NEWS FROM THE ROAD
The search is on to find casts for the Boston company and other productions of the B'way megahit, Rent
The box-office juggernaut called Rent, Jonathan Larson's award-winning Broadway musical about East Village bohemians, hits the road this fall. Boston wins the honor of being the first, with productions soon to follow in Toronto and Los Angeles. Thus, casting directors have been on a full-court press to fill the need for‹as a recent open casting call put it‹"singers who truly have a quality of street life, can move well and have a good time."
That open call drew more than 2,000 hopefuls from all over America to a Manhattan rehearsal studio in July, some arriving as early as 4 AM for auditions that began at 9 AM and continued throughout the day. By noon the colorful queue at a non-descript building on Lafayette Street had snaked past a long stretch of lower Broadway and almost wrapped back on itself‹a gigantic chorus line with résumés in hand and hope in the heart.
The scene was an exuberant media carnival of ambition and camaraderie, bare midriffs and painted jeans, pierced and tattooed derma and hip drag. All of this, of course, was a reflection of the musical with its cast of raw talent, some of whom had never before been on a stage.
"Precisely because this show is about discovering unknown talent, we're only going to find that out by doing open calls," said Bernie Telsey, the casting agent whose entire office was on red alert for the day-long search to fill the 15 roles and 4 understudies in upcoming productions of Rent as well as looking for replacements in the N.Y. company. "It's complicated because few of the norms of casting apply." Someone willing to test those norms was 25-year-old Stacey Gotkin, from Baldwin, Long Island. Facing Telsey himself in room 5G six hours after she'd arrived, Gotkin finally got a chance to belt out "Alone," a song made famous by the rock group Heart.
"That was good," said Telsey. "You got anything else?" Gotkin had brought another song but had left it in the anteroom where groups were nervously milling about, waiting for their chance to sing.
After she retrieved and sang the music, the casting agent placed her résumé on the second of five piles in front of him ranging from what he described as definites to definite nots. "We will work closely to nurture those in whom we see potential," said Telsey, noting that the lucky few who do get callbacks are likely to go through three more stages before they audition for director Michael Greif. "We're willing to give people second, third and fourth chances."
Indeed, in Telsey's "A" pile was the résumé of 23-year-old Michael Estrada. The young man in black shorts, sweater and Yankee cap had not brought another song with him, so Telsey asked him to improvise with pianist Jim Abbott. After singing a powerful "Amazing Grace," Telsey showed his approval. Later, a much-relieved Estrada recalled that he had auditioned for Rent in the early stages of the musical before it had moved to Broadway. "I don't know if he remembered this," said the Honolulu native, "but this was the same guy who 'typed me out' the last time. I was so bummed. But this time, this time was different. I just wanted a chance to sing, you know, to show what I could do." --
By Patrick Pacheco