I keep expecting to get jaded. Even though the actuarial tables tell me that I’m more than halfway through my life, I can still be a teenaged drama club kid, over and over again, with only the slightest provocation. Yesterday was one of those days.
Like so many in “the business,” I started out as a performer in my high school shows, both plays and musicals. But as practical considerations like finances and family, as well as negligible talent, took hold, I shifted over to administration, allowing me to be close to what I loved, but without the vagaries of an artist’s life. I have never forgotten how much I enjoyed performing, but I moderated any dreams in that regard.
When I met high school acquaintances over the years who expressed surprise that I wasn’t still on stage, I’d preempt the conversation by saying I’d be happy just to sit in a jury box on an episode of Law And Order. I was as surprised as anyone when the universe – and one very generous person on Twitter – listened, and I landed a small speaking role on Law And Order: Special Victims Unit two years ago. I still can’t believe it.
As for standing on a Broadway stage, singing? I had moderated that to a lingering desire to one day write the liner notes for a cast recording, something more within my wheelhouse. (I came very close about nine years ago, for a Tony-winning show, but it was not to be.) I am, for reasons too mundane and absurd to mention, thanked in the liner notes of the reissue of The Golden Apple, but that doesn’t count.
So when I read last week of a recording session that would include the public on a track on the cast album of the Pippin revival, my heart leapt. I filled out forms online; I placed a few calls to friends in the industry. My not-so-submerged fanboy, my long suppressed performer, went into overdrive. This was my chance to sing on a Broadway cast recording. I had to do it. It wasn’t quite being in a Broadway show, but it was the next best thing.
Mind you, I would be doing my vocalizing with some 250 strangers; I wouldn’t get my name on the recording; royalties or even payment wasn’t in the cards. Only those I told about it would even know I was there. But I would know.
Whether it was fate or phoning, I got my e-mail notice, my golden ticket, that I was “in.” Yesterday, I lined up with what turned out to be more like 500 or 600 others to play the role of “audience” on the Pippin track “No Time At All.” As we filled the auditorium at the School for Ethical Culture on New York’s Upper West Side, I took note of the surroundings, which clearly are that of a church. I considered the phrase painted above the stage/altar: “The place where people meet to seek the highest is holy ground.” I found it rather apt, in my own secular interpretation, given the degree of devotion many have to musical theatre.
I was a mix of seasoned pro and giddy youth. I said hello to some of the journalists in attendance; I greeted a Twitter pal who had gotten in by volunteering to guard one of the microphone stands near an entryway; I chatted with Kurt Deutsch, whose Ghostlight Records will be releasing the cast album; I sat with my friend Bill Rosenfield, who during his days as head of A&R for RCA/BMG was responsible for countless cast recordings (and for filling out my CD collection with those discs). At one point, Kurt’s wife joined us in the pew where I was seated, so suddenly I was singing with the tremendously talented Sherie Rene Scott, only two people separating us. The radio host, author and accomplished musical director Seth Rudetsky was seated directly in front of me; I feared he might turn at any moment and cast me out as a poseur.
But when the music team came out, I was just one voice in a big chorus, albeit one which knew the song before the first note was played. Imagine my surprise when, after being drilled on diction and rhythm, we were then taught harmony lines. I had not thought of myself as a “baritone” since high school chorus, nor had I attempted harmony in public in some 30 years. I was quickly reminded of my inability to remember anything but a melody line unless others around me are singing “my” line; scary flashbacks to my poor efforts at barbershop harmonizing ensued. Although we had been seated as we learned our parts, we were given the direction, “Let us stand,” as in worship and as in chorus rehearsals decades ago. I was surprised by the power of those three words.
Pippin’s composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz was onstage for the session, and he was genuinely listening and tweaking what we did; Andrea Martin, although her vocal track had already been laid down in a studio, was there to egg us on. I was pleased to see them, but I know them both casually, so there wasn’t the sudden rush from being in the presence of celebrity. When Andrea first came out, she spied me and flashed a big grin and a tiny wave of recognition; I felt even more connected, more than just someone whose name got drawn along with so many others. Ah, a performer’s ego.
But the truest thrill was when every member of the assembled horde lifted their voices, including mine, in song. I had forgotten what it was like to sing in a group, in harmony, the magical mingling of one’s self with others in music, the unique vibration of the vocal cords and emotion that music can produce. Yes, a shotgun microphone was only a few feet away, but it was forgotten in the sheer happiness of being encouraged to sing full out, without embarrassment, on a tune that is undoubtedly one of the most effective and spirited earworms of the Broadway repertoire.
I’d still like to write some liner notes on day, but even if that doesn’t come to pass, I know that embedded in the Pippin cast recording is little old me, happily singing away for present and future generations of musical theatre fans. I am preposterously happy at the thought of being an indistinguishable footnote and at what is now already a memory of a magical hour.
I leave you with these random thoughts:
Thank you to every person at Pippin who made “my debut” possible.
I’ll be happy to sign your Pippin CD when it comes out (kidding, kidding).
Sing out Louise, whenever and wherever you can.