Crazy For You
Time: July 14, 2002Place: Stage One TheatreRole: Bobby ChildDirector: Sue Ellen Nelsen
There is a peaceful silence after a show performance. It doesn’t surface right away. It happens around a half hour past the curtain closing and the final bows. The crowd has dispersed and most of the actors have left–although, a few of them might be finishing up a few things in the dressing room or greeting seldom seen companions in the lobby.
The peacefulness is on the stage. The place is quiet and empty. All the action has stopped. No lines are being spoken. No little metal plates on tap shoes are knifing out sharp sounds, and no musical melodies are lingering in the air. In a way, it feels like the remains of a battlefield where a great war has taken place. And now, with the smoke being cleared, a sense of victory permeates the air.
I promised myself I would write a debriefing of my opening weekend and it’s now far past closing.
Auditioning wasn’t easy. I had been continuing to take tap lessons even after 42nd Street closed. Finding a show that had tap dancing leads would be the tough part. Through a few people, I had heard about the show, Crazy For You. Yet, no one knew exactly who was producing the show. Finally, I received an email from Melody letting me know it was at Stage One Theatre in Newark. I marked down the audition date and waited for it to arrive.
When the day finally came, I was mostly ready, but very tired. Getting up early for school was wearing me out. So I took a nap that evening from 6pm to 7pm. And when 7pm came, I extended the nap until 8pm. Yeah; I was just too worn out to be auditioning that night. Plus, I really knew nothing about the show. I only knew it had a couple of good parts in it.
Melody sent me an email a few days later informing me that men were still needed for the show. So on Saturday, May 11, I decided to head on down there to audition at their callbacks. Finding the high school itself wasn’t hard, but I had no idea where the theatre building was. There weren’t any signs posted, and I ended up wandering around the campus a little and still found nothing. I got back into my SUV and decided to head out. As I began to drive away, I noticed a right turn in the road that seemed to head to the back of the high school. After driving to the back lot, I discovered a little league game in progress. Not being a big baseball fan, and being somewhat too old to play little league, I again was ready to give up. But finally, I saw the sign.
It wasn’t a large sign, but its letters did read out Stage One Theatre. Heck, I was there. Why not audition. I walked through the doorway and glanced over to my left. I was in the back area of the theatre and could see the people auditioning out on the stage. Melody and her boyfriend were reading a scene together. I then made my way around to the front of the theatre and walked inside.
A lady greeted me there and asked if I was auditioning. “Yup”, I responded and she handed me the necessary paperwork to fill out. Once that was done, I was rushed up to the stage to read a few scenes. After the scene reading, they wanted to hear my audition song, so I gave my old standby, “If I Only Had a Brain.” The dance audition came next. Okay, now things were getting difficult. The tap steps were fast and intricate. But I did know a few of the combinations already and that helped. Shawnel’s teachings would payoff though. I had to leave the callbacks early because of another dance rehearsal for an upcoming dance show. So much dancing; one would think I actually enjoyed it. Before I left, a curious thing happened. One of the producers wanted to speak with me and verify that I was okay accepting one of the lead roles if cast. Now, usually it’s the other way around. I would write down only a lead part on my audition form and a director would ask if I would be the piano mime or the third tree from the left (Yes, I’ve actually done both parts), but this was different. I said “Yup.” If they cast me as the lead, I would certainly accept the part. The very next day, the telephone rang…
I didn’t think I was nervous, but my rapid heartbeat was telling me otherwise. The lady on the phone informed me that they would like to offer me the part of Bobby Child, and would I accept the role.
No time was needed to think about that. I quickly accepted the part and begin a new journey for the next few months of my life.
Thus the rehearsing began. I had several conflicts the first week. I was still getting ready for the Valley Dance Theatre show. Though, in two days time, I just had just doubled the amount of dances I had to learn. No sweat. Not yet at least. Starting a new show is like beginning your first day of school. It’s great if you have a bunch of classmates from the previous year, but in this show, I hardly knew a soul. There was Melody from a recent show. There was Jeannie from six years past. And there was Dan from eight years past. Yes. I was a stranger in this class. "When’s recess?" was my primary thought.
There’s also a lot of pressure starting a show with a lead role. I always feel there are others around sort of questioning the casting. Perhaps a few aren’t convinced that the best man got the part, or would I be able to do the character right. No one actually ever said anything, but nevertheless, I still feel the uncertainty is there. I know it is because I sometimes feel the same way about a show’s casting during the first couple of rehearsals. And to make it tougher, I wasn’t familiar with the songs and dances, so I would be sloshing my way through things at first.
As the rehearsals went forward, things eased up. Every single person in the production was kind and friendly. Some were quieter than others. One of the cowboys was hands down, the class clown. His jokes just never seemed to stop–even after the director would get a little upset. An upset director only led to more jokes.
The toughest dancing was the auditions, and that was done; yet there were many more steps to now learn. This show was just full of dances. My lessons with Shawnel continued and she helped me go over the routines and try to get things perfect. I even brought a video camera to the dance rehearsals. Though I’m not sure how beneficial videotaping is. I think I spend more time just trying to figure out what the heck I was doing at that time. Nothing beats just repeatedly practicing things with the choreographer. I could never get enough dance rehearsals. We were lucky in that the dances were taught too us early in the show. Some choreographers teach the dances throughout the entire rehearsal period and end up finishing dances a week before opening. That didn’t happen in this production. Since our choreographer had another show to move on to in the upcoming weeks, she finished teaching our dances fast. This helped out a great deal since I wanted lots of time to drill things into my head.
Yeah. This is the area I stress over the most. The stress comes from numerous reasons. For starters, I want it to sound good. If nothing else, that’s what I desire most. In the end, I’m hoping it did. It’s always hard to tell. People will sometimes tell you if they liked your singing, but very few people will walk up to you after a show and say “Great job. Loved the acting. Wonderful dancing. Oh, and your voice sucks.” Yes. You just have to hope for the best sometimes. I’m far less concerned about how I’m seen as a dancer. Now, I do strive for improvement and would be thrilled if someday people thought my steps were fantastic on maybe even a tiny bit close to Gene Kelly. But if it doesn’t happen, I’ll still die a content man. However, I’ll still take classes and strive for improvement. It can only help a show. Not many shows are ruined due to someone dancing just a little too well.
My second stress over the singing comes from the lyrics. Sure, we can rehearse for three months, and somehow there always remains this lingering thought that I’ll forget the next line of music. It’s never about hitting the correct notes. It’s only about remembering the next line of music. Dialogue is never troublesome. If a line is forgotten, something can always be made up. It’s a simpler process since lines don’t have to rhyme. Again, it’s not a huge issue. Obviously, it doesn’t bother me enough to keep me from performing. These are just things I think about.
In some productions, the sets are built for you. You simply show up each day for rehearsals and magically, the sets begin to appear. It’s like the set building elves come in the middle of the night and work until morning. In other shows, the set elves are all dead. And if no one shows up to help, the sets just won’t get built. Well, okay, they will still get done. But chances are, they won’t be as extravagant and detailed as they could have been. They also won’t be finished until around opening week, and if it’s a show where you have to practice being drunk and rolling down a staircase, it’s best to have the sets done early.
So, I showed up during almost every single set building Saturday to help out. My fear was that people would start omitting things from the show if they could not get the unit built in time. I couldn’t have that since I always prefer a lots of details in my sets. This way I can ensure nothing gets dropped without a fair fight from me. Now I was too late to save the player piano. That got cut very early. I wasn’t going to let the sate fate happen to the exploding cuckoo clock, so I built that thing myself. It wasn’t hard. It just took several weeks of intricate woodwork, some down feathers, and a few party poppers. I also built a few tables and a makeup booth.
Overall, I was very pleased with the turnout of the sets. Even the painting on the back wall turned out very nice. In that case, I think it was done by set building elves. We would go home at night, and suddenly a great mural would be there the next day.
The challenging aspect to a role like Bobby Child is that the actor has to spend a good deal of time playing another character, Zangler. This means having glasses, a mustache, a wig, and a beard. Facial hair isn’t a huge problem when you can leave it on for the duration of the show. But in this show, the hair had to be quickly removed for a scene, and then quickly put back on. This meant using a great deal of double stick tape. Glue just wouldn’t work. Getting the wig was a huge ordeal as well. I ended up having a special appointment at a hair styling salon to have a gray wig fit and trimmed to my head.
It was the most fun I’ve ever had in a role. It was also the most demanding. The rehearsals let me know very early on that a lot of stamina would be required for the songs and dances. No problem. I would just start jogging a lot more during the weeks before we opened. Costume changes were worse. Some scene changes left me with no more than 40 seconds to completely change outfits. I built myself a special dressing area on the right side of the stage. This allowed me to conserve every second. I had dressers assigned to me as well. Happily, I never missed a cue, though I may have been a little tardy at times. And my costume changes weren’t always 100% perfect. Still, they went very well.
The heat was the bigger problem. It was a dreadfully hot summer. And I was informed during one of those dreadfully hot days that we would have no air conditioning in the theatre. Now, I did feel empathy for the audience members, but I also felt a good deal of empathy for myself. I would be wearing a suit and coat for many scenes. I also would be dancing crazily in said outfit. The heat was surely going to affect things. To combat this issue, I spent many afternoons running in the 100+ temperature days of summer. This way I could train my body to adapt to the heat. Did it help? Hard to say. I never passed out from all the heat during the shows, but oh I don’t think I could have possibly sweated any more. I was soaked during almost every performance. I even changed t-shirts at intermission. I kept my stage makeup to a minimum. No use putting it on only to see it dripping colorfully down off my face. Water was consumed at astonishing rates too. Though most of the consumed water rarely reached my bladder. Most of it got sweated out onto the stage floor.
The sweating also made things tough on my fake facial hair. The tape would begin to loosen on my face. Only once did it completely lose its tackiness. And I was then forced to finish the scene with my hand on my chin in a sort of "thinker" position. Fortunately, my character was sort of a "thinker" type. These issues forced me to buy backups in case of problems. By the opening of the show, I had 2 beards and 3 mustaches. I always kept one spare mustache in my shirt pocket just in case of disaster. All the facial hair is gray too; making it difficult to use the items in future shows. At least not for another 20 years…I hope.
My partying was limited. We went to restaurants and parties after most shows, but I didn’t dare touch any alcohol. I also avoided any cigars or too much karaoke. During the run, I got plenty of rest and ate a good diet of food. There was no way I was allowing myself to get sick or hung over during the run. I came close to catching a cold after the opening Saturday, but recovered fully in the following week.
There were three reviews that I knew about. Two of them were great. One of them was a bit negative. Or so I heard. If a review is negative, I usually won’t read it. If the director and most audience members like a show, I couldn’t care less what one reviewer thinks. The opinion of that one person is worth just that: one person’s opinion. It rates no higher (or lower) than anyone else’s point of view. Sure, they can put their two cents in. But there’s no way I’ll ever value two cents more than the other ninety-eight cents. It’s just bad economics.
But if a crtic likes a show– well, then maybe their two cents can be valued at a quarter. Hey, we’re only human here.
We ran for four weeks and then closed. Sure, it was sad to end it all, but I was so exhausted that the rest would be highly welcomed. And I figured that after a month, the people that wanted to see had their opportunity. It was a tremendous experience and I was thankful to the staff for entrusting me with the leading role. Nine months later, I was given an “Outstanding actor in a musical” award, which I greatly appreciated. It was an awesome team to have been a part of.
- Getting lost on the way to the television studio. Using the cell phone to try and figure out where the destination was located and yearning for a GPS.
- Blurting out “I’m in love with Irene” to Irene when I was supposed to be in love with Polly. This was followed by the doorknob coming off in my hand.
- “My eyes are up here” statement from Melody. The dresses just seemed to get cut lower and lower.
- Looking through the script for the first time and thinking, “Wow! This is going to be fun!
Next: I get electrocuted?!?…