The Role That Got Away

Mathew Murphy (courtesy Murphy)

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.


Betsy Struxness

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.

Mathew Murphy (courtesy Murphy)

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.

Fiedelman (right) performing with American Dance Machine for the 21st Century (Christopher Duggan, courtesy American Dance Machine 21st Century)

Jennifer Bowles

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.

Kevin Thomas Garcia (courtesy Jennifer Bowles)

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.

Nicely (center) in "Something Rotten!" (Joan Marcus, courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown)

Andrew Cao

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.

Cao (second from the left) in "Aladdin" rehearsal (courtesy Disney Theatrical Productions)

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