November 21, 2007
I’m no stranger to auditioning for parts. With all the voiceover work I do, I can sight-read like a trooper, so scripts are a piece of cake. Whether it be reading for a play, telly or commercial, I’m more flowing than Boney M’s raft on the rivers of Babylon. But musical theatre auditions? They’re a different kettle. They’re no familiar Russell Hobbs. They’re scary. If you forget the lyrics to a song, as I frequently do at auditions, there’s no improvising your way out of it, or slipping in a dramatic pause (to buy remembrance time), as you can with a spoken monologue. That audition-pianist has started, so he will finish. He keeps banging away on those ivories, as your blood pressure turns the corner onto the street marked “I’ve got a stress-rash on my neck”.
So it was that I put fingertip to keyboard and wrote to the casting director of Jersey Boys, the award-winning Broadway musical charting the success of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, due to open in London early next year. They were after an alternate actor to play Frankie for two performances a week. Lead musical theatre roles don’t come along that often for me, as I’m only 5’7. But, in this case, the lead HAD to be short. Because Frankie is short. A dream come true for us frustrated, wannabe leading-men. But most important of all, Frankie sings falsetto. Really high falsetto. Sherry Baby, Oh What a Night, Big Girls Don’t Cry. His voice was unmistakable.
And so was mine. Unmistakably awful. On the whole, I sing well, as a tenor. But I’ve never punted into the murky swamp of falsetto. I’ve never needed to, having had no desire to play transvestite Mary Sunshine in Chicago. But how hard can it be? I lined up a singing lesson with a classical counter-tenor. All went well. I’d cracked it. Just. Trouble is, I literally cracked during the audition. I insisted on singing Walk Like a Man, even though it’s from the show itself (so breaking an unwritten musical theatre audition rule). It starts with 16 bars of OOH, all in falsetto, and not dissimilar to the Star Trek theme tune. I could sing it fine before the audition, as well as after the audition. But during? Oh the shame! A dreadful noise filled the audition chamber. Terrible, and all the worse for it was coming from me. Strained, cracked, weaselly chirrups. The kind of noise that the RSPB would synch to footage of a dying sparrow, in order to secure your two pounds a week.
The two casting directors were a picture of professionalism. They didn’t shout at me, they didn’t stop me (although I was begging them with my eyes to do so). One even bounced her head along in time with the music, some sort of charitable encouragement, or was it a request for divine, musical intervention; to have been filled with the spirit of Frankie Valli would have been spot on, if only he were dead.
I felt depressed for a whole day. And, like a show-off, I had told many work colleagues about the impending audition, so have spent weeks shaking off enquiries as to “how it went”. So what’s the moral? It’s a tricky one, because I would say that if you don’t give things a try, you’ll never know whether you can be successful at them. But there again, humiliating yourself in front of West End and Broadway casting directors isn’t the kind of career-move they teach you at the Drama School of Life.
Good acting practice, though – walking out of that room Like A Man, not like a sobbing, Big Girl because, as we all know, they don’t cry.
Nigel’s song montage can be experienced here.