A VIEW FROM THE CHORUS
by Dodie Pettit
So there I was trying to be inconspicuous in my sweet white lace little-girl-from-Kansas-dress, as I put down my dance bag and staked my claim to a two foot square of dirty carpet in the corner of the dressing room, or rather, holding pen, at the Booth Theater. As I listened to the Broadway chatter of the chorus girl types around me, I felt like they all belonged to some kind of exclusive club that I was not invited to join. In fact, it was as if they defied me to. Like a child on the first day of school I watched my audition-mates closely, wondering what it would be like to be "one of them". For it was plain to see at a glance that I was the direct opposite of them. As I took off my dress and pulled out the unitard that I'd agonized over selecting, I felt even more out of place. Though it was the most revealing and brightest unitard that I dared to own; a pale blue unitard with criss cross straps in the back; I looked like Suzi Cream Cheese in it compared to what was facing me in the room.
Just next to me, a woman was wearing a leopard print body suit cut all the way to her butt in the back, Frederick's of Hollywood style. Another was wearing a fuschia leotard which had the legs cut all the way up to her waist on either side; leaving the strip of material that went between her legs not more than a inch wide. I couldn't help wondering how the part that was just covering her nipples would stay there once she started to move- scotch tape perhaps? Top this off with skin color panty hose, teased hair and black eyeliner, and I felt like a vestal virgin in a strip joint. Scanning the room, one outfit was more bizarre than the next, to me at least, who'd spent a lifetime in black leotards and pink tights.
So there I was, sitting sheepishly in the corner, with my bobby pins, putting my hair up in a French twist, and making a futile attempt to pull a few short hairs down on the front of my forehead to try to look "cooler" and not advertise what a "bunhead" I really was. But I knew it was no use; I would stick out like a sore thumb.
The few minutes that were left before our designated "call" seemed to stretch into an hour. As the room chatter increased to a dull roar and the room filled up with more and more exotic birdlike women, I spent the time at war with my nerves; alternately talking myself in and out of staying. I ended up staying only by virtue of the fact that I was jolted to my senses in the middle of a dialogue in my head which went something like "stay you fool! They asked for a ballet dancer! Do you see any other ballet dancers in this room?", by a large booming voice which said "Ok, you ladies can go on-stage now." And in a daze I filed down the stairs in the middle of the pack of painted and puffed bodies to the wings of the Booth Theater.
And that's when I realized why I'd come; when my feet suddenly hit the stage floor, and I was in a theater again. It really didn't matter that I'd never been in this particular theater before, it was a theater. And theaters had always been magical places for me; places where I'd felt important and loved; places where I'd pushed myself beyond all expectations; places where I knew I had to be. And there in the wings I breathed in the moment of standing on my first ever Broadway stage. Just that was worth all the fear and nervousness of the preceding two weeks, and certainly worth the painful embarrassment and discomfort of the previous few minutes in the dressing room.
While our group was pacing about the wings in yet another holding pattern, I was curious to take a look out into the house. So as inconspicuously as possible, I worked my way over to the edge of the proscenium and peered around it. The first thing that struck me was how small the house was. It couldn't have been half as big as any of the theaters that I'd performed in my native New Jersey. One has the image that every thing in New York is bigger and better. But that is not necessarily true. One forgets that many of these theaters were built for plays and at a time when there were dozens of plays running at the same time, before movies and television. And on these few streets is one small jewel of a theater after the next. For a half moment I indulged myself in the beauty of this little timepiece, with it's delicately trimmed opera boxes and ceiling. I imagined it filled with the high society of the twenties and thirties, and thought, if the walls could only talk.... But then my eyes landed on the small group of men sitting in house center, and I was pulled back to reality. Whoever they were, they felt very powerful, even at fifty feet away. For the next two hours, they rarely moved, except to whisper in a neighboring ear, and I wondered if they knew we were watching them as curiously as they were us.
As I withdrew back into the depths of the stage right wing to do a few more stretches and burn off some more nervous energy, I caught the silhouette of a man in a business suit hurriedly crossing the wing towards the door which led to the house. Our eyes caught one another, and when he broke into a smile I realized it was Stanley Lubowski. Trying not to call attention to myself, I weaved my way through the painted bodies to greet him and say thanks for arranging this, my Broadway audition debut, all the while realizing that now that we both knew each other was there, I was truly trapped and not even sneaking out the stage door was an option. Stanley gave me a huge smile and said, "You look really great. Good Luck", and seemed not to notice how uncomfortable I was and out of place I looked amongst the twenty-five or so chorines flexing and stretching about, who I was sure were jeering at me out of the corner of their eyes. Seemingly oblivious to all this, Stanley then continued his hurried pace through the door and into the house presumably to join the others. Who they were, I still don't know to this day. But I can only guess that Trevor Nunn, the director was there; Vinnie Liff and Andrew Zerman from Johnson Liff Casting and maybe even Andrew Lloyd Webber himself, though at the time, I wouldn't have recognized him.
"Ladies, would you come on-stage please?" a voice said. And we poured out of the wings and huddled in a mass of hushed attention in centerstage. "This is Gillian Lynne."
That was my introduction to the most famous choreographer I would ever work with, although at the time I didn't know it. But it was clear at the very first instant that she was an extraordinary person. She walked across the stage and virtually into our group as if she wanted to touch us all. Beaming at us through crystal clear blue eyes, she seemed thoroughly elated to see us all, as if she already knew us. And as she came nearer I could feel her energy which seemed to radiate several feet in all directions. She was dressed in a solid royal blue unitard which showed every curve of an ageless body. Amazed, I studied her face for clues of how old she was. From the face I guessed mid fifties. But the amazing thing was the face was attached to that body. She was easily as thin and athletically toned as I. How did she do it? I was in awe.
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