Evergreen has a surprising amount of cultural activity for such a little, spread out town. Late last spring the local community theater, the Evergreen Chorale, had auditions for the musical Evita.
Faith was all over the auditions, of course. I had gotten in several months of coaching with Brook, my ballroom teacher, and thought I might give it a go. As the time drew nearer, I wondered what on earth had gotten in to me.
I could sing a bit, dance more, and act some. But really, Faith is dazzling on stage, and everyone else very likely inhabited that orbit. What on God’s green earth made me think I could keep up?
Besides, some of you know about the terrible unexplained neuropathy that took over my feet during the last months of Chris’s cancer. It got so bad at one point that I could not stand without the sensation of walking on a sharpened bed of knives. That lasted for months. (What a great example of sin inhabiting our very DNA. Dance is one of the great loves of my life, and the stress of it all taking over my feet was just a killer.)
Well, what the heck. What’s the worst that could happen? Certainly no one was going to die, right? No one would throw a tomato at me if I muffed Amazing Grace for the singing audition, and the pain in my feet had receded quite a bit. I could (probably) keep the staggering to a minimum.
Besides, how cool would it be to see Faith’s name in lights someday, and to know that I had shared a stage with her long ago?
The pianist was already familiar, as he played piano for Faith’s choir at school. DJ is one of the most fascinating characters I know. Sort of like a taller, younger Billy Joel, DJ is keyboard wizard, as well as a private investigator and attorney. What a combination!
The dance audition was for a perky, smiley little firecracker of a choreographer named Melissa.
The choreography was simple, but nerves and nerve pain are very real. I shuffled my way through the steps, near tears about what I used to be able to do, and clenching my teeth through the excruciating pain. Ah, well, at least I had tried!
When we were done, I hid my dismay from Faith, and we went out for ice cream. Several days later, to my surprise, I got a call back for the singing chorus! A few days after that, Hank, the production manager, asked if I would fill in a space for the dance chorus. Hank is a handsome specimen of a former leading man, and I was delighted.
The man I had auditioned for turned out to be John Thornberry, the director. As this process continued, it was fascinating to listen to this thing take shape. The language of creating dance and the language of creating musical theater are completely different, but if you listen closely, you can hear similar patterns. Sort of like listening to French and German.
I thought it would be better for me if I kept my mouth shut and my ears open during rehearsals. No one needed to know the last time I stepped on a stage was with a community dance troupe in Schenectady, in the early 90’s. My voice? Well, children are a wonderful audience. I sing all the time in school, and they always clap!
It turned out this was a good call. The experience of this group simply overflowed. It was fascinating to listen to one cast member named Bethany talk about her husband Mark’s creepy hair extensions during a production of Jekyll and Hyde. Another gal named Stacey told me a tale about singing “Breath of Heaven” in front of a church with thousands of people listening. Her husband Chad had had too many roles to count, and a dashing gentleman named Wendall had been in over 30 productions. Lori Atkinson had just finished a lead part in Once Upon a Mattress. The first time I sat beside her during the music rehearsal, I was dumbstruck for just a moment. She sang alto next to me, and was so accurate with every note, I just had to listen. This was going to be great! What an opportunity!
Becky Donnella, an aspiring nurse, was cast as Eva. Brian Sides, in intimidating bear of a police detective, was Peron. That these two were also engaged in real life, only added to the color and charm of the theatrical experience they displayed on stage.
The rehearsals ramped up as time went by. First weekly, then twice weekly. As the production dates drew near, we had two weeks of several hours every day. I suddenly understood what had exhausted Faith about “Hell Week”.
As a chorus member, I got a surprising amount of stage time. It was a twelve show run, and I was in about a third of the scenes. In between scenes, I often stood and watched the other cast members perform. Some of the songs and scenes just never got old!
In this picture, Chad is playing the part of Magaldi, a tango singer who is one of a long list of men for Eva. Lighter than air, and almost too fabulous, Chad milks this part for all it’s cheesy glory. Ever see a lounge singer? The hilarious thing about this is that Chad has a lovely, powerful tenor. I got to sing beside him in several other scenes. He was so spot on, I had to rehearse with DJ several times by myself to make sure I could keep my alto, without accidentally joining Chad!
Every time Chad sang this part, it just cracked me up. I would stand in the wings and listen, and watch Faith and the others consistently give a Beatles-swoon to his song. (Except for Damon, of course, who perfected a magnificent sneer.)
In this picture, Norika is singing the part of Peron’s discarded mistress. Norika is an unusually gifted singer, and 15. Creepily, Peron’s mistress before Eva was also 15. The men in this number have lovely, rumbling harmony.
Once, during an especially tiring rehearsal at the firehouse, all of us were listening to John, and secretly checking the clock. Our backs were to the dry erase boards against the wall. Except for Matt’s. When we turned around to go, we were treated to this-
Courtesy of Matt. Faith and I still laugh about that one.
We rehearsed more and more, and slowly my own terror began to ebb.
Funny, when Chris was so sick, I developed this irrational fear of falling down. If you think about it, it only makes sense. If I fell down, I might get hurt, and couldn’t take care of him, or the kids, and, horrors, might need to be taken care of myself. This, coupled with the intermittent agony of my feet, made simple walking quite a mental task.
So, now I was in a position of not just walking, but walking in character. Walking in close proximity with other people. Walking around stuff. Walking in time, walking around props, walking backwards, walking in slow motion. When it finally penetrated that I would be doing all of this in front of people who were paying good money to see it, I very nearly fled.
But, like Brook says, perfect practice makes perfect, and my head was in the game, even if my body checked out from time to time. We practiced things endlessly, and slowly I began to really know that I could do this part, and make it fun for people to watch.
Twelve shows is a long time for an amateur like me, and toward the middle of it, it began to slip on like a familiar jacket. Even on a Friday after a long week, when going home and plopping on the couch was a lot more appealing, going to perform in “Evita” was something I looked forward to.
There was constant backstage chatter, especially among the women. With characters like these, who can resist?
I’ve been a teacher my whole life, so I can honestly say it gives me a great deal of pleasure to learn. I learned a so much from every single one of these cast members, and did it while having a blast.
Chris would have smiled.
Stepping out like this has also produced a whole lotta ‘wanta’s. So, here’s my list.
Wanta look like Audrey Hepburn (I mean Stacey)
Wanta have Chad for a ballroom partner
Wanta sing like Norika
And above all, wanta have that super expressive kid around forever. Wait, got that one covered! Much appreciation to all of you, I couldn’t have asked for a better, more uplifting run!
Sincerely and with much love,