Auditions held for 'Chicago' to play at the Bradley

By Denise Coffey
Putnam - posted Tue., Jan. 25, 2011
Choreographer Keri Danner leads auditioners through the song "All That Jazz."
Choreographer Keri Danner leads auditioners through the song "All That Jazz."

The Theater of Northeastern Connecticut held auditions for “Chicago,” this weekend. Over the course of two days, 39 theatrical souls read lines, sang songs and danced, as they tried to garner the leading roles in the musical. The play, which will be staged in April at the Bradley Theatre in Putnam, is about murder and vaudeville. If the auditions were any indication, The Bradley will add yet another colorful performance to its marquee.

When the curtains open on April 15, those chosen for the six lead and 10 ensemble roles will dance and shimmy across the stage, belt out their songs and mesmerize with their lines. Between now and then, 16 people will practice four times a week for up to four hours a night memorizing lines, singing songs, and dancing to choreographed moves.

Twenty people auditioned on Saturday, and 19 more showed up on Sunday. In front of a review committee, the women and men who tried out for the parts took their turns going on stage to perform. The participants had filled out surveys, signed release forms, and picked up audition material beforehand. When they arrived at the Hard Auditorium at Pomfret School, they were given numbers to stick on their shirts. They were called one-by-one, in numerical order, until all 19 had read their lines.

Director Bob Sloat addressed the crowd before auditions began. “Chicago” does not require a big cast. Not everyone was going to be chosen for a role. He was straightforward with them. “We are going to put together the best show we can for the people paying for the tickets,” he said. “We are going to base our decisions on what is best for the show and what is best for the production.”

For the women's roles, each participant had to stand beside the piano at the base of the stage and have her photo taken. She had to make her way to the stage and introduce herself. She had to announce the part she was trying out for, and indicate if she was interested in any other parts in the play. And then she had read her lines with the committee (and her peers) sitting in the audience. And that was part one of a three-part audition.

In the second part, each person had to sing.

Accompanist Brenda Rich-Pike said, “The committee wants to hear your voice. They want to hear your voice quality. They want to see how you work with a musician by making you hand music to someone you don’t know.” People handed her scores for the songs as they went on stage. She played selections from “Funny Honey,” “All That Jazz,” “Razzle Dazzle,” and “Cabaret.”

Choreographer Keri Danner coached the group for the third and final part of the auditions: the dance routine. Danner said she fell into theater around 1995. She was encouraged to audition for a show and was bitten by the theater bug.

“Choreography is the hardest part of the show,” she said. “Dance supports the rest of the show; it pulls out parts of the character.” All 16 of those auditioning went on stage, and for nearly an hour she put the cast hopefuls through some paces. She put them into three lines and stood before them, showing them how she wanted them to move to the song, “All That Jazz.” She broke the song down into pieces and taught them one piece at a time. “I want to see pretty fingers on the women. Men, I want your hands to be a loose fist.” She demonstrated. “Floaty hand up, exhale with a paaah, then your left hand drops,” she said. “Pantomime what’s happening in the music.”

The participants watched her closely, asking questions to make sure they understood exactly what she was saying. “Where should my left foot be when I turn,” a woman asked. After nearly an hour, she had the whole group dancing in sync.

Most of the men and women trying out had been in high school, college or community theater productions before. One woman said, “This was my New Year’s resolution. It’s great to be someone else for a change.”

Tracy Kanust tried out for the part of Mary Sunshine. “I loved doing this in high school and college. I haven’t done it in 40 years, but I figured, what the heck?”

Producer Jeanne Foley sat in the back of the auditorium watching it all. “Musicals are a little disjointed,” she said. Rehearsals are done in blocks: one night, dialogue; another night, singing; another night, dancing. “You don’t see it all come together until the end.”


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