The Michigan Daily-Sundc
Page 4--Sunday, February 12, 1978-The Michigan Daily
From here to
out for a part in
'West Side Story'
")eme.4wbree, ODe-two-hree." Would-he chorime S saa Ades, last emren d
The productim staff malis ever prospective Jets and Sharks. From left ti right are Chereographer Peter Kentes, Costume
Dis r Kaay Sebadt, Directur 2" Alexaider and r ier Jim Sies.
F OUR HUNDRED people saw me
get kissed for the first time. Oh,
maybe it was three-fifty-what's
the difference-the important
thing is, I kept my eyes properly shut and
my lips properly phiant. I wasn't about-to
rmk bei Cald a fish, not even in time
name of *eatre.
So this five-foet, 8-pound 14-year-old
playing time lead w a sime'r samp
extravagafsa, 4 mai, delivered a
15-second unrehearsed smooch with
much aplomb. The rest was a sheer
-Dino Pearson, my leading man and a
not-to-be-trusted 17-year-old, tried to
French kiss me in between scenes back-
-A counselor caught a stealthy chorus
of pimply boys drooling as they watched
my costume change - undershirt ex-
-A crew member uprooted the better
part of one braid in hurriedly coiffing my
-My rehearsal-strained voice refused'
to reach the low notes in one heartrending
song, and in my crooning I lost the
"don't" which preceded "throw bouquets
at me.. ." The audience found it very
funny, but was fortunately short on
And I swore off acting for the rest of my
The rest of my life ended a few weeks
ago when I took my place among scores
of would-be Tonys and Marias, sashaying
and shimmying, improvising, intoning
and inching my way into UAC Musket's
production of West Side Story..
But this time I had nothing to lose -
neither my modesty, my hair, nor my
voice - I was assigned, as a reporter, to*
raise the curtain on the college chorus
As an outsider commissioned to tell the
inside story on auditions, I was deter-
mined to hang on long enough to feel the
creeping symptoms of stardom: the
compulsion to burst into song in crowded
places, the tendency to try out foreign
accents on strangers, and the urge to go
on a crash diet. In other words, I was
hell-bent on making the call-backs.
Susan Ades is a former Co-editor of
F fe dun Ia£Mg 7ine,
Beyond that, there was no ego involved.
This was purely business.
The odyssey begat as umt eOderi-
day odysseys do-at a mass meeting.
Actually, I'd call this one a mass reunion
for the casts of Cabaret, Appane, and
frtm. way back whel, Gys -and k. I fit
in nicely with a haaul of Er it
who, not to be intimidated, spewed lists of
high school musicaks to their credit.
"I did West SiM. a ry t lest year,"
one debonaire newcomer offered to no
one in particular.
"You know," said another, searching
his memory, "I don't think I've ever done
But mingling with the motley 300 were
those who made it known they could sift
the talents from the no-talents at 100
"Oh, there's so-and-so," they'd say as
so-and-so breezed into the Pendleton
Room like so much fresh air, "she was
made for the part."
Soon all the stars were accounted for;
criss-crossed conversations were un-
tangled, lithe bodies settled into seats,
necks craned for the unobstructed view,
and the show began.
A regiment of stiffly-smiling organizers
took their places before the group, some
in pedestrian folding chairs and others
director, producer and vocal director -
in high-backed, mahogany ones. Costume
for the most part was drawn from the 1978
college student collection, but the chore-
ographer wore characteristic tights, a
heavy, boat-necked, cabled fisherman's
sweater, European visage and whispy
hair. The Big Three were distinguished
by sportcoats, turtle necks and double-
knits. At least no one was smoking a
To that magical tune of applause and
cheers, the organizers were introduced.
They took their bows. Then, in no-non-
sense professional tones, we were given
Auditions were slated for Friday and*
Saturday (two days away), callbacks for
Sunday. Bob Alexander, the director,
would be examining your posture, which
he called "attitude," for "poise." Ben
Whitely, the vocal director would be
dissecting yaw voice for "rave and
rhytim." Tihe choreegrapler, er
Kentes, would judge your leaps and dives
for "movement quality." Some thirty-two
Eus meM make it to e stage. -
The so thsayers couhd be seen esmating
off the likelies on their fingers.
* * *
Tha same evening. Midnight. Pfwc-
tice session in a grimy, tiny, stark room
in the deserted basement of the
Michigan Union. Backstage right, an ar-
thritic, maltuned upright piano. My
agent, accompanist and Daily cohort
Jeffrey P. Selbst, is seated at the piano
Backstage left, trusted friend and
emergency singing coach Leba Hert.
pressed herself into a corner to maintain
distance, and thus undistorted listening.
HE PURPOSE of this vigil was to
find the perfect song for my imper-
fect voice. While I had the projec-
tion of an air raid siren, I had the
range of a hoarse auctioneer. Meanwhile,
my fair-skinned, country-girl looks did
nothing for my feigned West Side Puerto
Rican image. We needed a song that
rendered me urbane, yet vulnerable -
that rendered me Maria.
It tek as three hours to find that song.
We Uterd st with the 4scure of the
obscure so as not to run the risk of a
face-off between me, the imposter, and
me ne who ceal remey aing the samm
_ .e . e as ! ahie - froms the
wimm me Rodgers and Hart tune, "I
Could Write a Reek," to George Gersh-
win's 1de'jplittig "52, lea, Sle."
But the wee hours brought en myopia ad
my plea for songs that I knew by heart.
We barely bypassed the sweet and lyrical
"Who Will Buy" from Oliver for the more
feisty Guys and Des number, "If I Were
a Bell," which masqueraded brilliantly
(or so we thought) for a difficult song
requiring at least a minor tour de force.
Most of the song was within my octave
and one-half alto range. But where the
lowest note came out like an asthmatic
wheeze, Jeff artfully beefed up the piano
works. And when the notes rolled off my
vocal chords with power and finesse,
when I used a sexy bend in the notes at
strategic points, Jeff let up on . the
keyboard. Sounds like an easily detect-
able cover-up, but we did it with a hell of a
lot of class (or so we thought).
Thursday was mine for polishing up my
act by singing "If I Were a ell" aaft
with Isabel Bigley of On wrigbal Guys
and Dolls cast album. Friday evening, it
was back to the Union basement for the
fiae tuning and vital advice freom Laen
how to keep my hands out of my pockets
(wear something without pockets!), and
how to strike an "attitude" that &p*Ued
I washed my hair to tame the childish
curls and went to bed.
Nine a.m. Michigan Union. Wide
hallway outside bolted Pendleton Room
crawling with tense dancers.
THE PENDLETON Room doors
opened shortly after ten, 75-odd
auditioners flocked inside, and the
The Big Three, quite casually dressed
- still no cigars - were there and so was
the choreographer, sans fisherman's
sweater. But most important was a new
personality, the assistant choreographer,
Dave Marshall, who could have been
lifted straight out of Saturday Night
Fever (save for his refined accent). He
was there to guide us through some jazzy
dance steps and acrobatics - elements so
crucial to West Side Story.
Unblinking, we lunged and pirouetted
and wiggled our hips. We walked across
the floor and pranced across the floor;
some executed precision Russian-style
leaps and others, like me, had it right in
practice but offered poor imitations of
Russian-style leaps when under the spot-
light. They watched us. We watched us.
And we watched them, as they whis-
pered incessantly behind cupped hands.
The only eye that gave me a second
glance was the eye of Andy Freeberg's
camera, compliments of The Michigan
If you messed up the dancing - for
instance, performed a learned 30-second
sequence right once but out of sync in the
two succeeding trials - the odds were ten
to one you'd be out of the running. After
all, West Side Story is a dancer's musical.
Yet here's the catch: there were but a
few among us who were patently good. I
was part of the larger, amateur-but-corri-
gible-strata, and the singing perform-
ance, I reasoned, would be the deciding
The singing audition was a lonely
affair. Four contestants at a time were
admitted into the consuming Pendleton
Room, with the curious onlookers con-
be left, lifts
when I ope
down, I be
I took m:
to bring a
pick up he
and tone -
It's Susan centerstage for the singing segment of the audition, belting out the refrain from "If I Were a Bell."