ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Andrea, Alexis and Agonizing Auditions

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Andrea, Alexis and Agonizing Auditions
Greetings from Alaska! And, by Alaska, I mean San Francisco.
Andrea McArdle
Andrea McArdle

Why didn't anybody warn me that it's colder here than the reception Daisy Eagan got when she saw Once On This Island? (She won the Tony over La Chanze that year…remember? Anybody?)

I'm playing for beltress Andrea McArdle here in the new cabaret space called the Rrazz Room. I arrived with a pair of cool shorts and two new tank tops I wanted to work since it's gay pride, and instead I've been walking around in long pants and a bulky sweatshirt. I was doing an interview on the phone for The Dallas Voice (more on that later), and the interviewer heard my non-stop complaining and said there's an expression that goes, "The coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco." Why didn't I hear those sage words before I boarded Jet Blue? All right, I'll get back to San Fran. Let me start at the beginning of the week.

Once in a while, a group comes to New York and hires me to interview Broadway folk. This group was seeing Young Frankenstein and In the Heights, so I interviewed two of my best friends from those shows, Paul Castree and Andrea Burns. Paul and I are always sharing devastating audition stories, and here's one of my faves because of the moral. He wanted to audition for the original Ragtime but couldn't make the singers call, so he went to the dancers call. Paul is actually a great dancer (he had one of the leads in Saturday Night Fever) but he has N-O ballet training. Graciela Daniele was leading the audition, and the first combination was typical for the end of ballet class: step, pas de bourree, glissade, jete. As soon as Paul saw it, he gathered his belongings and went to the casting person to say he was leaving because didn't want to embarrass himself. The casting person told him that there were all levels of dancers being cast in the show and that he should just stay and try it. Paul begrudgingly walked back to the center of the room to get put into groups. As he was waiting to "dance," his attention was drawn to a guy in the group dancing ahead of him. Paul watched the guy as he flounced about the floor, not doing any of the steps correctly. Paul thought, "Oh, no! That must be how I look!" He couldn't bear the thought of looking that un-cast-able (is that a word?). He quickly gathered his things again, and this time no amount of cajoling from the casting director could convince him to stay. For months after, the image of that clunky man dancing stayed clear in his head. Finally, he went to see Ragtime on Broadway and loved it so much. He was devastated he wasn't in it…and even more so when he saw that clunky guy center stage! That's right, apparently they were looking for all levels of dancers and if Paul had stayed, perhaps he would have been hitting the A at the end of "New Music."

My version of that story is when A Chorus Line was coming back to Broadway, I desperately wanted an audition. I grew up obsessed with that show and played piano for the European tour, so I knew it like the back of my hand. My agent said he would have to schmooze the casting people to get me an audition because they probably thought I couldn't dance. I told him to tell them that if you watch the 1976 Tony Awards, some of those Chorus Line dancers look amazing and some look awful. I proudly said that I am definitely as good as one of the awful ones. My agent sounded confused and muttered, "OK…I'll tell them you're awful," and for some reason, I didn't get an audition. Well, that wasn't going to stop me. I stormed over to Equity and signed up for the EPA. I was positive the audition would consist of the opening combination, and I had been at so many dance rehearsals for that show that I knew the opening backwards and forwards. The only thing I was nervous about was the double turn at the end of it ("turn, turn, out, in"). Well, a few weeks before the audition, the great dancer and former member of the show, Carlos Lopez, was teaching a class at Broadway Dance Center to prep for the audition! I went and told my friend, Grant Turner, to come with me because he had just gotten his green card (he's from Australia) and could finally start working on Broadway. Carlos spent a lot of time focusing on the turn, turn section, and I was actually doing it! I was psyched as I arrived at the audition. Well, I walked in with the other dancers, who all had amazing dancer bodies, and decided my trick would be to wear my shirt out. I'm sure it fooled everyone into thinking I had a six-pack that I was too humble to highlight. Baayork Lee (the original Connie and now choreographer) was super friendly to me, but perhaps thought I was there to relieve the pianist. Instead I stood with the other dancers and prepared to learn the opening as she liked it done. It all began well enough, until we got to the turn, turn section. I got nervous and sort of wobbled through a single turn and right at that moment, I heard one of the casting people say, loudly, "He can't do it!" Perhaps he was talking about something else entirely, but the timing was shockingly devastating. Then Baayork put us into groups. And by "groups," I mean two people at a time! That's not a group! How am I supposed to be able to hide and wow 'em with my personality!?! Then, because I wasn't nervous enough, I realized we had to do the opening towards a blatant camera crew because they were filming the auditions for a reality show! I got so panicked that my lack of technique turned my "turn, turn" into basically a "trip and saunter out of camera range." I was mortified…especially when it happened again. That's right, we were all graciously given a second chance, and I proved to everyone that my dance training ended in the eighties. The two things I'm thankful for are that the reality show never aired and that I didn't do a pre-dance interview. They were talking to people outside the audition room and I was one inch away from saying, "Everybody in there knows me as a pianist but they're gonna be blown away by my dancing." Of course, any editor in their right mind would immediately follow that set-up with a montage of my "fierce" dancing, aka turns that never happened and the shocked expression of the dancers around me. My only consolation is that the brilliantly talented Grant did get the show and told me that Baayork said if I had done the double turn, I would have gotten a call back. The point of that story is, I knew the dance was too hard, but I stayed anyway, as opposed to Paul. Also, I was humiliated as opposed to Paul, and instead of being begged to stay by the casting people as Paul was, I was specifically told not to show up in the first place. The moral of Paul's story is: You never really know what the creative team is looking for, so don't decide for them. The moral of mine is: Sometimes it is clear what the creative team is looking for, so don't go there if you suck.

On Wednesday I flew out to San Fran and because Juli's last day of school was Thursday, James came out that night (Juli went to visit her Gran in Texas). Andrea's show has been going great and her beautiful daughter, Alexis Kalehoff, is here with us. Alexis (now 19) made her Broadway debut as Young Cosette in Les Miz at age eight and loves to tell Andrea that she beat her to Broadway by five years. I knew that the Young Cosette's have to play Young Eponine also, as well as understudy Gavroche, the little boy. Alexis told me that she got to go on for Gavroche, and it was a "unique" performance. She was at the section of the show where Javert sings "Stars" and Gavroche is listening behind the barricade then steps out and sings, "That inspector thinks he's something etc…" She said that she really had to pee and didn't know what to do…go offstage? What if she missed her cue? Finally, realizing that the show must go on, she simply peed onstage!!! She said that the stagehands who stand underneath the barricade were horrified and had to shield their heads from the onslaught. Alexis thought the story was hilarious at the time and all Andrea thought was "Thank God we have different last names."

Of course, I asked Andrea for some Annie stories, and she hauled out a seventies classic. She said that one of the guys from the chorus accidentally left a vial of something in her dressing room called "Locker Room." To her, it looked like one of the things she would get at the magic store in Times Square she always visited. She opened it, and it smelled weird. Of course, she found out years later that it was amyl nitrate (poppers) but she had no idea at the time. She was always a total prankster and thought it would be hilarious to make the stage smell bad for the orphans in the opening scene….so she poured it all over the beds! Well, that curtain went up and suddenly all the little girls in the orphanage were swooning, staggering and gagging. She said that poor Danielle Brisebois, who played Molly, was seven and couldn't even make sense of her lines! Of course, they had to pull the curtain, get the girls back to normal, and even though Andrea didn't admit she did it, the fact that her face and neck was totally flushed from mortification made her get written up to Equity. And that was the last prank she ever pulled. That day.

When she was doing Les Miz, Andrea wanted the kids in the cast to have an Easter egg hunt, so she hid 72 eggs all over the stage. They were the plastic kind that had money inside so everybody in the show had a great time looking for them. Unfortunately, she hid 72 eggs… and they only found 68! The remaining eggs wound up breaking the barricade and the bank…Andrea had to pay $17,000 to get it fixed!

The most fun part about San Francisco is this Chocolate Café we discovered in Pacific Heights called "Bittersweet." They make a classic hot chocolate, which reminded me of the long-ago discontinued Starbucks "Chantico" hot chocolate…aka a melted chocolate bar in a cup….Delish! What's great about the town is they have lots of zoning laws, so all these charming independent booksellers are everywhere, instead of the big conglomerates that come in and close down all the stores. I've been going into all the bookstores because I love to read (just read "Twilight," which is a great young adult book about a 17-year-old girl in love with a vampire). At the first store I went into, I saw my books on the shelf, and the woman who worked there asked if I would autograph them! "With pleasure!" I said. After that, it was downhill. At the next store we visited, I asked where my books were, and the bookseller told me they were sold out. "Excellent!" I said, with a smile. "Yep," he continued. "We sold all four." Ouch. Then I walked into another store and said to the counterman, "I see you're carrying my two books, 'The Q Guide to Broadway' and 'Broadway Nights.'" Then I added, magnanimously, "Would you like me to autograph them?" To which I got a low energy, "If you want." Suffice it to say, if I had ever gotten a face lift, it would have fallen.

So, next week I'll begin rehearsal for the Rosie RFamilyVacations cruise. The last night on the cruise will be a concert version of Chicago, and I'm almost finished casting it. The amazing Brenda Braxton is going to be Velma, and Lillias White will reprise her role as Matron Mama Morton. Brava! Then, the following week I go to Dallas to play for Betty Buckley's all Broadway/all request show. Can't wait for the belting! While I'm there, I'm going to give a musical theatre master class at the Water Tower Theater, which should be fun because Dallas is a great theater town. Go to www.watertowertheatre.org/currentnews.asp#1 if you're gonna be in the area and you wanna come!

Okay, everyone, happy July and go see a show! *

(Seth Rudetsky is the host of "Seth's Big Fat Broadway" on SIRIUS Satellite Radio and the author of "The Q Guide to Broadway" and the novel "Broadway Nights." He has played piano in the orchestras of 15 Broadway musicals and hosts the BC/EFA benefit weekly interview show Seth's Broadway Chatterbox at Don't Tell Mama every Thursday at 6 PM. He can be contacted by visiting www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com.)

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