She then talked about her West Side Story audition and told us that she was told to sing a typical audition song and, if she passed that, sing an aria. She decided that "Un Bel Di" would be her aria. When she told her agent, he told not to sing it because she wouldn't be able to. (He knew her mainly as a dancer.) She went into a little room with all the bigwigs (including Leonard Bernstein), and when they asked for her aria, her agent ran across the room and stood there with his hands over his ears! Well, after she sang, Berstein stood up, grabbed her hands and said, "Miss Lawrence, that was beautiful." Then he turned to the agent and said, "And you, young man, if you'll get out of that ridiculous position, I'd like to bring her back so I can hear her sing that in a theatre." And that was her first of 13 (!) auditions.
She finally got cast as Maria opposite Larry Kert and they became incredibly close. Jerome Robbins wasn't nice to either of them and they bonded because of it. Carol then found out that there was going to be a ballet in Act Two and Robbins had hired two ballet company dancers to play Tony and Maria. Carol asked if she and Larry could learn the dance. Robbins asked her why, "since she didn't dance." Carol, meanwhile, had mentioned at every audition that she did, indeed, dance, and had tons of dance credits on her resume. He then looked at Larry and asked why he was going to learn it since he could "barely walk." Nonetheless, Robbins told them they could learn it but if they stayed in the wings because he didn't want to see them. Carol said it was difficult to learn the steps from the side so she and Larry eventually snuck onstage and hid all the way in the back. Finally, Robbins must have noticed them, because one day he asked them to step forward and do the dance. And from then on, they did the ballet segment in Act Two! Brava manipulation!
I asked if the high C at the end of the "Tonight Quintet" was difficult, and she said it wasn't because everyone was singing. But the hardest part for her was the slow ascension at the end of "One Hand, One Heart" because it was so exposed. They not only had no body mics (of course) but there were no foot mics either! Carol said that the fire escape for the balcony scene was high up and all the way upstage and she would get notes to sing sweeter and quieter... but louder. So hard! She and Larry Kert filmed the "Tonight" balcony scene for Ed Sullivan and she said it was exactly how it was done in the show. Watch this amazing piece of Broadway history here! And speaking of Maria and Tony, Carol and I recreated the cover of the West Side Story album right after the Chatterbox… look!
If you want to see Carol back on the boards again, get thee to her new play where she hauls out her dramatic AND comedic chops: Handle With Care.
(Seth Rudetsky is the afternoon Broadway host on SiriusXM. He has played piano for over 15 Broadway shows, was Grammy-nominated for his concert CD of Hair and Emmy-nominated for being a comedy writer on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." He has written two novels, "Broadway Nights" and "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan," which are also available at Audible.com. He recently launched SethTV.com, where you can contact him and view all of his videos and his sassy new reality show.)
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