendoza: Do you think you might at some point look back on this as a period of reinvention for yourself again?
Hudman Pardy: One hundred percent. Yeah. I mean, I have to. There are definitely lessons from everything. And I think that’s a question that we ask – Mark and I – ask ourselves a lot, you know. What’s the lesson?
We have a saying in this house. It’s, “You’re free to be.” And so we meet you wherever you are. I’m not going to try to tell them, like, “Don’t cry, don’t be depressed.” Whatever. I mean, sometimes you just are those things until you’re something else, you know? Just feel the feelings and know that it’s not always going to be like this.
Laine Perfas: And there are some bright spots ahead, even if they’re uncertain in the way that everything about pandemic life has been uncertain. Just before our trip to see her, Christine had told us that she and Mark had been offered jobs in a summer production of “Mamma Mia!”.
Hudman Pardy: We both got hired to go to Nantucket this summer for eight weeks and do “Mamma Mia!.”
Hudman Pardy: So he’s going to play drums and then I’m going to be Rosie.
Laine Perfas: Oh, my gosh, that’s crazy.
Hudman Pardy: Yeah. We’re kind of dying. I mean we are like on our knees, grateful. So and the fact that…
Mendoza: But thankful as she was to finally get to be onstage again, it turned out that the best thing about the job offer had nothing to do with the job itself.
Hudman Pardy: My youngest son, the excitement that he had when we got the job. I mean, he was just almost more excited than we were. “God, Ma, this is so great.” He was almost in tears. And he was like, “I’m so glad and I’m so grateful that I have parents that do what they love for a living.” And I was just like, ‘cause you get told you’re selfish a lot, you know, in this business. I can’t put my kids to bed at night because I’m out doing two shows. And all the guilt that comes with that kind of stuff. And I can’t be there for every second of homework.
But I’m passing that on. And they see that, you know, and I feel – I feel pretty – I feel pretty good about that. That they see that – that I, this is what I was born to do, and they have some respect for that, and they’re genuinely happy, you know. Because you play all these games in your mind as a mom and as a woman, you know, it’s like all the things you’re not doing. All the shortcomings. And, you know, when your kid is like, “I’m your biggest cheerleader. It’s OK to be who you are. It’s OK to follow your dreams even when you’re grown.”
And I want them to know that. I’ve always been like, What is it that that still, small voice says to you, like in the night? What is it that you really want? Trust it and do it. You’re never too old for that. Here I am at 50. And like, why – why should I stop dreaming? Why should I stop taking chances? Why should my life stop being exciting? I just feel happy that they kind of see that – that it’s never too late. It’s never too late for a new dream, it’s never too late to try something new. But, yeah that was – that was pretty great.
Mendoza: You know, Sam, I’m not a mom but I don’t think you have to be to really get where Christine is coming from. She said this before, you know, that as a woman there’s always going to be someone smarter, younger, prettier, thinner – and even though you know better in your mind, right? You know that you are good at what you do. You know that you’re enough. You know that you’re allowed to evolve and to be more and to dream. Sometimes it can be so hard to believe that in your heart. Or your gut. And it just makes me feel so good inside to see someone like her, who’s been dealt such a rough hand this year, and she’s still fighting to make it work.
Laine Perfas: I completely agree, Jess. And I know for me, I can definitely relate to this feeling of not being enough… like all the blood, sweat, tears you put into everything that you do – and it just always feels like it falls a little short. So to hear her put that into words, that feeling that I think many women wrestle with… uh. And then her son! Oh my gosh – dang. That even when you feel like your work and effort is invisible, the people around you see it and they love you for it. And it makes it all worth it.
One thing I’m really hoping comes through in this series is that we’re all going through this together, you know?
Mendoza: Don’t cry, Sam.
Laine Perfas: You’re the one who cried!
Mendoza: Who, me? Crying’s for men! (Just kidding, I cried a lot working on this episode.)
Laine Perfas: I mean let’s be honest, we’ve cried a lot this whole series. But I think that’s so great about hearing from real people – that stepping into each other’s stories can get us to that place of connection and moving forward.
Hudman Pardy: I think that would be my hope for the world is just more empathy, more compassion, more time to stop and go, “Are you OK? Can I help you?” So I don’t want things to go back to where they – the way they were. And it’s impossible anyway. It’s never going to be that. I just want to be the best person that I can be.
Mendoza: You sound like, though, a fundamentally kind of optimistic human.
Hudman Pardy: Yeah.
Mendoza: What drives that?
Hudman Pardy: I don’t know. I think I’ve always been like that. I’ve always been a dreamer. That’s how I grew up, just feeling like anything was possible. I told you that once. You know, it’s like, the big Texas sky and my imagination. So no dream seemed too big. It was just endless possibilities. And I think I always just still feel like that little girl in some ways.
[Audio clip from “Cast Away”]
Hudman Pardy: You know, it’s so silly, but like Tom Hanks said in that – in that movie –
Tom Hanks: “.... Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?”
Hudman Pardy: I always kind of think of that, you know, tomorrow the sun will rise. And that is very simple, but sort of powerful.
Mendoza: Thanks for listening! Next time on “Stronger”: we hear from Yarleny Roa-Dugan, a labor and delivery nurse whose year was filled with challenges.
Laine Perfas: But her biggest challenge? A dilemma that faced many frontline workers.
Yarleny Roa-Dugan: We go into the profession wanting to help out, take care of people. But this pandemic put us all into a bind. Do you take care of other people, or do you take care of your family?
Laine Perfas: We hope you’ll join us. And if you enjoyed this episode, please rate and review us! You can find all our episodes by searching for “Stronger” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher. Or visit csmonitor.com/stronger.
Mendoza: This episode was reported and produced by me, Jessica Mendoza.
Laine Perfas: And me, Samantha Laine Perfas.
Mendoza: Edited by Clay Collins and Trudy Palmer. Sound design by Morgan Anderson and Noel Flatt.
Laine Perfas: Additional audio elements from “Le Reve” by Franco Dragone; “The Full Monty” by David Yazbek and Sony Music Entertainment; and Expedia Local Expert.
Mendoza: Brought to you by The Christian Science Monitor, copyright 2021.
Hudman Pardy: So singing like right now? Oh my God. Oh my God.
Mendoza: And you can – whatever song feels like speaks to you in the moment.
Hudman Pardy: Oh God. There’s only one song that – I don’t know why the song is coming in my mind. But I’ll just sing, I’ll sing a little bit of this I guess. Um:
Oh well, I’m tired and so weary
But I must go alone
‘Til the Lord comes and calls
Calls me away, oh yes
Well, the morning’s so bright
And the lamp is alight
And the night
Is as black as the sea, oh yes
There will be peace in the valley for me, some day
There will be peace in the valley for me, dear Lord I pray
There’ll be no sadness, no sorrow
No trouble, I see
There will be peace in the valley for me