"You must know, my dear, auditions are not everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, some people would rather have their prostate removed by the burning hot fist of the ghost of Ethel Merman than endure yet another humiliating round of proving their worth.
I, on the other hand, rather like auditions.
Maybe it’s because I’m just that good."
I will admit, it’s a complete roll of the dice. You never know who’s going to show up or try out, even when you’re part of a close-knit little community (but just on the edge of semi-professional!) theater such as the group I’m involved with, The Bull Moose Theater Guild. And I must admit, even though I am quite confident in my abilities and my superior standing (dare I say celebrity? I dare, I dare!) in my own little corner of the theater world, you just never know who or why or when someone you’ve never met before is going to drop out of the clear blue sky to give you a run for your money. Admittedly, in my many years on the boards—and the exact number of those years is not for you to know, cough cough, thank you very much—I have been fortunate enough to have far more Ws than Ls attached to my name and resume, starting with my turn at the tender age of ten as the title character in the Breakneck Speed Players production of Oliver. My rendition of “Where Is Love?” had the audience openly weeping. Ah, be that as it may, there have been a few times the great big role went to the other guy. Oh, the ones that got away!
So there I was, attending the last night of auditions for the Bull Moose Theater Guild’s upcoming, not-to-be-missed production of Sweeney Todd. I could hardly believe it...Sweeney! Todd! Sondheim at his most operatic! They had been talking about doing the show for so long I had long ago given up hope. Their reticence was surely due to the petulance of our musical director, a man cursed with a touch of musical halitosis, who insisted the show was simply out of our range, that the orchestration was far too complex and daunting for our abilities (while at the same time insisting that I would be perfect in the role, curse the son of a bitch.) Each and every time it was proposed, he would knock it down like a stack of dominoes. But somehow, this year, the Board of Directors and my dear, dear friend, the great stage director Vern Slater had finally grown some hair on their balls and steadfastly elected to take the plunge.
Here’s a tip for you theater novices: notice I said I was attending the last night of auditions. In my sincere yet sincerely humble opinion, those who have any serious expectations of getting cast in the lead should never, in their wildest dreams! Consider trying out on the first night. There’s just no point, darlings. They never remember you, and if they do, they remember you as being needy. Too willing to be a part of it, and that means they own you. Take my word, performers should never give the impression they’re willing to be a part of anything.
Anyway, auditions were being held same as always, in the auditorium of the St. Basilica Church at 7:00 p.m., in their cold and dreary basement. How any theater magic could grow out of that dank and dismal place was beyond me. Personally, I’ve always disliked auditioning and rehearsing at St. Basilica’s, because it’s far too small (especially for something as massive as Sweeney Todd...hell’s bells!) and the Catholic priests never let us rehearse anywhere besides the auditorium, even though they had several perfectly lovely rooms upstairs that would be just perfect, like the rectory. Oh, and they insisted that each night, we had to pick everything up, just the way we found it, because they had Bingo every Wednesday and Friday! Otherwise, there would be holy hell to pay!
(Well, others could pick it all up after rehearsal. That certainly wasn’t a job for me. I usually had pages of notes to share with Vern, or whoever was directing, and I had to strike while the iron was hot.)
As awful as the rehearsal space was, it was some small comfort that the performance area was actually one of the better ones around. Bull Moose held its productions at Ratcliffe College, located just 20 miles from Boston, in a beautiful theater space. The musical director, despite all his numerous other failings, insisted on a full orchestra for each and every show. Just the thought of stepping onto those floorboards to the strains of “Raise your razor high, Sweeney” was enough to raise up the hairs on my amply hairy back. In fact, it almost made the torment of rehearsing in the church worth it. Almost! Frankly, I would have preferred going Protestant.
That’s my name, by the way, Dante D’Agrande. My father had a taste for the classics, in case you couldn’t guess. It was a great name, I have to confess. It looked great in a program, too, right at the very top of the cast list. Any lower, and it just looked out of place.
Oh, and who exactly was shrieking out from across a crowded room, for everyone else to hear? None other than dear old Missy Beckelman, the theater’s resident choreographer and a pretty good actress in her own right. A few years ago, she had played Golde to my Tevye. I tell you, we made that show into a miracle of miracles. However, just between the two of us, I must confess that during certain sections, when the two of us sang together, Missy had an unfortunate tendency to go a wee bit flat. To these well-tuned ears, it always set my teeth on edge.
“Missy, darling, how the heck are you?” I asked, flinging the white scarf I was wearing over one shoulder before giving her a huge hug. Missy, for her part, fondled me and patted me on the back as if she were burping a baby.
Missy looked around the room, eying the competition. A lean in toward me, a dramatic stage whisper, into my ear. ““Thinking of Lovett. Don’t see anyone around here that should give me much of a run for my money.”
I took her lead and looked around the lobby, at the dozens of folks who had shown up for auditions. Partly for Missy, but mostly to check out my own competition. “You are so right,” I lied outrageously, even though I could see at least two other definite possibilities within spitting distance, including—
“Dante, dear, how ARE you doing?”
I recognized the baracuda’s voice immediately. Yes, there was one of Missy’s competitors; her main one, as a matter of fact. Danita Weatherlayne, two-time winner of the coveted NASH awards. And right next to her, oh dear lord...her husband.
“Danita. Good to see you!”
Danita smiled her fakest, most plastic smile and shook her head to show off her Jennifer Aniston (circa 2005) inspired mane of hair. How the role of Mrs. Lovett could support a Jennifer Aniston (circa 2005) inspired mane of hair was beyond me, but perhaps Danita for once in her life would forego vanity and allow an actual wig to be placed atop her head come opening night.
One of her bedazzled hands gripped my left arm and gave it a squeeze. “Dante, dear, best of luck with auditions.” A skillfully-placed pause. “I’m assuming you are auditioning, right?”
I nodded, trying my hardest to keep everything bright and professional. “Best of luck to you, too.” With one bitchy hurdle crossed, I allowed myself to look over to the person standing next to her: her husband and my arch-rival, RJ Weatherlayne. I nodded vaguely in his direction. “And you, too, RJ.”
RJ nodded back, his bald head shining under the fluorescent lights of the church corridor, which made him look positively sinister. “May the best man grab the prize, Dante. I guess it all depends on the director’s vision, right? After all, we are a study in contrasts.”
Then he allowed himself the luxury of a smirk.
“Oh, dear.” Missy pursed her lips and headed over to the audition desk to grab a sheet.
I tried hard not to see red, because I knew precisely what he was implying. With his slender frame (still slender at the ripe old age of 43, curse him!) I was at least twice his size and about three inches shorter. But the talent, dear boy, the talent! That was certainly where I had it all over RJ. Simply put, I could take that paper bag he was acting out of and make it my bottom, any day of the week.
Perhaps Danita could see the tips of my ears burning red, for she deftly interjected before things grew too ugly. “Now, now, boys, there are roles enough for all! Honestly, Dante, I always pictured you as more of a Beadle. But that’s just me, of course!”
Gasp! The Beadle! The smallest, tiniest, most meaningless role in the whole show? And that’s what she pictured for ME? In that instant, I could feel my entire face growing beat red and the blood pressure building up inside. I knew that any instant I was going to make like Vesuvius and...but there, there. Calm down. Take a deep breath. It wouldn’t be wise to cause a scene at auditions...not again...
With all the acting talent I could muster, I calmed myself down enough to present a calm façade to the outside world.
I smiled politely at the accursed Danita. “I am hoping for a larger role than that,” I replied. “But we shall see what the fates have in store.”
With that, I bowed stiffly in their direction and headed toward the audition table. Missy was making a big show of busily filling out her sheet, but I knew full well that she had heard each and every word.
“I would have torn her hair out from those fake blond roots,” she whispered, imagining, I suppose, that she was being supportive.
My eyes burned coldly in her direction. “I appreciated the show of support,” I replied tartly. And I noticed how quickly you had disappeared when things started heating up, you ninny.
Missy, ever the demonstrative one, leaned forward and gave me a gentle pat on the back. “Don’t sweat it, love. We all know who’s going to walk away with the lead.”
Well, that was well said. I smiled kindly at Missy and turned to the audition table. “Hello, Roz.”
Roz was Vern’s assistant and props mistress, and a more no-nonsense lady you’d never want to meet. Even I found myself a little scared of her. She was in her fifties and had spiky black hair cut short, and a large KISS tattoo affixed to one of her bony arms. She was a bad ass, all right, and from what I could tell, she had never been married, and would certainly never have deigned to spread her loins and give birth to a child or two. What in the hell had attracted her to musical theater was totally beyond me.
“Hey yourself, D’Agrande. Here.” She shoved an audition sheet my way.
“Thanks.” I glanced again behind me, at all the other people waiting to audition. “Nice turnout.”
“Yeah.” Roz stared at me dispassionately, slowly and arduously chewing a piece of gum.
“Are they going to start soon, do you think?” Now, where did I have a damn pen...ah, there we go...
“Yeah. In about five.”
I leaned over a bit, trying my best to be charming, even though I knew from personal experience that with this woman, it was a hopeless task. “Do you think you could...maybe just...”
Roz blinked in my general direction. Her expression didn’t change a bit, her gum chewing didn’t miss a beat. “Don’t worry, D’Angrande. You know I like you. I’ll make certain you’re one of the last ones called.”
I didn’t look up, but started the busy work of filling out the audition sheet, of putting down the same old past triumphs from bygone days. And speaking of which...from the gaytonations of the voice, I knew exactly who was calling my name. Kevin James, my former partner in crime. We had been a solid act for four of five years until things started to run out of steam, the way so many productions do. He was still a dear friend, however, and an ardent admirer. And okay, maybe we still fooled around, every now and then. Well, what’s life without a fuck buddy or two, you know what I mean?
“Dante,” said Kevin, now close to me. His voice was all low and sexy, the way he knew I liked it. He had been trimmer when he had been younger, but had let himself go in his late twenties. It’s such a shame when the younger generation falls down on the job.
“Kevin, could you be a dear and fill out the rest of this for me?” As politely as could be, I handed the form to him. “Missy, what are you auditioning with today?”
“I’m doing a little something something from Phantom of the Opera.” Oh, great. Yet another rendition of ‘That’s All I Ask of You.’ I smiled, pretending fascination. Inside, I was holding my nose. “Then I thought I’d do ‘Be My Guest’ from Beauty and the Beast. You know, so Vern can get a sense of my inner Angela.”
It sounded absolutely horrific. “What a marvelous song selection!” I cried out, clapping my hands together. “And I know how well you sing both of those songs. After all, I’ve heard you perform them so many times! I have a feeling you-know-who will be quivering in her Manola Blahniks!”
We shared a fake theater laugh as Missy handed Roz her audition sheet. Impatiently, I cast a glance over in Kevin’s direction. He was still filling out my form. Had only gotten to last year’s theater triumphs, I noticed. I tell you, sometimes I had the patience of Job!
“Oh, give me that,” I said to Kevin playfully, as if it were annoying me to no end that he had yet to complete it. I was suddenly anxious to get into the auditorium and scope out the competition. “Let me see here...” I scanned the audition sheet, snatching the pen out of his fingers. “They know I’ve done Tevye, they know I’ve done Nathan Detroit...there was that totally unfortunate turn in Death of a Salesman, best NOT to mention that...of course, I’ve done the entire Neil Simon oeuvre...yes, I can dance, yes I can sing...I can make myself available for...well, most evenings...” With a flare, I finished the audition sheet and slapped it onto the desk in front of Roz.
“Okay, dearest Melissa,” I said, placing her hand in mine and then walking slowly enough so that Kevin could keep up if he so chose. “Let the games begin!”
We were barely three steps away from the audition desk when we heard Vern’s voice shouting out through the auditorium.
“Dante D’Angrande. You’re up!”
Flabbergasted, I slowly turned around to look at Roz. How had she..? Why had...? She stood there, my resume in her hands, and waved at me, smiling ever-so-sweetly.
“Okay,” I said to Missy, removing her arm from mine and feeling the panic start to set in. “We can do this.”
Lights, camera, action. Deep breath. I just hope I remembered all the words.
(TO BE CONTINUED)