Let me see, how does this thing work again?
Herewith a few ruminations on the time I spent in theater, and roles I never got to play.
My early exposure was to the classics, which was a good place to start. During that time my most dreaded show was “Bye Bye Birdie” because of the dancing. For many of the dances we were simply told by the choreographer “Just make up something modern”. I had no idea what that meant (and was frequently reminded of that fact by the director). I had no training and my body simply could not pull off a decent line. (Rather hard to imagine we had no mirrored rehearsal room, that may have helped.)
The second least favorite show was “The King and I” because we had to appear shirtless with dark body paint. Because of the cost of the makeup, we were only allowed to wash it off at the end of the run each week (2 or 3 weeks, I don’t recall exactly). It was a great cast and the performances went well, but how I remember having to keep my sleeves down in public lest my ghastly second skin would start to show. Thankfully, we were permitted to wash our hands and face.
Along the way, our director popped in a show that we’d never heard of—“Wonderful Town”. Of course since the revival it’s rather well known now. If we’d have only known what we were working with! In the beginning we didn’t even know it was a Bernstein score, though the orchestra was painfully aware. My part was the tour guide who has the opening song “Christopher Street”. The very first voice you heard was mine (and at least it was an easy range to sing). An incidental story concerns the only time I totally blanked out onstage. It was an off night for the cast, we were sort of just walking through it. As I was doing the song my mind started wandering and lo and behold I went for the next verse and nothing came out! I felt so horrible and made an unconvincing attempt to cover it up. (Nothing like introducing the characters and skipping one. Mr. Appopolous was not amused!) Yes, a note from the director after that misstep.
For the most part my memorization skills fared better when it came to the role of Sheridan Whiteside in “The Man Who Came to Dinner”. Now that was a lengthy book, and my character was onstage for most of the three acts. Granted it was a scenery-chewing bit and certainly at the time nobody anticipated my brief career in broadcasting. The arrogance and ego just flowed through me. I don’t think I fully unleashed Whiteside until we were in front of a live audience. Credit needs to be given to the actress who played Lorraine, for during the scene with the mummy case I accidentally skipped over pages of dialogue. I could see from the faces in the wings that something was wrong, then it struck me if we didn’t retrace our steps an important part of the plot would be lost (concerning the necklace). Just as she was about to exit I double backed to the missing pages, and she just followed right along as if nothing had happened. The audience got the complete story, while the prompters were left to flip pages trying to figure out where we were. It was great fun and an opportunity to polish up some comedic timing. I regretted it was a short run.
The favorite character I almost got to play was Cornelius Hackl in “Hello Dolly” (my challenged dancing skills aside). I’d been with the troupe for several years and this was immediately following my role as Sheridan Whiteside, but alas I was only assigned as understudy. I really had other things to do with my time and didn’t feel like putting in the weeks of rehearsal for another chorus part. I left the cast and as it would turn out, would have never played the part anyway. Yes, my diva side was showing.
In truth there was another “almost” part when I was considered to replace the actor in the role of Patrick in “Mame”. While he came from a well-connected family, there were concerns about his off-key singing. Since I regarded him as a friend I deliberately blew the audition since I was afraid of the friction afterwards. I don’t know if he was ever aware I was approached to replace him, but on he went as the audience winced at his sour notes. An amusing aside is that he later ran for public office, and if he had won I’d have ended up working for him in a roundabout way. Perhaps it’s best I passed on the offer.
Parts I never had a chance to play would probably revolve around three plum roles. After seeing the original touring Broadway cast of “Cabaret” I desperately craved the role of emcee. I think any actor would leap at the chance to interpret such a showcase.
Claude in “Hair” would be another character whose chance I never had, though for my exhibitionist self there’s irony that it’s one of the few parts that doesn’t require nudity! (I would never have the personality for Berger.)
Most recently, it was easy to fall in love with Man in Chair from “The Drowsy Chaperone”. Just listening to the cast recording that note of “I represent ALL of you!” came through in droves. I’ve seen two different casts. The first touring cast had Jonathan Crombie in the part since he was Bob Martin’s hand picked replacement. (We did however get to see Georgia Engel as Mrs. Tottendale after she left the Broadway cast.) Mr. Crombie didn’t sell the part as well as I’d hoped; he didn’t have that personable connection with the audience that is so important. The second tour that came to town had a much better Man in Chair, more like Bob Martin’s interpretation. Alas I do not recall the actor’s name since he was relatively unknown.
“The Drowsy Chaperone” was listed in the upcoming season of our local community theater and yes there was the temptation to dust myself off and audition. Unfortunately the show was yanked from the schedule, one could presume “budget” and “set” were probably keywords in the decision (unless they just rescinded the rights). I would say to myself how could I ever pull off eating that snack onstage in place of intermission—and make it funny? I’d love to try.