ONE SONG AND ONE SHOESTRING
This is a real question which a few people have asked me, not something I made up just so I could introduce the topic. "Fred, how do you decide what song to sing for an audition?" First of all, I have one simple general principle, which never fails me. Make yourself look good. How does that work in this context? Don't sing anything which ten other people might be doing the same evening -- like a song from the show you're auditioning for. Don't sing anything which Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, or Frank Sinatra has made famous; you won't sound as good. Do try something a little different; if nothing else, you will have the attention of the people you are auditioning for. Furthermore, sing something that fits your voice and your temperament.
All of the above helps you narrow down the list of possibilities; but you still have to decide on one song (One song, I have but one song/One song only for you..."Snow White, if you have forgotten). It does help if one song becomes insistent, insinuating itself in your brain and stomping around in it.
I am often thrilled when, out of the blue, somebody knows something that you wouldn't expect anyone to remember. We were getting ready to watch a DVD of the 1974 film version of "The Great Gatsby" (the one with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, directed by Jack Clayburn). The movie opens with the camera moving through Jay Gatsby's now deserted mansion on Long Island, interspersed with shots of newspaper clippings and photographs of Daisy Buchanan. Then a male voice could be heard singing, "What'll I do when you/ are far away and I am blue/, What'll I do/What'll I do when I am wondering who/is kissing you/What'll I do/What'll I do with just a photograph/to tell my troubles to/When I'm alone/with only dreams of you/that won't come true/What'll I do."
What brilliant person thought of using that Irving Berlin song from exactly the same period to open the movie? Could anyone think of anything more appropriate? As you read F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, you realize that everything that the enigmatic bootlegger Gatsby does is to regain the attention and affection of Daisy, the young woman he had met briefly years before, and whose subsequent life and marriage he observed from far away, when all he had to go on was newspaper clippings and photographs.
Then something else crossed my mind. I needed a song to sing at the auditions for Encore Theatre's production of Carousel. This song was not only pleading its case, it was indeed insisting that I choose it. What was I to do? Sometimes you just have to follow where life leads you. And so I arrived at the auditions a week or so later with that melody in my heart and those lyrics in my mind.
This being my third audition, I certainly knew what to expect. The irrepressible Gila would be the maitre-d, getting the auditioners to sign in, handing out application forms, taking mug shots of everyone -- as if Rob, Paul, and Arlene wouldn't remember who most of us were. It was cold and damp sitting or standing outside on the catwalk waiting for one's turn, but the reception inside was an altogether different story. Unless you've done something terribly wrong, it helps to be a known quantity. You must go your way and I must go mine/But now that our love dreams have ended.....I sang my song as well as I could with my limited skills and was told that what I could do would be make myself available for rehearsals the following week. Fair enough!
One difference this time was that rehearsals would no longer be at the headquarters of Melabev, a service organization in Talpiot for the frail elderly, but at the Reut School, a grade school in an adjacent neighborhood. Equally hard to get to, but nowhere near as clean and well-maintained as where we had been. When you're not sure you want to use the bathroom, that's not a good sign. Anyway, the first day I arrived particularly early because I hadn't a clue where I was going and how long it would take me to get there. Good thing. Like a lot of places, once you know where it is, it's easy to find; but the first time...... Having found the right place, I stood on the street, directing everyone who came later to a nondescript building down an alleyway which you wouldn't have noticed if someone hadn't shown you the way.
People kept wandering in, and soon our first rehearsal would begin. We all introduced ourselves, and I began the impossible task of trying to remember all the faces that were new to me, including returning veterans and a bunch of children, one as young as eight. However, it wasn't just who was there, it was who wasn't there that was different. Some of the key roles had not been cast yet. Rob and Paul did not seem particularly fazed by that fact, so why should I worry?
A subtle difference about this production, as opposed to Ruddigore, was a certain choppiness to the way we went from rehearsal one to opening night. We started rehearsing the beginning of February to take into account all the days we would miss for Purim, all of Pesach, Yom Haatzmaut, Shavuot, etc., but the days off interrupted our flow. Our being in The States for two weeks in the middle of our rehearsals didn't help my personal sense of continuity, but there were many others who were also unavailable for personal or business reasons. About half a dozen of our cast were involved in other productions and wouldn't be available full time until midway in March (about the same time as we would be away).
The Big Question continued to be: who was going to play Billy Bigelow, the male lead? It takes a certain amount of emunah to begin putting on a musical without knowing who your lead would be -- perhaps also a touch of theatrical insanity. It might not take much "talent to do that," be a barker on a carousel, but it takes a gifted male singer-actor with a substantial range to perform the role and, in effect, carry the show. Guys like that are not hanging out on Ben Yehuda waiting to be discovered. Finally, when it was announced that Kendall Pinckney would be returning for the assignment, there was a collective whoop and a holler from the cast. Kendall had appeared two years before as Curly, the lead in Oklahoma, had performed admirably (I saw the production), and had also established himself as a really nice guy. Of course, he would not be flying out of Texas until near the end of May.
The problem was not would he have enough time to learn his role; he would and he did (likewise with 'Chip' Mannekin, who would be arriving from Maryland even later to take on a small but important speaking role). The problem would be one for the rest of the ensemble. For example, the prologue. Much as I am not overly enamored with "Carousel," I have to admit that the opening scene is both innovative and imaginative. Most musicals begin with an overture, followed by an ensemble number for the entire cast. Here these two elements are smushed together into an elaborate pantomime, an evening at a fair grounds in a coastal mill town in Maine sometime around 1870. I'm selling cotton candy, Nachum is selling ice cream, one of the Sara's is a fortune teller, one of the Jeff's is running a shell game, Ronnie is the cop chasing him around, Yael, Yaeli, and Elinor are "The Beauties of Europe," to which Raymond is trying to attract customers; there is a juggler, a ballerina, and a dancing bear. Most of the cast are in couples or family groups enjoying themselves for a wholesome evening out. All this activity is to set the stage for some of the main characters: Mrs. Mullins (Lucy), the widow who runs the carousel and who has her eye on her prized barker, Billy Bigelow, and the mill girl Julie Jordan (Miri), who is immediately attracted to Billy.
All of this action takes place accompanied by the Carousel Waltz, a musical number which lasts about seven or eight minutes. To make sense of this entire endeavor, Rob had to create an elaborate scenario, specifically what each character is supposed to do, when to enter and from where -- no easy task. I never asked Rob how he developed this number, whether he was taking elements from other productions he had seen or whether he made it up from scratch (ditto regarding Arlene's choreography for the ballet in act 2). Either way, it required a great amount of rehearsal time and a lot of revisions along the way. The fact that we had to pretend that the main actor was there while he was still back in Dallas, didn't make it any easier. Nor did it help that the scenery, especially the main item, the carousel, was still under construction and we were using chairs in its stead.
All the while we were rehearsing the vocal parts, the dialogue, and the movements for acts one and two, our set designer, the indefatigable Roxanne was hard at work. Every Friday morning, a small group of us would assemble to work on the scenery. Again, our work kept getting interrupted. We had started working in a small theater near Emek Refaim; but Hadassah, which owned the premises, had sold it, so we had to move everything out. We worked for the next several weeks in the parking area in front of Rob's apartment until he was able to secure a space in Talpiot (in the same building as the AACI), to which we had to move everything all over again.
When I say everything, you could not in your wildest dreams comprehend the totality of "everything." Some of the stuff had been stored in Rob's machsan; most of it had been somewhere in Efrat. We are talking about three truckloads of stuff. We are talking about anything that was ever used in any Encore Theatre production. We are talking about racks and boxes of costumes, scenery, props of every possible description ('possible' is the wrong word here because it would be impossible for me to describe or catalog the scope and variety of what we shlepped in to what had seemed originally like a very large space but was now starting to get very crowded). My original reaction when I began to comprehend what was coming off the truck was, "This guy must be one of the world's ten biggest pack-rats." More accurately, he is one of the world's greatest recycler (for all you 'greens' out there). If something was used once, it will inevitably get used again; sometimes again and again. I needed a white apron for my Cotton Candy outfit; Rob found one -- along with an appropriate chef's hat. Most of us needed something to add onto our sea men's costumes. A neckerchief? Red or blue? A vest? What size? Should Encore decide to produce "Brigadoon" in 2017, Rob is ready. The box all the way on top has enough kilts to outfit a bagpipe band. A show with a wedding scene? Rob has enough gowns to open a gemach.
In the midst of all this balagan, set painting continued under Roxanne's ministrations. Now this activity is not for the sentimental or the faint of heart. You could walk in one Friday morning and discover that someone has taken a piece of scenery from the last show which you had worked on with such determination and love and is smearing white or black paint over it so it can be redone for this show. You utter a poignant sigh and watch your work disappear into oblivion.
Much of the scenery is embellished with material made from disassembled cardboard cartons; these, of course, cannot be reused. Here I am in my element. I am the only one dumb enough not to mind the tedious task of cutting out patterns with a box cutter. Hour after hour I sliced away, following the intricate lines Roxanne has drawn. Not for nothing have I earned an honorary doctorate in box cutting. My meager efforts will be added onto by others. Soon there would be signs, banners, roofs, decorations for the carousels, all stenciled and painted, looking rock-solid. That's what you have to do when you're working on a shoe string. Wait a minute. What's in that box that Rob stuck over there in the corner? Isn't it labeled "shoe strings"?