Saturday, February 27, 2010

Confessions of a Music/Drama Nerd

My first encounter with the theater was in 5th grade when I was cast as Queen Josephine (Napoleon's wife) in a school play. It was beyond awesome. I got to wear a crown and throw a hissy fit on-stage about the Louisiana Purchase. Also, I got to end elementary school by breaking out of my quiet nerd shell.

In middle school, I became dedicated to chorus. The director only gave solos to skinny blondes so I was a solid alto chorus member. THEN 8th grade happened. I was the only girl who got into junior Northeast District chorus. That forced my chorus director to reconsider my talents and I was given a duet after three years of gritting my teeth through reedy warbling solos. But luckily there was another creative outlet that year sponsored by our pianist, a Pops Concert. I chose to sing "Where Does My Heart Beat Now" by Celine Dion and I got a standing ovation plus a ton of compliments from classmates.

High school was a frenzy of music and drama. Freshman year I missed musical try-outs for Anything Goes so I worked backstage. But I did get into the elite chorus, Concert Chorale, as an alto. The way the music department worked was that each grade there were soprano/alto superstars and as they got older, they got more solos/leads. I met my soprano co-superstar Freshman year. We gamely auditioned for parts we had no chance in getting but we kept telling each other to be patient and our time will come. That summer I joined a theater group and performed in the chorus of Show boat. Sophomore year I got into Carousel as a chorus member. I also got to be part of a quartet solo in Regina Coeli with Concert Chorale. Granted, there was another quartet with real superstars - my quartet existed because the high school music director didn't like being the bad guy. But my backup quartet got to perform in Carnegie Hall (in Scotland)! That summer I was in the chorus of Brigadoon and I got a couple solos in the "Vendor's Call" and "Jeannie's Packing Up". Yup, I could feel my star rising! Junior year, I started taking private voice lessons. I also joined the Theatrical Arts Society's cast of the Spoon River Anthology. Each of us played 3 characters and the set was just scaffolding and draped fabric. The only character I remember playing was Minerva Jones. I loved the name and loved her dramatic death. I was also in the chorus of Man of La Mancha
where I got my first line in a high school musical "Put the question to him." That summer the theater group performed Kiss Me Kate. I played Hattie and I had the opening number "Another Op'nin', Another Show". This role was fairly minor but I was allowed to really act and steal some scenes by just some stage business. I made up a whole back-story for Hattie. I decided that as Lilli's maid, I was living vicariously through her show-biz antics. So when that show-biz lifestyle was threatened, I was none too pleased.

Senior Year, ah yes. All other superstars were gone and it was just me and my co-superstar. But I screwed up the odds by switching to Soprano because the chorus director asked me to and my voice coach thought it was best. I was an alto for regular chorus but a Soprano in Concert Chorale. I got into district chorus as an alto plus I got an All State recommendation - which I found out on my 18th birthday. SUCH a nice birthday present! I also snagged the soprano duet in Messe de Minuit and made my co-superstar an enemy. I lucked out on the duet by recruiting a sophomore whose voice was a perfect match with mine so when we sang together, it sounded like one person. Soprano Enemy was all sad that her breathy sharp voice didn't mesh well with anyone's. But she did get the lead in Oklahoma. I got Aunt Eller. I consoled myself with the fact that I had more lines and scenes than her. I didn't get into All-State but I did get a perfect sight reading score.

Being a lead wasn't actually as fun as I had expected. There was a lot of pressure and critiquing. With every mess up, I could feel the girls in chorus muttering about how the hell did I get the part. The director wanted me to act like Granny from Beverly Hillbillies but I didn't want to be so broad and comical. I wanted to be old, wise, and kind. We met in the middle where my voice was the broad comical part but I sure as hell did not hike up my skirts and two-step around the stage! I soldiered through and did an okay job. By the end, I at least was having fun and was able to shake off the doubts and disillusionment. I wound up going to the Prom with the guy who played Ali Hakim. That summer I transitioned from cast member to staff member as the assistant music director of Oliver. Correction, I did have one minor role as the dying old lady with the locket. I was the vocal assistant director and there was an instrumental assistant director. We begged for our own number and were given "Who Will Buy". Between our direction and the amazing choreography, that number was the highlight of the show.

In college, musicals and plays were reserved for music/drama majors so my main musical outlet was marching band. The summer between Freshman and Sophomore year, I was co-music director for Annie Get Your Gun. The former instrumental assistant director was my cohort. This show was especially difficult because the two leads couldn't read music so teaching them was a challenge. But that's the thing about good singers who can't read music, they usually have amazing ears. My last summer theater production was as Music Director with two assistants for 42nd Street. The cast was perfect and yes we were able to get the entire chorus to tap dance!

In my post-grad days, I sung in community choruses and performed in cabarets but I really did peak in high school. I still try out for solos because that is who I am and when I don't get them, I move on. Here's a little secret - for every role and for every solo, I was shaking with nerves beforehand and afterward.

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