In the mid-90’s I’d been called back tor a final round of “The Sound Of Music” auditions at Chagrin Valley Little Theater. The director (that night) did something I’d never seen before. Role by role, she asked each hopeful to step up and sing his character’s song from the show. It was tantamount to head-to-head competition. (Nothing, by the way, tests one’s patience so much as sitting through seven consecutive solo, a capella renditions of “Edelweiss”).

As one of two vying for the role of Uncle Max, I’d plenty of time to eye my opponent. David was a seasoned actor with a clearly trained voice. Called up first, he not only broke into song but dashed my spirit. Clearly, as my Dad would have said, I “couldn’t shine his shoes”.

Then came me. “Bruce!” they called.

Hesitating, this, I sensed, was not the protective womb of Beachwood’s theater. No, I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

Rising slowly, I felt a nudge.

“Just get up there and sell it!”

It was Phil, a guy I knew from Beachwood that had, in fact, been acting for years— saying exactly what I needed to hear.

Two days later I had the part.

“Thanks for the kick in the ass,” I told him by phone that week.
“You don’t get it, do you?” he asked rhetorically. “They can teach you to sing but they can’t teach him to be funny.”

It was a lesson I’d never forget. Indeed, years later I still get cast in musical comedies despite the fact that I can barely sing (politely they term mine a “character voice”), and I surely can’t dance. (Once, when the script of “Li’l Abner” called for my Senator Phogbound to strut and lead a parade, they re-choreographed it to get me off stage the moment my first line of the song was sung. To this day I wonder if the cast-members wore cups).

I still audition. Insecure to this day—wondering when they’ll see I’m all sizzle, no steak, I still audition. No one seems to care.

Like last spring at Fine Arts.

“What key do you sing?” asked the musical director.
“I don’t,” I told him. “Let’s make this easy. I’ll start and you find me. It’ll save time.”
The pianist winced and looked to the director, (who knew me).
“He’ll be fine,” said Mango. “Just let him start.”

I got the part.

It still amazes me they give me parts in some of these shows—and it still leaves me insecure.

Two weeks ago I tried out for “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying”. Opening in March, it conflicted with neither a grandchild’s birthday nor my honeymoon, (both of which would clearly come first). Moreover, it’s a GOOD show…being done close to home…and (again, as my Dad would say), is rated G for Gladys.

Entering the theater that night I thought I knew the drill (and show). Trying for one specific role, I expected only to read from the script and sing. Clearly I was taken aback when urged to dance.

“We want to see if you can move,” they said. “I’ll show them I’m a team player,” I thought, (all the while feeling like Elaine Benis).

Next we read and this, of course, went better. Not only was I confident, but I was on.  Perhaps sensing my redemption, the director pulled me aside.

“Bruce,” he asked, “I’d love to use you. Would you take a role other than Biggelly?”
“No, not really,” I said, taking my seat.

Ten minutes passed. One by one the would-be’s, when called on, approached the piano.

A guy stood up–his demographic most like mine. “This must be the competition,” I mused.

He opened his mouth…wide….and sang. Like an opera singer. Like f’ing Pavarotti or something—or Park’s cantor on High Holidays.

This, I sensed, was not a good thing.  “Please don’t let me follow him.”   (I yearned)…and then:

 “Bruce, you’re up! ” I heard.

“Did you bring sheet music?” she asked.
“No, you don’t have to play—I’ll just go with it.”

I gave them the best “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” I could muster. Short, rarely done, it allowed me to move a bit, play, and give’m a little shtick, as well. Win-lose-or draw, they’d remember me.

My phone rang last weekend—I got the part. Whodda thunk it?

Our first rehearsal, by the way, was Thursday. There I stood, with a cast of talent, in a role I craved. Pavarotti? Oh yeah—he’s in the chorus.

We went around the room, (as they often do), and introduced ourselves. It was a short session. I thanked the director again for the opportunity; truly I’m thrilled. 

Before leaving the musical director pulled me aside. “By the way, Bruce, “ she asked, “What key do you sing?”   The lady, God bless her, is still waiting for an answer.

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