Anyone who’s seen A Chorus Line is familiar with the high-pressure, “I hope I get it!” process of a musical theater audition. Out of hundreds of hopefuls, you have to be the one whose skills are strong enough to catch the casting director’s eye. Then comes the callback, the workshop—and, most of the time, the “no, thank you.” But while rejection can sting, it happens to everyone, including the very best. We spoke with five talented Broadway pros who missed out on coveted gigs. As their experiences prove, audition disappointments don’t mean the world’s ending—or even that a role is permanently out of reach.
Current role: Freelance performer (Hamilton was her most recent Broadway show)
Roles that got away: Understudy for Amneris/ensemble member in Aida
In the fall of my senior year at Juilliard, I got a call from a casting director, Bethany Knox, asking me to audition for the first national tour of Aida. The team was interested in me as an understudy for one of the leads, Amneris. After singing and reading scenes, I received two more callbacks; the second was a dance call in front of the choreographer, Wayne Cilento. There were about eight other women in the room, and I felt very confident. But I wasn’t hired. A few months later, I was invited to another dance call for Aida, for an ensemble part. This time, I was immediately cut. I was so confused—and a little angry. I’d been invited, after all! But as I was leaving, Bethany pulled me aside to tell me the team was looking for incredibly specific traits. They’d wanted someone older than I was for Amneris; now, they felt I had the wrong look for the ensemble. It made all the difference to get that feedback. I learned that some decisions just aren’t in my control, because they’re not about my skills or performance.
Fiedelman (right) performing with American Dance Machine for the 21st Century (photo by Christopher Duggan, courtesy ADM 21st Century)
Rosie Lani Fiedelman
Current role: Ensemble member in The Lion King
Role that (almost) got away: Ensemble member in The Lion King
In 2008, when I was performing at the Tony Awards with In the Heights, I watched The Lion King cast do a special tribute celebrating the musical’s 10th anniversary. I’d never seen the TLK before, and by the time the number ended, I was in tears. I told my friend that I had to be part of that show. I first auditioned for TLK in December 2013. It was an Equity Chorus Call—required by the union, even if the show isn’t hiring. I was there for about five hours, but ultimately I was sent home. I tried to look on the bright side and convince myself that the show just didn’t need anyone. About five months later, TLK held another audition. The call was a similar all-day affair, and I made it through to the end. Ultimately, the directors asked if I’d be interested in doing the tour. I said “of course”—and then added that I’d prefer to be in the Broadway cast. I left that day wishing I’d stopped at a simple “yes.” Did I overstep a boundary? Turns out, I didn’t. The next day I got a call asking if I could make it to a costume fitting in four hours—for TLK’s Broadway cast. I couldn’t believe it. It was the role that had gotten away…but I got it! Just goes to show that it doesn’t hurt to speak up.
Current role: The Acrobat in Matilda: The Musical
Role that (almost) got away: Swing in American Idiot
I went to see American Idiot when it first opened, and it spoke to me in such a powerful way. It had to be my Broadway debut. I auditioned for a swing track that also included understudying the character “What’s Her Name.” During the audition, it seemed like the entire creative team was rooting for me. It came down to me and just a few others, but I didn’t get it. I was heartbroken—like sobbing-in-my-room heartbroken. Months later, I was called back in to audition for the role of Heather. I got to do some fight choreography, and I sang “Last Night on Earth.” I made it to the top two or three contenders again, and I thought this was my moment. It wasn’t. Devastated, I told myself to put my dream away. But a few months later, I got a call: The woman who’d been hired for the original swing position was leaving, and though I wasn’t a perfect fit for “What’s Her Name,” the directors were going to customize the swing track for me so that I could understudy the Heather role instead. It was an amazing ending to a process that had been so painful for so long.
Nicely (center) in Something Rotten! (photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown)
Beth Johnson Nicely
Current role: Ensemble member in Something Rotten!
Role that (almost) got away: Swing in Young Frankenstein
When I read that Young Frankenstein was coming to Broadway—and that Susan Stroman was choreographing—I knew I had to be in it. I’m a tall dancer, just Susan’s type, and I’d long dreamed of working for her. I auditioned to be an ensemble member and got a callback. But after the entire audition process, I was put “on hold” for the role for almost a month, just waiting to hear a “yes” or “no.” Finally, my agent let me know I didn’t get it. It was such a letdown. Then, a year and a half later, I got another phone call: A swing position had opened up, and the Young Frankenstein team wanted me to audition. There were five of us up for the role this time, all similar in height, but I ended up with the gig—I was exactly the same size as the original woman, so her costumes wouldn’t need to be altered. Later, I asked my agent what went wrong the first time. Apparently, the issue was that I was just too young for the ensemble. Casting a show is like putting a puzzle together, and I didn’t fit with the group. The experience was proof that it never hurts to go for it—because you never know which piece of the puzzle might be missing.
Current role: Ensemble member in Aladdin
Role that got away: Shark in West Side Story
Early in my career, I performed in a bunch of regional West Side Story productions. I’d done so many that I felt like it was my show. So when I heard it was coming to Broadway, I figured there was a good chance it could be my big debut. I went to the open call, then another callback. Finally, it was just me and two other guys up to play one of the Sharks. But disaster struck halfway through the final dance call: I fell and tore the meniscus in my right knee. It was a serious injury, and I ended up missing out on the role. I was pretty devastated for a good six months. I think I might have gotten over it more quickly had I not also been hurt—my knee was a constant, aching reminder of my failure. I questioned my warm-up, my training, diet, everything. Ultimately, though, I learned that sometimes, injuries just happen. I decided not to blame myself too much, and that turned out to be the healthiest thing I could do.
It seems like only yesterday that Disney debuted its first Broadway musical, Beauty and the Beast. But that's just because time flies when you're having theatrical fun: Beauty actually opened in 1994—which means that Disney on Broadway turns the big 2-0 this year. And what would a Disney birthday be without a giant party?
The Newsies boys are ready to celebrate! (photo by Deen van Meer, courtesy Disney)
To mark the anniversary, ABC will air "Backstage with Disney on Broadway: Celebrating 20 Years" on Sunday, December 14. Hosted by Jesse Tyler Ferguson, aka The Greatest "So You Think You Can Dance" Judge of All Time™, the special will give viewers an insider's look at all eight musicals in the Disney canon.
There'll be especially fun footage from the three shows currently running: an actual performance of Aladdin's showstopping "Friend Like Me" number, a Lion King rehearsal and a look at life on the Newsies national tour. Disneytastic!
Birthdays: part of the cirrrrrrcle of liiiiiiiiife (photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy Disney)
Can you think of anything you've done 7,000 times? OK, maybe brushing your teeth—if you do it twice a day for 10 years, you get roughly 7,000 cleanings. But my point is that 7,000 is a lot. And on Wednesday, September 3, The Lion King on Broadway will mark its 7,000th performance. Also a ginormous milestone? Alton Fitzgerald White (aka Mufasa) celebrated his 4,000th show last Saturday. That cat's got some serious stamina.
L to R: Gareth Saxe (Scar) and Alton Fitzgerald White (Mufasa) in The Lion King
(photo by Joan Marcus)
But back to 7,000. There are only two other shows in history (The Phantom of the Opera and Chicago) to make that milestone. Audiences have heard baby Simba sing in nine languages: In addition to English, it's been translated into Japanese, German, Korean, French, Dutch, Mandarin, Spanish and Portuguese. The only continent the production has yet to visit is Antarctica. And talk about girl-power: Lion King director and designer Julie Taymor became the first woman ever to win the Tony Award for Best Direction a Musical.
Nteliseng Nkhela at the New York Stock Exchange
(Photo by Josh Kuckens/NYSE)
Lately, the show has been making its way around NYC. This morning, Nteliseng Nkhela (Rafiki) rang the Opening Bell at the New York Stock Exchange. And earlier this summer, The Lion King cast took to the A-Train. And if you haven't seen what happened during the long stretch between the 59th and 125th Street stations, I don't want to spoil the fun. Take a look:
To get details on Broadway tickets and to see if the show's coming to a theater near you, click here.
It's the ciiiiiiircle of liiiiiiiiife!
Today the Broadway production of The Lion King celebrates its sixteenth birthday. Sweet sixteen! And it feels like only yesterday that everyone in the world fell in love with the show's crazy, puppet-y brand of awesomeness.
He's gonna be a mighty king! (Photo by Joan Marcus)
Some fun birthday facts:
-Today's anniversary show is also the musical's 6,660th performance. (Spoooooky.)
-The show is the highest-grossing musical in Broadway history.
-Just how much money are we talking? More than $5 billion. FIVE BILLION DOLLARS.
-Next month, The Lion King will zoom past Les Misérables to become the fourth longest-running show on Broadway.
-It has played on every continent save Antarctica.
-And a LOT of people have felllllt the looooove toniiiiight: Since its premiere in 1997, more than 70 million people have seen 21 different productions of The Lion King around the world.
Happy birthday, Lion King! (And special birthday shout-outs to my personal faves, the adorable baby Simba puppet and those wicked cool giraffe-people.) Oh we just can't WAIT for 17!
Seriously, those giraffe-people are the best. (Photo by Joan Marcus)
Pop-up stores, puppets and The Lion King: These are a few of my favorite things. So imagine my glee when I discovered there's a new exhibit in NYC that combines all three. (Squee!)
"Inside The Lion King" is a pop-up exhibit currently taking over the corner of 42nd Street and 6th Avenue, near Bryant Park. Inside there are 86 museum-quality "artifacts" from the Broadway production of The Lion King, which is celebrating 15 years in NYC. You can get up close and personal with a giant elephant puppet, take a photo in a 5' wildebeest mask, and participate in special workshops that delve into the musical's choreography, design and storytelling. It is, in short, totally awesome.
The exhibit is free and open from 10 am - 8 pm, but only until December 16. So you might want to take a break from your holiday shopping to check it out. (Hakuna matata—you'll get it all done!)
Last week, the Dance Spirit editors were discussing how much we loved the Broadway shows we've seen lately: Annie, Bring It On, Elf. And that got us thinking about our very first Broadway experiences. Do you remember the magic you felt the first time curtain went up and the star stepped into the spotlight? And singing the songs for weeks after the show? There's nothing quite like it. Read all about our first trips to musical theater paradise, then tell us about the first Broadway show you ever saw.
"Every year, my middle school hosted an eighth-grade class trip. We all boarded charter buses in New Hampshire and, with one adult chaperone for every four kids, drove through the night to NYC. While we were there, we saw Beauty and the Beast. We were seated way up in the balcony and I remember being freezing cold the entire time. I liked the "Be Our Guest" scene when the giant plates, cups, forks, knives and spoons danced with Belle—but then I, and most of my class, fell asleep! We were all so exhausted from our long trip and busy day of sightseeing that we all snoozed in our seats through the entire second act. (Luckily I've made up for my poor first audience showing by attending dozens of shows since then and staying awake for, well, the majority of them!)" —Alison Feller, editor in chief
"My first Broadway show was The Lion King during my very first trip to NYC. I was 11, and my mom and I spent a night in the city on the way to my sleepaway camp upstate. We had terrible seats—all the way to the left side of the balcony, so we could only see half the stage—but I was obsessed. So obsessed that when the show toured to my home city, Chicago, later that summer, I practically dragged my entire family there to see it—and sang along the entire time." —Rachel Zar, managing editor
"I actually didn't see my first Broadway show until I was a teenager. It was "Miss Saigon," and it was the highlight of a family NYC trip. I remember being completely bowled over by the fact that they somehow got an entire working helicopter onstage." —Margaret Fuhrer, associate editor
"I flew to NYC for the first time when I was 12 to compete at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals. I also saw my first Broadway show, Fosse. Looking back, I'm not sure I really appreciated it (or that it was appropriate for a 12 year old), but boy am I glad I can say I've seen it. I recently flipped through that very first Playbill and couldn't believe the cast I'd seen— Elizabeth Parkinson, Desmond Richardson, Sergio Trujillo, Scott Wise, Andy Blankenbuehler! Seriously, people! If only I knew then what I know now." —Michael Anne Bailey, assistant/fashion editor
"My first Broadway experience was a present for my 18 birthday. We went to the touring production of Phantom of the Opera, and I thought it was spectacular." —Josephine Dano, senior art director
Are you in NYC? Do you enjoy free things? OK, that second question was rhetorical—of course you do! And you’re in luck, because Harlem School of the Arts is offering 3 full days of free classes in dance, musical theater, music, theater and visual arts for all ages Sept. 4-7. This is a chance to seriously expand your horizons with classes like Urban Funk, Mad Cool Cardio and Afro-Latin Percussion. Spots are offered on a first-come first-serve basis, so sign up today to be sure you don’t miss out.
And to top it off, HSA will hold auditions for its children’s version of Disney’s The Lion King musical, The Lion King KIDS and The Lion King JR, the following week. Auditions for students grades 3-8 will be on Sept. 11-12, with callbacks on Sept. 13.
Intrigued? Get more info at www.hsanyc.org
Who caught the Tony Awards yesterday? It was an interesting night at the Beacon Theater, with lots of surprises when it came to the winners, for sure. But I'd like to begin this recap by establishing that Neil Patrick Harris is a national treasure. If he could host everything, ever—maybe with an occasional cameo by Hugh Jackman—the world would be a happier place.
Let's run down the highlights of the show, shall we? To simplify this a bit, I've decided to rate Tony 2012's top moments by jazz hands, from one (meh) to five (YES!).
1. The Book of Mormon introduction. OK, the idea of starting out with the BofM cast members ringing famous Broadway stars' doorbells was cute. But this show had its big moment last year, and the number itself lacked...something. (Maybe the hundreds of obscenities that pepper the rest of the production's songs?)
Rating: Two jazz hands
2. Neil Patrick Harris's opener. "What if life were more like theater?" NPH asks, and thus begins a cute musical number that pays tribute to beloved theater traditions while also poking gentle fun at them. It would basically have been impossible to top last year's insane opening number, but the "preventermission" and the Annie cameo brought it pretty close.
Rating: Four jazz hands
3. Movie-musical hybrids. "The Towering Inferno No Nannette. The Exorcister Act. Field of Dreamgirls. My Left Footloose. (Think of the dance numbers!)" Cute.
Rating: Two jazz hands
4. The Newsies performance. Yes, yes, yes!! Love all these boys. Way to wake up the audience with Christopher Gattelli's high-octane moves. (And Newsies fans: Stay tuned for July/August issue!)
Rating: Four jazz hands
5. Christopher Gattelli winning for Best Choreography—during a commercial break. So well-deserved. But really? Hiding the presentation away during the commercials? Choreographers are people too, Tonys!
Rating: Five jazz hands (the award); zero jazz hands (the timing)
6. NPH's Spiderman stunt. "Any concerns I had about this Spiderman rig failing have been overshadowed by the searing pain in my junk." [Cut to Andrew Garfield.]
Rating: Three jazz hands
7. The Lion King guy sitting in the audience in full costume. I'm sorry, what??
Rating: Zero jazz hands
8. The Porgy and Bess performance. Oh, man, I could listen to Audra McDonald sing "Summertime" all day. Which is why I was a little bummed that they performed a confusing medley of songs instead of just letting her do her thing. Though it's also a treat to see Norm Lewis and David Alan Grier up there, so...
Rating: Three jazz hands
(Side note: McDonald's engaged to Will Swenson?? Where have I been??)
9. The Tony-Award winning composer medley. NPH sings a (pretty awesome) song mash-up commemorating all of the composers who've won for best score...and the whole thing is an introduction for Sheryl Crow? I'm a little confused (though I did laugh out loud at "Hello 12, hello 13, hello—where is love?").
Rating: Two jazz hands
10. The Once performance. "Gold" is a beautiful song, but I was hoping they'd do "Falling Slowly," which is just gorgeous. Also, it would've been nice to hear Cristin Milioti sing a bit.
Rating: Three jazz hands
11. Hugh Jackman's surprise face. Jackman knew he was getting a special Tony Award last night—but he didn't know that his wife, Deborra-Lee Furness, would be presenting it. That is real surprise right there, and it is adorable.
Rating: Three jazz hands
12. "I just got terrible news: The cast of Hairspray has been taken over by pirates...of Penzance." Nerdy theater jokes! Yay!
Rating: Two jazz hands
13. The Leap of Faith performance. I'm sad this show closed before I got a chance to see it, because the cast's performance was unexpectedly amazing. That is some serious choreography!
Rating: Four jazz hands
14. The closing recap. The best. And the ending was perfect. Just watch and appreciate all that is Neil Patrick Harris.
Rating: Five very enthusiastic jazz hands