Monday, May 12, 2014

42nd Street on Liberty Street: 'Audition'

Here is our director, Mike Mosallam. He is exactly this excited all the time. This video is the only introduction I had to Ann Arbor in Concert before auditioning, and all I thought was: yes. Yes, please sign me up to dance for this man.

This is the first installment of a week-long piece following a newbie's (my) initiation into musical theater, specifically community musical theater with Ann Arbor in Concert. I laugh, I cry, I "sing," causing other people to laugh and cry--it's been a roller coaster. Our show is at 8 p.m. this Saturday, May 17, at the Michigan Theater. Tickets are available here.

Quinn and I arrived at Slauson Middle School on a Saturday afternoon in March, about ten minutes early. There was a debate event going on, so the parking lot was nearly full and we ping-ponged around the building following signs, printer paper taped on doors, arrows and scrawled handwriting: “42nd Street Auditions.” Arrow pointing right.

We walked into a crowded hallway, reminiscent of the dance recitals of our childhoods: women and girls sprawled over white institutional tile, the floor punctuated with implausibly large piles of shoes and clothing (picking up on the excitement, all dance bags explode like Roman candles during practice). There was a red-lipped pale girl with dark hair and an oppressively straight spine typing on a laptop--she had that Anne Hathaway/Emily of New Moon look musical theater girls seem to favor. A woman handed us worksheets to fill out with our performance experience; the form indicated that it could be supplemented with a resume. Quinn and I exchanged glances. What exactly had we walked into?

Quinn and I have been dancing together since freshman year in college. (That is, implausibly, a decade.) Quinn had been in musical theater productions in high school, but I, as I told her, “thought musical theater was for singers learning to do jazz squares.” (Our show has only one jazz square.) Ann Arbor in Concert’s online posting for auditions seemed to confirm my prejudices: tap shoes, it suggested, were “not required.” Bullshit, I thought, looking wide-eyed around at girls stretching on the floor, their toes pointing fiercely in character-style taps. I hope no one shows up in sneakers today. I’ve been a tap dancer for 24 years, and I was about to run screaming from the building. Ann Arbor community theater, it would seem, is not for the faint of heart.

The nine or ten auditioning dancers were called into the auditorium, where three men and two women milled about in front of the stage. I recognized the director Mike Mosallam, an excitable and excited dark-haired man, from the YouTube video call for dancers (above). There was also a more reserved man sitting at the piano--live music for the audition!--who we later learned was Eric Lofstrom, the executive director of Ann Arbor in Concert and the orchestra conductor. The third man had a bro-y look to him, if bros were known to have the easy, tap-shoed toes of dancing angels; he wore a hoodie, gym shorts, and his facial hair was scraggly and uneven. He was the choreographer, Alex Miller, and we recognized him from a video we'd seen of him dancing (more on that later). The beard, it turned out, was for U of M’s MT production of Les Mis. (We also learned that, in the fold, "musical theater" is referred to simply as “MT.”) Our taps echoed in the near-empty auditorium, the piano trilled at the foot of the stage, and I was transported, momentarily, into the life of an old-fashioned hoofer: auditions and color leotards and high-heeled taps and tan tights and the irrational importance of this small audience’s gaze, none of which had even existed for me half an hour before. Look at me, look at me, look at me, look at me, look at me. It all felt very Fame or Chorus Line or Funny Girl

Or, as one of the other dancers more astutely pointed out, it felt very 42nd Street. (I’d be able to confirm that once I saw the show.)

We performed the audition piece in every array of dancers imaginable. I recognized one of the other performers, the only guy, from Performance Network Theatre’s Venus in Fur, a daring, gripping two-character play about desire and control and the life of an artist. Heavy stuff. I said hello to him, only to realize mid-introduction that of course he would not recognize me; our acquaintance was one-way. I felt as if I’d had tapped into the strange subculture of Ann Arbor theater--the stages may change but the players stay the same. Perhaps I was in over my head after all.

At the end Mike told us thank you, we would hear about callbacks that evening--they had had four days of auditions already and another group to see that afternoon. “Is anyone unable to make it tomorrow at 1 p.m.?” Quinn and I raised our hands; we had rehearsal for Detroit Tap Repertory, our normal performance group. “Sad for us,” Mike said, a remark Quinn and I giggled about later. After I left to meet BCB for a rock climbing session, while Quinn was taking her characteristic forever to fill out the resume sheet, Mike asked her to audition for a singing role. “I was so nervous, they thought I was a soprano,” Quinn told me afterward.

We didn’t receive the cast list until Sunday night or Monday morning. Our names were both there, despite our absence at callbacks; a small thrill went up my spine. Another spring in rehearsals to cap off two decades of springs in rehearsals. “Do you know who Gladys is?” I asked Quinn about her part (I was dance ensemble because I do not sing--again, more on that later). “Not sure exactly,” she responded. “But my mom keeps calling me ‘Agnes.’” It was 47 days until the performance, and dance rehearsals would start April 6. Get out your tap shoes, Agnes -- er -- Gladys -- er -- Frances. What’s this show about again?

1 comment:

  1. Oh dear lord, really Michael? I'm so sure......I Heard that the lead is SOOOO sleeping with the producer's cousin's uncle.