Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Les Miz Act 1

There are some experiences in life that are too big to be contained in words—but I’m going to try! Recently I had the honor of being in the cast of a local production of Les Miserables, the musical based on Victor Hugo’s novel. The show closed last Saturday, set strike was Sunday, and life is back to normal. Indulge me as I recall my journey through this amazing period. It will take more than one blog post, I’m sure.

Audition Packet
When the Midland Center for the Arts announced the line-up for 2013-14 which included Les Miserables, I said I wanted to audition for that show. Then I said, no, I wouldn’t stand a chance. Then I said, yes, I’ll do anything to be a part of it. Then I said, no, I have to finish my current book. You get the idea. I finally decided that I would regret it for the rest of my life if I did not try. I dutifully picked up my multi-page audition packet which included four passages from Shakespeare one of which I wanted to memorize. My daughter, Kate, a professional Shakespearean actor thought Tamora’s speech from Titus Andronicus would also be suitable, so we worked with it throughout our Thanksgiving visit and I began memorizing “Have I not reason, think you, to look pale...” I recited it when I made the bed, when I did the dishes, when I showered, while I drove. The more I memorized, the more I wanted this.

On a stormy Tuesday night last December, I drove through blustery snow to attend the first of three audition nights scheduled for Les Miz. (A fourth night was added to accommodate the requests; ultimately between 275-300 people auditioned for the 58 roles.) I got to the theater early enough to snag audition number 22 so I would be in the very first group to audition on the very first night of auditions. Hmmm. Was this a good thing or bad? Looking around the room we were ushered into, I saw many veteran local actors and amazing singers and thought, “Have I not reason, think you, to look pale?”

Carol, the director and Jim, the music director gave us a pep talk assuring us that if we were cut off during our song, it didn’t mean we were out. If we weren’t asked to stay to read, it didn’t mean we were out. If we didn’t recite our Shakespearean passages, it didn’t mean we wouldn’t be considered. I nodded mentally understanding, but I had reason to look pale though I didn’t know it yet.

We were allowed up to 32 bars of a song for our audition. My voice teacher wanted me to show off my newly discovered soprano voice (I’ve always sung alto) so we selected “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” from Phantom of the Opera. If I started in the middle of the song, I had 32 bars to the end of the
First Rehearsal (photo by Tawny Nelb)
song which included my soprano range. I started to pale when we sat in numerical order and I realized that number 21 was one of the best sopranos in my Chorale chorus. I thought, “Oh crap, I follow Lynn.” She sang an amazing rendition of “I Loves You, Porgy” with her voice soaring to the rafters. I still was not daunted. I stood tall and began to sing, “Passing bells and sculpted angels, cold and monumental, seem for you the wrong companions, you were warm and gentle…” What? Is that applause I hear? Slow, “you can stop singing now” applause? Why, yes it was. Cutting off my song. I never made it to the soprano range; I got the hook. “Have I not reason, think you, to look pale?”

At least I wasn’t the only one. The guy next to me, number 23, was also cut short. Neither of us was asked to stay and read. I never did get to recite my passage. When I got home, I told my husband, Rich, that I had just had my fifteen seconds of fame. He reminded me that it’s fifteen minutes, poured me a glass of wine and assured me that Jim already knew my voice and didn’t need to hear any more. Kate said the same thing when she called to see how my audition went. I didn’t feel so optimistic. The crème de la crème was auditioning for this. But I had auditioned and I was proud of myself for that.

I plunged into my manuscript and the holidays trying not to think of it. I was revising my book one afternoon when I got a call from Carol. I was afraid of what she would tell me, so I made small talk. I had seen her in a show a few months earlier and knew she had directed something after that so I kept her talking about her busy life for as long as I could. Finally, she said, “I’d like you to be the Hair Hag in Les Miz.” Stunned doesn’t even come close to how I felt. “Really?” I answered as if she were not sure. Don’t give her a chance to change her mind. “I’d love to! I can’t believe it!” I shouted. “Great!” Carol laughed and gave me starting rehearsal dates.

“Have I not reason, think you, to say Hallelujah?”

Stay tuned for more…


  1. Betty - Outstanding! The process of going through auditions is fraught with the highs and lows that you speak to here so well! As one of the very fortunate fellow thespians and singers who were granted the privilege of taking part in this effort, I agree--our words are inadequate to fully describe what we experienced--but we have a published author in our! Bravo for sharing y(our) story; we anxiously await your next installment!

    1. As you know, I am usually not at a loss for words, but this experience was so joyful that I am having a hard time writing about it. I want to try though to capture the memories as others have done with photos. You understand what I mean :-) We were so blessed to be a part of this. Thanks for stopping by, David!

  2. Oh Betty, used my "Hair Hag" scissors yesterday to open a package.

    1. I miss you, too! It felt so weird to be watching NCIS last night instead of being at rehearsal. So glad those "Hair Hag" scissors came in handy :-) Thanks for stopping by, Jessie!