Yesterday my husband turned on a show he thought I might enjoy: Fiddler on the Roof.
He was right; ever since I performed in a community theater version of the play in my teens, I’ve loved that show. The fact that I grew up with a mother fascinated by all things Jewish probably helped.
Watching the film again brought back a flood of memories and emotions connected to the production I was in, the vast majority positive (the touching Sabbath scene, the practical jokes the cast pulled on each other, the fatherly friendship that our Tevye brought to the youth in the cast), and a few negative things as well.
I remembered the audition process, and the never-ending call backs in particular. In the end, several of my close friends were cast in leading roles. I was cast as a towns woman, one of the mamas. I became the choreographer’s assistant and helped teach some of the dance numbers.
I also used my dancing skills during the particularly poignant "Chavala" scene, where I danced in silhouette as Chava while Tevye sang the sad and somewhat tragic "Little Bird" number. I think that was one of my favorite parts of the entire show. I loved to dance, and such an emotional moment on stage allowed me to connect to the audience. Dancing was my element.
Aside from that, my role was limited. I had a total of one line. I was assigned two sweet little kids to be my children, and I found myself growing attached to them in a maternal way even though I was only eighteen at the time.
Likely the most memorable moment for me came when, prior to the opening of the show, both of sets of the double-cast daughters were supposed to perform the "Matchmaker" song at a city festival to advertise the upcoming run.
One of the Hodels didn’t show, and even though I didn’t know the dance number, the director asked me to step in last minute for the performance.
Nervous wouldn’t begin to describe how I felt. My voice was shaky, and I was unsure what I was doing, but muddled through, trying to remember what I had seen in rehearsals.
As we left the stage, the director came over and put her arm around me. She was an extremely talented lady, and well-meaning, I’m sure. I doubt she intended to wound me when she said, "When I was your age, I was just like you. I could act, and I could dance, but I just couldn’t sing."
Stunned, I just stood there, floored. I didn’t know what to say. I don’t know if I said anything at all.
What I do remember was trying my best to hold back tears until I got home.
I knew that my friends—those insanely musical people I’ve talked about in previous posts—had more ability than I did. Okay, a lot more ability than I had. They were musical freaks of nature. But to have someone tell me flat out that I simply couldn’t sing? At all?
Okay, then. Thank you for your support . . .
Halfway through the run, one of the Hodels started showing up late and otherwise causing the director grief, and I heard the director admit that she wished she had cast me in the role. Which of course made no sense, because I couldn’t sing. But I was punctual.
When Fiddler ended, rumors surfaced that the director’s next play would be Into the Woods, which is essentially an operetta: almost the entire show is sung. I remember sitting in a car heading home after hearing the news, determined that I would show our director and make it into the cast. I beefed up my efforts with my voice teacher, practicing harder than ever before.
Auditions arrived the following summer, and I made it to call backs. At one point, the director went to the back of the room and asked an assistant to point to each of the actresses randomly to sing the melody that Rapunzel does frequently during the show—a tune that begins at a high b-flat.
Since Rapunzel sings as often offstage as on—and the first time you are introduced to her is by her voice when she’s offstage—it’s safe to say that her voice is important. The director didn’t want to be swayed by what she saw; she wanted to judge solely on the sound.
She covered her eyes and listened as one by one, each of us sang the part. Then she consulted with her assistant as to which ones she liked best and who they were.
I was cast as Rapunzel.
If you know the play, you’re surely aware that Rapunzel isn’t a big role. She’s not even almost a lead. But she has to be able to sing, and sing high.
I almost cackled with glee at the irony.
Oh, so I can’t sing? I thought.
My joy was increased when some of those friends who were born with an instrument one hand a score in the other (and arrived singing) came to see the show. One friend who came with them reported that when they first heard me from off stage, their jaws dropped. "That’s Annette?!"
So it was with a bit of pain—and a bit of triumph—that I watched Fiddler yesterday. The cut that director made to my heart still stings a bit.
But there’s also the stubborn side of me that always comes back with, "Oh, yeah? Watch me."
It’s that part of me that is largely responsible for my success in publishing. I’d get yet another rejection, file it away, and think, "Oh, yeah? Watch me."
I made it into Rapunzel’s tower, and, eventually, I made it into print.
I got a little revenge with my first book, Lost without You; I used Into the Woods for part of the story and described the audition scene, including the part with Rapunzel’s tune and how difficult it was. I made sure my poor heroine, as much as I loved her, couldn’t hit the high b-flat.
I can’t hit it anymore, either.
But I did, once upon a time, when I proved to the director that she couldn’t write me off.
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