Onstage & Backstage: What Do You Say at Your Audition When James Lapine Asks, "So, How Do You Think You Did?"

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage & Backstage: What Do You Say at Your Audition When James Lapine Asks, "So, How Do You Think You Did?"
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
Susann in <i>Oliver!</i>
Susann in Oliver!
Susann Fletcher
Susann Fletcher

I am viewing the beautiful blue ocean off the coast of Florida. Sigh. Tomorrow I fly back to the frigidness of New York City. Yay? Anyhoo, this week on Seth Speaks was a severe blast from the past; Broadway's Susann Fletcher was my guest, and she talked about doing a show back in the late '70's in her native Virginia that had been directed and choreographed by Tom Panko. Tom was the assistant to choreographer Onna White on Mame and Oliver! (the film as well) and a few weeks after the show closed, Susann got a call from him asking her to assist him on a production of Oliver! He also told her she'd be in it and she'd get her Equity card! She, of course, said yes and then he told her it was beginning in five days.

Ah! She moved to New York immediately and started working the Northstage Dinner Theater production of Oliver! starring Shani Wallis as Nancy, who had also played the role in the film. One of the young boys in the chorus of that production was none other than a pre-pubescent me! Yes, Susann and I both made our New York professional debuts in that show, although she got her Equity Card and I was only taking home $50 a week. Of course, people in my audience wanted to know what I was like when I was a kid, and she recalled me having a lot of high energy that would burst-out during every rehearsal break because it was so difficult for me to keep it in during rehearsal (aka A.D.D.). She also told the audience I "had a voice like Barbra Streisand." I think that's code for "nasal," but I'll take it. She said she remembers one particular break when I went to the piano to play something, and "everyone's head whipped around" to listen. That was also the beginning of them using me as a rehearsal pianist. Whenever the pianist had a rehearsal in another room, I would jump up and yell, "I'll do it!" I was looked at as either very helpful, or a Jewish version of Reese Witherspoon's annoying, pushy character in "Election."

Seth as the milkboy during "Who Will Buy?"
Seth as the milkboy during "Who Will Buy?"

Regardless, after Oliver! closed Susann went into The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and then the notorious mid-80's flop, Raggedy Ann. She tried to describe the plot to us, and I went into a shut down state of shock. The highlights I can remember are this (remember ticket buyers assumed from the title that it was a perfect show for kids): Mother dies in childbirth, father becomes an alcoholic, child gets a severe illness and the rest of the show is her fever dream about her doll being sick. When the doll finally gets to the doll hospital, all the doll hospital beds turns around and they're cemetery plots. If you want more details... why? Susann then talked about auditioning for Jerome Robbins' Broadway and how she knew she'd get it. She had seen Gypsy when she was younger and was fascinated. But not with Dainty June or Louise. No, she told us she walked around her dance studio singing/dancing "With a ugh, and a ugh and a ugh, ugh, UGH." How old was she? Eight. At that age she knew she was destined to play a stripper one day in "Gotta Get a Gimmick."

Brynn O'Malley
Brynn O'Malley

Finally, in the late '80's, she auditioned as a dancer for Jerome Robbins' Broadway. She got cast in the show in various roles (including Electra in the stripper number) after a grueling eight-hour audition. But that was nothing compared to the rehearsal period: seven months! Susann said you had to be there every day whether or not you were rehearsing. Since this was before personal computers and cell phones, they tried to make the green rooms entertaining by having a reading room, a game room etc... whatever could help you pass a whole day when you weren't rehearsing. However, she always would wind up rehearsing for at least 10 minutes a day. Why? Because Jerome Robbins would always get into whatever character he was rehearsing each day. Whatever character he was inhabiting, he always needed to cleanse the palate at the end of the day and the only way he wanted to do it was by watching "Gotta Get A Gimmick." So, at the end of every rehearsal day, Susann (Electra), Faith Prince (Tessie Tura), Debbie Shapiro (Mazeppa) and Mary Ann Lamb (Louise) would gather and do the entire scene and song. And Susann said, you had to be at full performance level every time. After doing nothing for eight hours. For no audience. Fun? Maybe for the first four months. You can see her here as one of the strippers in this original commercial!

Seth's Broadway Chatterbox had three comic leads from Honeymoon in Vegas, and they were so much fun. First, David Josefsburg, who plays the Vegas lounge singer, told us about his first big gig, the national tour of Les Miserables. Sometimes it's hard to be in the ensemble because you feel you're just one voice in an entire group number, but then you can think about how your voice still adds to the sound and you realize how important you are. It was hard for David to convince himself of that considering that in Act Two, he didn't have a mic. Yes, he was surrounded by an enormous cast wearing the latest in microphone technology and he was told to simply "sing out." So basically, all the harmony he was belting was heard around two feet in front of him. I guess it finally answered the question, "Do You Hear The People Sing?" Answer: no.

Brynn O'Malley also spoke about Les Miz. She auditioned to be Eponine in the '07 revival after Lea Michele left to do Spring Awakening. She saw the sign-in sheet and noticed Celia Keenan-Bolger's name written down. Brynn immediately knew that Celia would get Eponine, leave The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and she'd be asked to audition to replace Celia. She was so sure of it that she bought tickets to Spelling Bee that night. Sure enough, she was immediately asked to audition to replace Celia and she prepared herself mentally. Why mentally? Because she had heard that James Lapine can throw anything at you at an audition, and often people emotionally break. She was ready for anything and even had a cell phone tucked into her bra in case she was asked to improv (she thought she could use the phone to have a fake conversation). Well, as soon as she walked in, he looked at her and asked, "Do you have any rock and roll?"

What? The audition was for Olive who is anything but rock and roll. Ah! The one thing she didn't prepare for! Well, in her head she decided that rock and roll was probably code for high belting so she chose her highest song... "The Story Goes On." Let me simply say, that song is decidedly not rock and roll. If you've never heard it, here's an Obsessed I did with the original singer Liz Callaway where she sings it. Janis Joplin, it ain't. Suffice it to say, Brynn wasn't cast. However, she worked with Lapine later on when she played Grace in Annie. She told us that she now knows him super-well and was hilarious describing how she would have reacted today; she claims that as soon as he asked for rock and roll, she should have just looked annoyed and casually said "F--- off!" and he immediately would have loved it and said, "You're hired!"

David Josefsberg in <i>Honeymoon</i>
David Josefsberg in Honeymoon Photo by Joan Marcus

Speaking of Lapine and bizarre auditions, David recounted auditioning for Rooster in Annie with a comic song that even featured a little dance in the middle. He forgot a few words, but still thought it went very well. Lapine looked at him and asked, "How do you think you did?" Huh? I'm constantly annoyed whenever my therapist hauls out the ol' "How do you feel about that?" and I'd be even more annoyed if I were asked that at an audition. David answered with "Um... pretty well. I mean, I forgot some words, but I think it was good." Lapine kept it going and asked, "So... on a scale of 1 to 10, what would you give yourself?" What's happening?! David then was forced to say, "I guess a 7 ½. It would have been an 8 ½ if I remembered all the lyrics." Not since Coco was forced to disrobe has there ever been a more uncomfortable audition. The good news: Lapine agreed the audition was an 8 ½. The bad news: no call back.

Speaking of Chatterbox, this Thursday at 5 PM I have South Pacific Tony Award winner Paulo Szot who's about to do his solo show at 54 Below. Go to here for info and come see this handsome man with the booming voice! And, my brand new live Obsessed! starring Ramin Karimloo, Megan Hilty and Ana Gasteyer will finally go up on youtube.com on Tuesday! Here's a preview! And, PS, if you want to curl up with a book on these freezing winter days, get "My Awesome Awful Popularity Plan" so you'll know all the characters before the sequel comes out in June. Peace out!

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