Given that I have chosen one of the world’s most emotionally traumatizing career paths, I shouldn’t have been surprised when my agent coughed up yet another audition for the national tour of Mary Poppins.  Last year’s audition is chronicled here, and as some of you may remember, it resulted in tears and a clove cigarette.  So this year when I heard they wanted to see me for the exact same part, I had to resist the urge to bang my head against the wall.  Was I to endure the torture a second time?

“They wouldn’t have you back unless you did something right the last time,” my Poppins-cast-member-friend Elizabeth said when I called for support.

“But they didn’t even keep me to dance,” I protested.

“We’re going to go over the dance,” she reassured me.  “You’re going to go in and kick ass.”

Fortified by Elizabeth’s confidence in me, I threw myself into the material and learned the audition tap combination.  (Which would be cheating except everyone does it.)  I arrived Tuesday morning feeling not just prepared, but determined.

This time I was asked to stay and dance along with four other women of various types.  I gave the combination all I had, as did the talented women around me.  My agent called that night.

“You’re the top pick,” she said, “But they can’t offer you the part yet.”  It turns out that the woman I would be replacing hadn’t officially put in her notice.  This sort of preemptive auditioning is rare in my experience.   In Dalmatians they waited until the person’s second to last day before auditioning replacements, throwing on the swing (me) to fill in the gaps.

Nonetheless, I was elated.  I had won the day!  The prize might be forthcoming, but I had Done Something Right.  I called the husband to tell him the news, cracked open a bottle of wine, and settled in to wait.

Actually, the phrase “settled in to wait” isn’t quite accurate.  More like, “paced the apartment, completely unable to focus,” or “obsessed to such an extent that I lost sleep.”  My husband was helpful, as usual.  “Don’t believe anything till you’ve signed the contract,” he warned me.   The rain he poured on my parade came from an honest place:  the issue apparently was that the cast member I would be replacing had been on maternity leave for a year.  (Yeah, Disney gives a year.  Cool, right?)  Last year, I had auditioned to replace her during the length of her leave.   The girl they hired last year instead of me had indicated that she did not want to stay on the road longer than May, and the new mother does not want to return to the tour.  She has told everyone that she intends to give notice.  So they need somebody new.  That’s where I would step in.  “There’s no way she’s taking that baby on tour,” said my friend Stephanie, who had just given birth herself.  “And there’s no way she’s going to leave it at home.  She’s going to park it in New York and wait for the Broadway slot to open up.”

“You don’t know what she’s going to do,” my husband said.  “Don’t get your hopes up.”

My agent said we should know by Friday, April 15th.  Here is a short list of things I have done to fill the time:

1. meditated in the park.

2. got a mani/pedi

3. made potato bacon pie (Weight Watcher’s recipe)

4.  went shopping

5. checked my phone every three seconds.

By Friday I was ready to gnaw off my arm.  I also got hit out of nowhere with a cold, leading me to believe I had worried myself sick.  It might have had something to do with lack of sleep.  I would wake up in the middle of the night to pee and lie awake fantasizing about paying off my credit cards.

But by 6 PM Friday I knew I would have to wait through the weekend.  I wrote the first draft of this blog, mostly to create an outlet for my anxiety.  As an actor you get used to a certain amount of uncertainty regarding the future, but this was epic.  I began to steel myself for rejection.  “Her mother’s coming on the road with her,” I could imagine my agent explaining.  Or “she’s arranged to swap parts with the Broadway girl.”  Or some equally unlikely scenario.

By the following Thursday I had become acquainted with a whole new form of torture:  that of waiting  for The Call.  My initial excitement began to be replaced with frustration.  What is going on?  What is taking so long?  Every night I went to bed thinking, “I’ll get the offer tomorrow.” I was starting to think it was all a figment of my imagination, some sort of psychological defense mechanism, like how people develop multiple personality disorder to cope with severe emotional trauma.  In my case I’m creating imaginary calls from my agent whereby I  imagine I book the part, but there’s a catch.  There’s always a catch.

Finally today, April 26th, I got the official offer.  The job starts Tuesday.  I leave Friday to visit the spouse in Rochester, where he’s doing a lead in The Music Man, and I will fly from there to Columbus.   No news on whether I’ll still be able to do Ulla in Producers at Sacramento Music Circus.  My agent thinks it unlikely, but we’re waiting.  Always waiting.  Until then I’m scrambling to pack, get a hair cut, eat up the fridge, et cetera, et cetera.

Whew.  Sometimes life is exceptionally strange.

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At least two inches of crud coated my vocal chords when I woke up Wednesday morning.  It was not a good start to the day.  After two audition-less months, appointments had been flooding in– well, sort of.   I started out the week with a dance call for 37 weeks of employment at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia.  The showy choreography was right up my alley, complete with eight bars of lifting my leg over my head and hopping around in a circle.  (I’m great at that.)  I was one of only three girls invited to come back.   But on the day of the callback I was battling cruddy chords.

The day before on Tuesday my chords had been almost as shitty.  I’d had an audition for Oliver at the Gallery Players, the small Brooklyn theatre where I’d done Merrily We Roll Along six years prior.  I was eager to audition for Nancy, a role I had made my own in the 7th grade at Ashtabula Catholic Elementary.  It was my first of many whore roles.  Naturally, I remembered every word of the dialogue, and I was dying to bring this tour de force to New York, with 20 years’ worth of improvement.

Fortunately my cold on Tuesday was just settling into my chest, turning my pingy musical theatre voice into a throaty, tortured gravel.  Perfect for Nancy, whose material sits low.   I had also chosen, for the first time in my career, to wear a wig to an audition.  I knew the costume budget for Gallery was small, and my cute pixie cut is not Dickensian.  I didn’t want to be written off on account of my hair.

However I also wore a gray dress that has never proved to be particularly lucky, and new, not-yet-tested-for-luck black boots.  I was a little worried:  I thought I looked perfect for the role in wig and said dress, but audition clothing carries its own particular brand of luck.  I  tell myself not to be superstitious and that I shouldn’t worry about the fact that I’ve never gotten a callback wearing a certain dress or shoe.  But these doubts, coupled with a hairdo that didn’t match my headshot, coupled with my low, unpredictable voice, made for an unsettling audition experience.  Walking into the room, I felt I was selling a whole new bag of goods, and while I sang my best, the creative team remained poker faced, and I left feeling desperate and awkward.  Callbacks aren’t until mid-March, so time will tell if this perception  was accurate.

The next morning the congestion had risen to coat my vocal chords.  The day before I’d managed to fake a distinctive ten-packs-a-day type of tone, but by Wednesday morning I sounded like a croaking toad.  Thank God I’m married to someone who understands the meaning of the term ‘vocal rest.’  I was silent throughout the morning, downing hot water cut with lemon and getting intimately acquainted with the Vicks steam inhaler.  By 11:00 I could maneuver through scales, although the notes wouldn’t quite pop into place.  I didn’t know what would happen in the room.

Fortunately no wig or dubious dress was required.  I put on a short number that showed off my legs, applied my leg makeup (I am not joking), and hit the A train.  The Barter Theatre wanted to hear a country song, but they did not want us to belt it.  (Name one country song that doesn’t require belting.)  I did a country ballad that I could, under ordinary circumstances, mix instead of belt.  Unfortunately, these were not normal circumstances.  At the climax of the song, my E flat wandered into unclaimed territory between my nose and my head like an gold rush Okie searching for a glory hole.  Damn song!  Damn voice!  Dammit!

I felt 37 weeks of employment slip from my grasp as the director, convinced I couldn’t possibly be that bad, asked for another song.  I read him nearly every title in my binder, which, incidentally, split open the moment I set it on the piano as if it knew I was doomed.  None of my songs were appropriate, not You Can Always Count On Me, not White Boys, not Tell Me on a Sunday, not When You Got It, Flaunt It.  Nothing.  We finally settled on Unusual Way, which is so overdone.    However, since I had been singing it for a decade, my voice did what it had been trained to do.  Thank God for technique.  However, the song was, as always, mediocre.  I have got to get it out of my book.  (Suggestions for a contemporary music theatre mix song are appreciated, preferably in the form of a 16 to 32 bar cut.  Thanks.)

Auditions are full of ups and downs.  When you wake up with crap on your chords, you can assume you’re on the downswing.

I knew today wasn’t going to be my day when there was no soap in the shower.

My husband had warned me.  “We’re out of soap,” he said.

“I know,” I replied.  The soap at that point had the approximate density of an oak leaf.  Still, at 7:30 in the morning when I hauled my carcass into the shower, I learned (once wet) that my husband had meant that we were absolutely out of soap.  The leaf had disintegrated or vanished into damp air.

“This is not going to be your day.  You should go back to bed,” I told myself as I leaned out of the shower to fumble through our stash of hotel-room samples.  Locating a travel-sized shower gel with ginger bead exfoliant, I maneuvered back under the shower spray.  “You’re up,” my drill sergeant self said to my gentler, more intuitive self.  “You’re in the shower.  You’re going on this audition.”

My hippie self really needs to learn to stand up to my drill sergeant self.  Because at 8:50 when I approached Chelsea Studios, I knew that something was awry.  There weren’t nearly enough bleary-eyed, overdone auditionees traipsing through the lobby.  The telltale air of desperation was noticeably lacking.  I checked the studio schedule scotch-taped to the wall.  No mention of my audition.  I checked my planner.  I had gotten the location and the day right.  I jumped into a waiting elevator and headed upstairs to investigate.

“That audition was postponed indefinitely,” said the jaded desk attendant.  “Like, yesterday.  Sorry.”

“That’s all right,” I said, helping myself to the gumball machine full of free M&Ms.  (That’s why I love Chelsea Studios.)  I had another audition to attend.

When I got to Actor’s Equity, the line for the Hangar Theatre’s auditions snaked through the waiting area, folding twice, and extended down the hallway, past the bathrooms and studios B and C.

“Only the alternate list is available,” the unnaturally cheery audition monitor informed me.  I couldn’t wait around on the alternate list all day, so I wearily trudged home, arriving before my dear husband had even gotten out of bed.  It was not yet 10:00, and my whole morning had been a flop.

I haven’t gone on an equity cattle call throughout all of December or January.  Nor have I gone on an agent call.  My agents claim they haven’t forgotten about me.  “Things wax and wane,” they explain.  But ever since my favorite agent departed for motherhood, I’ve been remarkably un-busy.  Meanwhile, I’ve tried to settle into the 9 to 5 routine proffered by my internship at the Overlook Press.  While there I ask myself almost every minute, “Do you like this?  Could you do this full time?”  And the answer thus far is yes.  Especially after mornings like these.

But I’m also looking for a sign:  someone or something to tell me what to do.  I actively pray for a sign.  “Lord, should I continue to pursue an acting career or should I do something else?”  So far, I haven’t received a definitive, Moses-from-the-mountain-type sign.  Broadway has not called to book me.  I have not been struck, figuratively or literally, by a bolt of lightening.  (Thank God.)  All I get is soapless showers and the distinct impression that I just should’ve stayed in bed.

Rehearsals started exactly a week ago, and here is a list of things I can do on stilts:  time step, shimmy, chassee, grapevine, pivot step.  I have the music theatre basics DOWN.  I can also do several different types of walks: stroll through the park, jog in the park, “sneaky-sneaky,” and “dirty little gypsy.”  Most mornings at ten we have stilt class.  It lasts an hour and is conducted like a regular dance class.  We start with a warm-up created by our physical therapy team that makes sense in some places (hundreds, runner’s lunge) and not in others (push-ups, contractions).  Then Warren, the choreographer, shouts, “Suit up, people!  We’re goin’ in!”  and we all climb onto our high stools to strap ourselves into our stilts.

Warren and his assistant Parker then lead us through a series of steps.  We warm up in the center, then move across the floor, finishing with a combination, just like a jazz class would.   First we march.  When Warren shouts out, “Exit!”  And we all have to face the exit while marching.  Then he’ll go, “Dog it!”  And we all have to march to face the back wall, which is covered with pictures of various breeds of dog.  Next, “Window,” then back to the front with “Mirror.”  This goes on for about five minutes, with Warren switching up the directions in a sort of stilted Simon Says:  “Mirror!  Window!  Dog it!  Mirror!  Dog it!  Exit!”  We invariably futz up, but no one’s fallen.  Yet.

Then we walk across the floor.  “Sneaky, sneaky,” or, as it’s sometimes called, “Cheeky, cheeky,” requires one to walk on the tips of one’s stilts as if one were a cat burglar or, in this case, a dog thief.  It’s a strange feeling to get used to.  Lately, we’ve been doing cheeky, cheeky backwards, while Warren cries out encouragement, using the various nicknames he’s quick to assign to us  (I do not have one yet.)  “Good, Bob!  Steal the puppies!  Steal the puppies!”  Bob’s name is Garreth.  Dirty little gypsy requires us to lunge forward in the stilt and sort of drag the other leg behind us.  Warren has Parker demonstrate as he calls out in his London accent:  “Stroll, stroll, stroll, stroll, dirty little gypsy, dirty little gypsy, dirty little gypsy, dirty little gypsy.”  Today we had a new challenge: quick-stepping with a mannequin on wheels.

I do love Warren and Parker and their other assistant, Sarah, who is a tiny, beautiful English dancer.  I realized today I sort of wish I were her (she).  And I like myself, so that’s saying something.   As for Warren, I love his turn of phrase, plus I love that he refers to the kids in the cast as devil children.  (Even though, truth be told, they’re not.)  He gives us notes like (imagine this in an English accent), “Use your arms to help hurl your carcass off the floor,” or to the kids once, “When Park or Sarah hits you on the back of the head, get up and dance.”  The choreography is balletic (my favorite), mixed with shameless music theatreness, such as the aforementioned grapevine and jazz hands (or in this case, jazz paws).

We’ve been spending most of our time dancing or learning music.  Our composer/lyricist is a former member of the band Styx, which I’m not familiar with, although everyone assures me I am.  He attends every music rehearsal and loves to jump in and tweak things: he’ll change a lyric here, a note there, add a rest or another bar, and sometimes coach us on how to sound more “pop.”  It’s kind of neat creating a show.  He isn’t intimidating at all, despite the fact that he wears the requisite sunglasses all the time (although I think there could be a medical reason), and he’s actually quite funny in a musician sort of way.  Today he walked into rehearsal with five metrosexuals in office wear.  “These gentlemen are from the CIA,” he announced.  “They’ve received reports that we’re torturing singers.”  We all laughed, then he said, “No, seriously, they’re from the Thanksgiving parade.  They’re just here to hear some of the music.”

Now, I’m the swing.  Before my mom or anyone freaks out, I probably wouldn’t be on TV even if we were chosen for the parade, unless I were to start rolling marbles down stairs.  Incidentally, we’re scheduled to be in Texas at that point, so I don’t know how that would work out.  But still, it was very exciting.  We sang “Twilight Barking.”  Now doesn’t that sound like a lovely song?  There’s no woofing, by the way.  The dogs speak English with various British dialects throughout the play.

Speaking of dialects, and even though it’s completely off topic, don’t miss out on Spike Lee’s movie of Passing Strange.  If you missed it on Broadway, as I did, run to the IFC if you’re in New York and check it out.  If you’re not in New York, move.  Or at least visit.  It’s the final performance of Passing Strange captured on film and it was simply amazing: one of the best things, if not the best thing, I’ve seen all year.  Also really loved In the Loop, a British farcical satire about the UK/US decision to invade an unnamed Middle Eastern country.  Hilarious, but absolutely rated R.  Profanity is an art form for these people, and you will guffaw.

One final recommendation:  couldn’t put down Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger.  Andre will attest that it held me captive for the last couple of days with a Harry Potter-like tenacity.  I kept it in my purse, even though it’s a tome, and at restaurants when Andre went to the bathroom, he’d come back to find me reading just one more page… call your library.  Hook it up.

Stay tuned for more updates.

I regret that due to an insane schedule, I am only able to write about events some weeks or days after they happen.  It has been my intent for some time to write a review of the funny, under appreciated 9 to 5.

I had been encouraged to see 9 to 5 by some theatre-crowd friends whose opinions I respected, so I eagerly accepted my first invitation to go.  Reviews, I understood, had been lukewarm, which in the theatre world usually means everyone loved it but the Times or vice versa.  I didn’t read the Times review until just now (for inspiration).  Having seen the show, I can only assume that Ben Brantley meant to write a piece entitled, “A Stodgy Old Fart Goes to Broadway.”

The curmudgeonly review opens by comparing 9 to 5 to Eugene Ionesco’s absurdist work, Exit the King. This is like comparing Ace Ventura: Pet Detective to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  Both movies feature Jim Carrey, just as both shows are on Broadway.  But other than that, he is comparing apples to oranges, to put it mildly.  They are just completely different shows.  Brantley’s point is that in such an intellectually exciting season, 9 to 5 feels like tourist-pandering  froth.  And to that end, he’s right.  Movie musicals appeal to the ignorant tourist as well as to the risk-averse investor.  But that doesn’t mean the show’s not good.

Scenerychewer, for one, is glad to see a good, old-fashioned book musical starring adult actors in undeniably grown-up situations.  I am happy to hear a score that sounds like it was written for the stage with songs that, believe it or not, advance the plot and reveal new aspects of the characters.  I am happy to see three gifted actresses strut their stuff on a stage filled with unleashed character actors.  In short, the show is a stitch.  Go see it.  You’ll have a ball.

Scenerychewer is not proposing the show is without its flaws.  The only particularly memorable song is the title number, although there are plenty of memorable moments within the songs.  Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography, which I liked so much in In the Heights, is a trifle too busy for my taste.  It seemed to be compensating for a slight lack of direction.  But the cast is first-rate, particularly Alison Janney and the hilarious Kathy Fitzgerald.  If you love good acting, a good laugh, and most of all, if you love musical theatre, go see this show.  You won’t be disappointed.

http://theater2.nytimes.com/2009/05/01/theater/reviews/01nine.html