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ON THE SCENE: Auditioning for Chicago

January 27, 2011
“Arms up, arms down — head right. You go from here to here to here, then arms up, head down. Two, three, four. Hips go in, go in, that’s right. Now your fingers go walking down and bend those knees. Shimmy, shimmy. Bend those knees. Get those shoulders back. Shake them. Good. Let’s do the next one. Remember, I need attitude ladies and I know that you all got it,” said Terpsie Toon, the choreographer for the Community Players Theatre’s spring production of the Tony winning musical Chicago.

It is Sunday evening, Jan. 16, and I am in the Lake Placid Center for the Arts’ Annex surrounded by two-dozen women dressed in fishnet leggings and other provocative items appropriate for 1920s prohibition nightclub fan dancers. They were getting a last minute refresher just prior their stepping out in front of Toon, musical director Phill Greenland and Matt Sorensen, director of the play.

“How do you prepare for such an audition?” I said to Angel Marvin, looking like a very fetching moll who might crush your toe with her spiked heal if you crossed her.

“I’m not an experienced dancer, so this is a is a bit different. I usually start by memorizing the music, because that’s the fun part,” said Angel. “In this case, because it is a musical with a large dance component Matt, the director, offered dance classes specifically relating to Chicago and many people signed up for that, which began in September. We will soon be asked to dance for the directors. We have all been given the same song to sing. After they review our dance performances, we will be sent down stairs and called up one at a time to audition – to sing for them. And then we will see what they decide.”

I am looking forward to this show because it is a Jazz show with a really brassy score – lots of women,” said musical director Jeff Greenland. “Normally we are looking for a soprano as the lead, but here we want all altos, alto belters, big voices that fit into the 1920’s Jazz era. It is really neat for me to work on a score that is out of the ordinary. It is going to be very exciting to work with the orchestra that features the best of the best locally, 10 musicians, nearly a full orchestra and no strings. What also is neat is that the show is wall-to-wall dancing.”

“From the opening to the very end it is dancing,” said Terpsie.

“I look at the people auditioning in terms of their voices,” said Phill.

“Chicago is primarily a dance show, so the most stress on the leads is the dance audition, which is why we are starting very early,” said Matt. “The choreographer, Terpsie, is looking for some very specific body types and abilities, and I am really looking for singers who can act — and dance. Dancing is a big one. This is a very different kind of production for CPT. We usually focus on family shows because that is what most of our members are into doing. I am hoping that a lot of people will come out. Terpsie is really fantastic. She is serious business. She toured with Chicago in I think 1976. Without someone like here I would not have attempted this show period.”

“So far I am just helping out with the auditions, but I am hoping to be part of the tech crew,” said Marianne Burdeau. “I’ll do whatever Matt asks me to do. I am very excited that we are having such a good turnout, and we have quite the range from younger to older adults.”

“I am helping with the auditions as well this year,” said Kelly Barry. “I broke my leg last August and just got out of my cast so I am not trying out this year. I’ll be doing the costumes. I did the costumes and performed last year, but I am doing just costumes because I can’t dance with my limp.”

“She roped her husband into doing the sets,” said Marianne.

“Yes, I told him it was the only way he was going to get to see me until May,” said Kelly. “We had a lot of young ones try out Saturday night. Some were very good — and terrific singers. It is going to be a great show.”

“How are you going to be able to audition with a crutch?” I asked Peggy Orman.

“I have been one of the main dancers for CTP,” sad Peggy. “When I heard about the selection of Chicago I was very excited. Then two days later I had to have surgery on my knee. I have been very careful following doctor’s orders and doing my physical therapy. I should be able to dance again by March. I am trying out for a singing part tonight.”

“We will have no problems casting the show,” said Terpsie after the dancers had been reviewed. “That’s basically it. We have more than enough girls. We will need another audition to get more men. I have been mixing them up as I have parts for some of them in mind, but I don’t want them to know as yet what part I am thinking of.”

“Marianne, we are ready. Send up the first singer,” said Matt.

“Come stand over here next to me like it’s your living room, you don’t have to stand out there,” said Phill to each singer as they come in. What are you going to sing? All That Jazz? What a surprise. I’ll start with the vamp that we all know so well and will count you in so we all start at the same place. Ok, 5, 6, 7, 8…”

“That was a little light,” said Phill. “I know that you have a lot more voice than that. You are just scared so we will start again – and now that I have said that you won’t be scared again. OK. Go from start the car again, so push, push, push yell it out 5, 6, 7. 8…”

“No problem,” said Terpsie.

“I knew you could do it,” said Phil.

“Nice voice,” said Matt.

“Can you do a back flip, a cartwheel,” said Terpsie. “One handed?”

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