I think most singers and actors, when pressed, would admit that they’ve got a little list of the roles they want to play before they can’t. Without pressing, I shall admit that I get to take one off my list this fall. Don’t ask who else is on the list. For now, Johanna will do.
Archive for the ‘Musical Theater’ Category
Growing up, my dad referred to my mom as The Wicked Witch. It wasn’t because she was mean or green. Nope. It was, quite simply, her Halloween costume one year. Maybe she should have stuck with something bolder, like Super Woman…or perhaps gentler, like Snow White or Rainbow Brite. Really, anything that didn’t have anything to do with a witch. Alas, she did not have that foresight, and the nickname stuck. So did the melting jokes.
A few years ago, everyone in my parents’ office filled out questionnaires. It was a game. They anonymously answered questions about themselves and then everyone else had to guess the identity of the question-answerer: one of the office-place-community-development-fun-interactive-morale-boosters they enjoy. One of the questions asked was, “Which actress would play you in a movie about your life?” My mom had a hard time with that one. I told her it was obvious: she’s a prettier version of Susan Sarandon.
I went to an audition a few weeks ago, and when I was finished with my song and aria, the auditor asked for a monologue. I told her I had a few to choose from, and she excitedly asked for the Wicked Witch’s “Poppies” monologue from The Wizard of Oz. When I finished, she said, “Has anyone ever told you you look like Susan Sarandon?”
My first thought was, “Wow, that’s nice.” My second was, “Does that mean you’ll hire me?” The third was, “Wait ’til I tell the Wicked Witch.”My version of the Wicked Witch this year in the Variety Children’s Theatre’s production of The Wizard of Oz.
We’ve performed this show a couple of times now, once at Old Warson Country Club, and once as a house concert for 60 Union Avenue Opera patrons. Our little story has taken on a life of its own, and we’re ready to share it again and again and again.
What’s not to love about 5 completely different Cinderellas? One is sassy, the next a little dumb (actually, a lot dumb). There’s the overthinker, the mopey one (she’s French, of course) and let’s not forget the most important–the romantic Cinderella (she had her wedding planned long, long ago).
Oh, sweet Prince, what to do with this bevy of beautiful maidens?
The Last of the Red Hot Mamas closed last Sunday night. It feels like it was a month ago. The next day, I made my way to Quincy, IL to start rehearsals for Muddy River Opera’s production of Pirates of Penzance. When we walked into the Quincy Starbucks, my friend and traveling companion remarked that we clearly weren’t in St. Louis anymore. The orders were placed slowly, the orders were taken slowly, and the orders will filled slowly. If folks moved at that pace in the Central West End, there would be annoyed comments from the peanut gallery. Let’s not even think about what would happen in New York City.
Michael Kelly, from Country Cork,
lost his sweetheart while on holiday in New York.
Last of the Red Hot Mamas, New Jewish Theatre
Photo by John Lamb
I went home for New Year’s, and on my way back up to Quincy, I listened to the fellows on Radio Lab. The story was about cities: how they live and die, and what makes them feel the way they feel. Do people make the city, or the city make the people?
They did some experiments.
They recorded the pace at which individuals from different cities delivered information: how fast they talked. And then, they recorded the pace at which individuals moved down the street: how fast they walked. Not surprisingly, people in bigger cities covered more topics and more ground in less time than those in smaller ones: the pace was faster. And apparently, we all have an internal tempo that agrees with one pace more than another. I wonder if the people who absolutely love NYC have an inherently faster internal tempo, or if they naturally adjust when they get there? And if they can’t adjust…
Regardless, I feel my internal tempo slowing down in Quincy. I don’t know if that fits into the Radio-Lab-guest-scientist theories, but it’s true. Red Hot Mamas feels like a month ago, and I’m okay with that. I’m enjoying the pace. I’m happy to enjoy the resting time before I head back to St. Louis, the city that sets my metronome a few ticks higher–but not too high–day in and day out.
Not surprisingly, participating in a production of Man of La Mancha can make a person spend some time both on and off stage in serious consideration. Yes, consideration of intention, body language, facial expressions, lines, lyrics, and other actorly things, but also consideration of things like freedom of speech and religion and dreaming big, big dreams. Don Quixote may call them Impossible Dreams. Others might venture to label them American Dreams.Laura Ernst, Conor Dagenfield, Elise LaBarge Insight Theatre
photo by John Lamb
After Thursday night’s performance, when provoked, I explained that I couldn’t be out late because my next day’s activities included singing at a Naturalization Ceremony. A friend of a friend’s ears perked up. He had been to Naturalization Ceremonies before. He understood how powerful they can be. He even repeated something he overheard after one. “My favorite part,” this new citizen said, “was when they got to the National Anthem. I’ve heard it plenty of times, but for the first time, it was mine.”
Armed with that story, my Man of La Mancha considerations, and my collection of America’s Favorite Songs book, I walked into the Federal Courthouse on Friday morning. I’d already been to several Ceremonies, and knew the joy of singing the Star Spangled Banner to 50-something new Americans. The audience is like no other. They seem to listen with a distinct kind of open heart.
This Friday, though, I started to sing, and very few people were listening. No, not listening, but singing. They had considered seriously, made an oath, and now they were singing. The man who announced to the court minutes before, “I am from Ukraine. I start new life now,” and the Bosnian housewife, and the Indian engineer and the Moldovan couple…they and all their fellow citizens were giving it a go. They were making it their own. They were singing the National Anthem with me. And they should, oh, they should have been singing. Starting that very moment, it was, after all, theirs.
I had hoped this weekend’s Lotte Lenya Competition finals would provide some career-path clarity. After all, standing up in front of a panel of judges and curious audience members twice in one day should shed a little bit of light on how it feels to be nurtured, appreciated, and scrutinized all at the same time–in a nutshell, how it feels to be a performing artist. If it feels bad, then maybe it’s time to change directions. If it feels good, then maybe it’s time to punch up the efforts and take advantage of the momentum.
Of course, nothing is ever that simple, and clarity rarely comes with want.
After the singing was over on Saturday night, the judges disappeared to continue the “lively discussion” they had started earlier in the day, promising to return with a list of winners. The audience shuffled about, awaiting the results. The singers nervously chattered in the green room, awaiting the results. A couple of shufflers walked by some chatterers and stopped. “You,” the lady who showed up to Kilbourn Hall on a whim said to one of my colleagues, “you made me cry. I have no idea why; it must have been something in the music, or what you did, but you made me cry.” Bingo. Job well done, dear contestant.
When the judges returned, the audience welcomed the 15 singer-actors with applause. It was an applause filled with a similar kind of “You made me cry” affection. Ah, I think we did our jobs, dear contestants.
After introductions, each of the three panel members said a few (and sometimes more) words. Then more applause. And in the end, everyone–audience, judges, directors, administrators, singers, accompanists–seemed to be singing, “there might be a box, but we’re not sure what it is, so don’t worry about fitting into it. We like what you’re doing. Keep working on it. Keep expressing the music according to its style. Keep expressing the drama that inspires the music. Keep inspiring the music with the drama. Keep letting the story come out of you and keep telling it. Keep stirring our souls. Keep us laughing. Keep crying. Keep us crying. Keep sharing the excitement. Yes, keep sharing.”
Inspiration came, mais hélas, clarity cameth not. “Everyone has her own path,” Lisa Vroman (and thousands of people before her) affirmed. Okay, great, but how do I get one and who’s going to give me the topo map? I want a path, I want a path!
And then I looked back and saw it. “Hey, there it is!” I thought. I don’t suppose I know where it’s going, but I’ve been making one all this time, and I think I’ll keep on…