Back when I was in college and Howard was in grad school, we had an audition-song conversation that, naturally enough with Howard around, turned into a lecture. Howard’s audition piece at that time was I Believe In You from How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, a show with more than one wonderful song. Sadly, I don’t have a tape of Howard singing it, but I hope you’ll settle for the inimitable (though many have tried to imitate him) Robert Morse singing the song he introduced.
Howard’s partner at that time, Stuart White, was a great actor, dancer and director, a tremendous talent, who couldn’t sing at all. He would audition with Clap Yo’ Hands from George and Ira Gershwin’s Oh Kay. It was a great song for him because he could sell it with charm and movement that made you almost (but not quite) forget his tin ear.
My audition song was Love Don’t Turn Away from 110 in the Shade. I was nothing if not ambitious. Being the kind of young woman who assumed she herself was destined for a life of quiet desperation (I got over it) the lyrics really spoke to me.
Basically, I was just standing on stage, staring straight ahead and singing soulfully, acting with my face and not much else. Not surprisingly, Howard didn’t think that was good enough. He gave me a suitcase. And then he made me use that suitcase. Entering stage right, plopping down the suitcase, sighing wearily and then, and only then, starting my song. What he understood was that if I had something to focus on, something to sit on and get up from, I’d have a reason to be in the scene. So other than the song’s beautiful lyrics and music (and the fact that I wanted a part) I had a reason to be on that stage, which the simple suitcase helped transform to a lonely bus station in a drought-stricken nowhere.
Lesson learned: when in doubt, find a prop.
The thing both Howard and Stuart neglected to tell me was to be prepared to do a song from the show, too. Callbacks were the same day and I made the cut. Unfortunately, I didn’t know the heroine’s song (the show was Where’s Charlie), didn’t sight read avery well and pretty much blew the audition royally. Just as well, I wasn’t cut out for the stage.
From the promos, it looks like one of the young contestants in the new PBS three-part series, Broadway or Bust, has chosen Disneyland from Smile to sing for the judges. It’s a wonderful audition song for many reasons – not least of which are Howard’s lyrics.
First off, it’s a sentiment we can all understand and identify with. There’s a wonderful build of self-discovery – and of self-deception -- that should make any young actress swoon. Marvin Hamlisch’s music is lush and generous, fitting so perfectly to the lyrics and allowing a great opportunity for a real yowsa finish.
And simple as it is, “And when I get to Disneyland…I’ll stay,” the song’s last line, really does give me chills.
Last night's episode of Broadway or Bust was more fun than I expected based on the reviews I read. I’ll start a link, in case anyone has a thought or two about the show.