In an exclusive column, Broadway performer John Carroll takes Advocate readers behind the scenes of Lincoln Center Theater's hotly anticipated musical production of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
Picture it: a bare stage, a burning bed, and Sherie Rene Scott singing her ever-loving face off beside it. Sounds almost biblical, doesn't it? Well, welcome to Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Sherie has a number in this show that will bring down the house or perhaps, in this case, burn it down.
It's strange to connect the voice I've been listening to for years through my headphones to the person I've met and with whom I now work. Sherie's voice is a gift from on high. Seriously, she should send me a therapist's bill for helping me through many a broken heart. If you've never heard her sing on the cast recording of The Last Five Years, well, let’s just say you've got homework to do.
Earlier in the week we had what I like to call a "Broadway magic" day. The company of WotV went uptown to the Lincoln Center Theater for our sitzprobe. A sitzprobe is a musical theater term used to describe a seated rehearsal during which the singers sing with the orchestra, focusing on integrating the two groups. Before now, we were just rehearsing with piano, drums, and a guitar. Those three instruments alone are not too shabby; however, sitting in the lobby of this iconic theater listening to a 16-piece orchestra playing David Yazbek's stunning score is a whole different experience. The music felt like it was washing over me. It was as if I were back in the days of Phil Spector and his famous "wall of sound." Ah, the power of music.
We are also now in what we call, "10 out of 12's." Right before a production's first public performance, the actors can be asked to rehearse for 10 hours out of a 12-hour period. It's long and it's grueling. We basically live at the theater. Because the Belasco is an older theater, there is no rehearsal space. If you are not able to use the stage, there is literally nowhere to practice. Christopher Gattelli, our incredibly talented choreographer, and the rest of the dancers have been rehearsing at a dance space minutes away from the theater. Because we are at the Belasco and have to tech a scene one minute and run off to the dance studio to rehearse a production number the next minute, I have to carry around absolutely everything I'll need for the day in one bag. Like a bag lady. Like a beautiful bag lady ... with a 28-inch waist.
In said bag, I have my lunch, my street clothes, my dance clothes, my dance shoes, my script, my score, my dance captain book, and whatever else I feel I'll need during my long day’s journey. Basically, it's Mary Poppins's carpetbag. Why just the other day, when I was rummaging through it, I found a floor lamp, a shark's tooth, and, if I'm not mistaken, Jimmy Hoffa. I think the weight of this bag is messing with the alignment of my spine. If I don't get a massage soon, by the end of rehearsals I'm going to look like Zelda from the movie Pet Semetary.
On a lighter note, today I was sitting in the audience watching tech rehearsal as they were working on a scene with Patti LuPone, or P.Lu, as I like to call her. There I was, minding my own business as usual when P.Lu spots me in the audience. She then proceeds to yell out to me from the stage for all the world to hear, "John, I read the blog. That was so sweet. Thank you so much."
I remember a tunnel and a bright light. Oh, my gay hell. Can you believe it? This living legend read my words and she liked them! Thoughts going through my head:
1. I'm going to pee myself like June Allyson.
2. It's not a blog, it's a "column."
3. Why am I sweating?
4. Patti LuPone just said my name — my inner gay child has just been healed!
I know I have an odd way of seeing things. I'm OK with it. It keeps me entertained and makes me laugh. For instance, at the end of act 1, some of the women are literally hanging by the end of their ropes. During the number they are strapped into harnesses, and off they go — up, up, and away.
For one of the versions the amazing director Bart Sher tried, the leading ladies (Patti, Sherie, etc.) were all being strapped in by other cast members. Now, I'm not quite sure it's the best idea to have your understudy strap you into a "safety harness." I've seen All About Eve. I know how these things play out. The last thing you want to hear from "Eve" as she straps you in onstage before you are hoisted 50 feet into the air is, "Psst .. Patti ... Patti, my carpal tunnel is flaring up." Suddenly the ropes fly up, P.Lu goes down, the next thing you know a new star is born. You've heard of "Rose's Turn" — well, now its Eve's turn!
We start previews in a few days. I'm not sure what to think. Part of me is terrified that the outside world is ready to come a-knockin' at our door. We have been huddled together in our very protected creative cocoon for several weeks. Now every preteen blogger with two left feet and a pitch problem (you know who you are) is poised and ready to send their unsolicited opinions out into cyberspace. To be honest, the other part of me is just so happy to not be spending 10 hours a day in a dark theater. I think I've come down with rickets.
For more information on Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, click here.