It’s my first undercover assignment: Go out and get an inside look at auditioning for the Walt Disney World Resort stage — the Florida site where 700 aspiring singers, dancers, actors, and musicians are even now perfecting their art in shows like The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue. I am to try out in Seattle, where Disney World’s casting manager, Ron Rodriguez, will soon stop on his annual 10-city audition tour. The announcement in Variety simply says to prepare a number and supply sheet music ”in your best key.”
This brings me to New York’s Colony Records, a dingy Broadway emporium famous for its rare disks and mile-long racks of sheet music. Here I’m suddenly stagestruck, recalling the sizzle of applause after a high school play and thrilling to the prospect of a whole new career. (Frankly, I’ve been disillusioned with journalism ever since I interviewed Richard Simmons and he made me touch his yellow plastic replica of a pound of human fat.) I have no idea what my ”best key” is, but I buy music to ”The Theme From The Andy Griffith Show,” figuring that the casting people will be grateful to find out it has words. I’m a shoo-in. This isn’t just a job — it could be a brand new life!
Audition Day, Seattle, 7:30 a.m.
I rehearse my piece in the hotel bathroom. Good acoustics, bad song. The real title is ”The Fishin’ Hole,” and it’s clear that Cole Porter had nothing to do with the lyrics, which go, ”You’ll feel fresh as a lemonade/A-settin’ in the shade.” Andy was smart just to whistle it. Too late to change now, though; I’ve already dressed for the part. I try to concentrate on the one piece of advice I received: ”Smile,” New York cabaret performer Gerry Dieffenbach told me. ”No matter what you’re singing, smile.”
The words suddenly don’t matter, however, because somehow my ego transforms itself into a monstrous stage mother in a big fur coat (think of brassy Tyne Daly in Gypsy), and she is shouting, Hey, you sound pretty good! We’ve always wanted to live in Florida! No more subways! Sing out! Suddenly I’m whipping through the Disney World gates in a bright red Mustang convertible, top down. Miraculously, I am blond and four inches taller, and the guard is bowing.
As I arrive at the audition site, Seattle’s frumpily rustic Mountaineers Building, the butterflies in my stomach metamorphose into John Goodman and Roseanne Barr slam-dancing against my ribs. There are 178 other hopefuls spilling out of a huge conference room. Dancers stretch across the floor in tights and truncated sweatshirts with logos from Cats and City of Angels. As I squat to study my music, a chirpy voice asks, ”Does your book have ‘Tits and Ass’ in it?”
”Pardon?” A tiny, 29ish woman named Candice is standing above me in tights, her blond hair piled way up high.
”From A Chorus Line,” she says, beaming a fixed, charged-up smile. ”That’s the song I always do at auditions, but I wasn’t going to do it here because this is Disney, but I’m more comfortable with it, so I thought I’d sing it and just say, ‘t and a.”’
Like Candice, most of the performers are in their 20s, though the group ranges from a good-humored, 40ish mailman ready for a career change to a painted-up high school girl with Cinemascope hair who says, ”I just want to get the hell out of Seattle.”
Larry, a well-scrubbed man wearing a white turtleneck and a name tag bearing a picture of Mickey Mouse, passes out registration forms. Larry gives us four ways to sign up — as a Singer Who Moves Well, a Singer Who Dances (”if you do both equally well”), a Dancer (”dancers dance”), or a Musical Theatre Performer (”strong vocal, some movement, some acting ability”). Then out of my competitors’ backpacks and shoulder bags comes a blizzard of elaborate résumés and slick 8-by-10 glossies.
Oh, what shame: I, a Singer Who Moves Well, have one white sheet listing high school productions (even that is embellished — it says I played the lead in Barnum, but I really just did magic tricks in the lobby) and a pathetic little Polaroid of myself, which I hide under the paperwork.
”The stairway to hell,” mutters a female voice as a bunch of nail-biting singers is herded down to an auditorium for the first round of auditions. Meanwhile, here in the conference room, a duo named Ken and Mitzi from nearby Olympic College are going over their solos. Mitzi, a petite, dark-haired Army reservist who aspires to become a ”Christian artist,” goes through a lilting alto rendition of ”Memory” from Cats.
Ken — who is blond and wears the only tuxedo here — looks over his solo, ”That’s What Love Is All About,” with all the wide-eyed enthusiasm of youth. ”This is as big as it gets for a 19-year-old,” he says in a tender tenor. ”To be able to work at Disney World. I want to be a professional performer. I like making people happy.”
Mitzi has more pragmatic reasons for being here. ”I’m going to be 25,” she says, rolling her eyes. ”I want to get out of the house because I live with my parents and I have to take care of the horses. For me this is a way out, a once-in-a-lifetime dream.”
Larry calls my number along with nine others, prompting Roseanne and John to start slamming against my rib cage again. This time John Candy joins in.
The 10 of us take our seats on the back of the stage. Beyond the pianist, past the two somber casting men at a table facing us, is a vast, empty auditorium. The singers summoned for tomorrow’s callbacks receive form letters on the spot (there will be 21 in all). A simple ”Thank you” from the casting man is what the rest of us will get: that translates as, ”Beat it, loser.” Most of the time the dismissal comes just a few bars into the song.
A red-haired woman, who weighs more than most of the Gidgets here, stands at the taped X on stage and delivers a terrific rendition of ”Freddy My Love,” a ’50s-flavored number from Grease. She gets to finish, but then, ”Thank you,” says the man. ”Thank you for coming.”
Mitzi’s turn: ”Midnight,” she warbles. ”Not a sound from the pavement/Has the moon lost her memory…”
”Thank you. Thank you for coming.”
Sitting here, I recall an old Carol Burnett Show sketch, in which her curly-headed, white-trash character, Eunice, sings ”Feelings” on The Gong Show.
Just when poor Eunice is getting gonged, it’s my turn. ”It’s My Turn” — now that would’ve been a better choice than the Andy Griffith theme, says my stage mother/ego, who all at once has decided to withdraw her support.
I hit the X on stage. Four bars of piano intro and I’m off:
”Well now, take down your fishin’ pole/And meet me at the fishin’ hole…”
Smile! hisses the stage mother.
”We might not get a bite all day/But don’t you rush awa-a-a-a-ay…”
God, that note was flat. Who said you could hit a C? Never mind, sing out. You’re already eight bars into it…
”Thank you,” says the man. ”Thank you for coming.” I stare back at him, expecting something more. Nothing. I take my music off the piano, still certain I haven’t really been axed, and ascend the stairs expecting to be summoned back at any moment. But as I put on my coat, I hear it, and everything becomes dismally clear: