Judging from the auditions turnout at Theatre Jacksonville on the weekend of January 25 & 26, the hottest show in town in June, 2014 will be “Les Misérables.” Now released for non-professional theatres, TJ was one of the lucky theatres to be awarded the rights to produce it. This is one of the most popular musicals in theatre history and certainly one of the most successful, with over 11,000 performances in London, and more than 6,000 on Broadway. In 2012 , the musical was made into a movie with Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe.
We had not been to auditions for any play in several years, and with, it seems, every musical theatre performer in North Florida trying out, we attended two sessions. We hope to give you an idea of how auditions work and our impressions of the event.
On Saturday, adult tryouts began at 2 pm. Aspiring performers were greeted in the lobby by Production Stage Manager Ashley Weldon, who had everyone fill out a sheet asking for a brief resume, the specific role desired, and contact information. All were given a name tag with a number which would be called when it was time for them to go on stage.Sarah Boone, the Executive Director of Theatre Jax, introduced the creative team of Director Michael Lipp, Musical Director Kimberly Beasley, and Curtis Williams, Choreographer.
Mr. Lipp began by providing information about the rehearsal schedule, which will be demanding. The principals would begin almost immediately after selection, with rehearsal for other participants beginning in late March. From May 26 until the opening on June 6, all cast members would be required to attend all rehearsals. He further explained specific requirements for those trying out for the role of Fantine; the actress must be prepared to have her hair cut in a pixie style, as the role requires several wigs.
All the aspiring cast members went on stage for some stretching and warming up of voices. “AH, AH, EE, OA,” filled the air for several minutes. When their number was called, the participants would proceed with their music to Ms. Beasley at the piano in the orchestra pit, and from the stage would state their names and song selections, followed by singing sixteen bars of the song.
The auditions were held in blocks of twenty. After those in the first group had performed solos, Choreographer Curtis Williams had all twenty on stage to go through some basic steps for several minutes. I asked Mr. Williams how he could tell anything about their dance ability in such a brief period of time. He said he looks to see who has rhythm, rather than who can dance and that he can teach anyone who wants to learn to dance if they have rhythm. Director Lipp thanked everyone in this first segment for coming, and told them they would be notified of the outcome by email or phone within one to two weeks.
While I only stayed for the first twenty tryouts, I heard and saw several musical theatre veterans I had seen previously in a number of shows, including Jimmy and Jessica Alexander, Alec Hadden, Dave Thomas, and Evan and Judy Gould. My old friend Mark Snitzer sang “They Call the Wind Mariah.” Mark and I appeared on TJ’s stage before most of the people there were born.
Once a critic, always a critic, and some of the people sang well, but did not fully project their names; an issue, as after all, singing roles often have a lot of dialogue that needs to be projected to the back row. Numbers 115 and 110, in my opinion you both sang well, but I could not catch your names. JU student Haley Cox had a lovely voice and I loved her red, really red, lipstick that nicely complemented her red hair.
There are nine major roles in Les Misérables and about thirty other roles for diners, drinkers, factory workers, inn guests, prostitutes, sailors, students, and townspeople Many of the supporting roles have solos of varying lengths. A total of 153 adults auditioned over the two days, which gives you an idea of the interest in this show.
On Sunday at 2 pm, I attended the children’s auditions. Since there are really only four roles for the younger set, one for a boy and three for girls, the turnout was not as large. Twenty youngsters between the ages of eight and twelve, four boys and sixteen girls, went through the same procedure as the adults, except that at the end of their solos, Musical Director Beasley had each go through a vocal exercise to see if they could reach high notes. I was impressed all who participated, and it looks like musical theatre will be in good shape with the talent that is going to be available in the next several years. I only knew two out of this group of future musical theatre stars, Dante Gonzalez , who is already a theatre veteran with several shows at Players by the Sea, and Cecilia Adkison, whose parents, Randall and Laura are well known on the musical theatre scene. A total of twenty-eight children auditioned during the two days.
After the auditions and casting, the hard work will continue for the creative team as the cast members begin rehearsals. The costumer is Theatre Jacksonville’s Tracy Olin, and if you are handy with a needle and thread, I am sure she will appreciate any assistance with the many costumes required for this musical.
I know the first of June is four months away, but it is not too early to get excited about this show. I would be willing to bet that Les Misérables will be one of the hottest tickets in Jacksonville during the month of June.
And the show has been cast!!! For a complete listing go to Theatre Jacksonville’s Facebook page.