Beach Blanket Babylon Auditions!
This ‘n that
So there it was in the Pink section of the Sunday Chronicle: an ad for open call auditions for “replacements and understudies” for “Beach Blanket Babylon”, SF’s musical theater equivalent of the Energizer Bunny with giant hats for 30 years. You know a show has legs when the city changes the name of the street that the club is located on (Green) to “Beach Blanket Babylon Boulevard”. The gig even offered health insurance.
Hey, health insurance!
My life flashes before my eyes. Over twenty years ago, I auditioned for “BBB”. My whole life is repeating, like Ground Hog Day. I had to do this. Even if I hadn’t done actual musical theater in two decades. I didn’t even have a recent headshot. A Xerox of an old gig flyer would have to do. A star is re-born.
I am warming up, screaming my best Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” with Velcro rollers in my hair, while driving down Lombard Street, frightening other drivers. People are lined up around the block already, as I pay $10.00 to park. I get in line, already feeling an acute rush of déją vu. There are people of all shapes, types, sizes, ethnic persuasions, and yes, ages! I am not the old(est) kid on the block!
The girl next to me says, “Cool pants!” I am cool now. I call people on my cell, giggling, “You’re not going to believe where I am right now.”
A man and a woman with Beach Blanket Babylon t-shirts start passing out information forms to fill out (with tiny pencils) and assign us numbers. I am #59. Directly across the street is Green’s Mortuary. As our line starts to move, a military marching band begins to play, leading a funeral procession in the opposite direction. Ominous. Convertible cars decorated with giant float-type flower arrangements are driven by Asian people, as the band makes its way down the street. Perhaps it is a new production of “Flower Drum Song.”
As we file in, “Footloose” is playing on the sound system. I look around for Kevin Bacon. I turn in my stuff to the cheery guy at the table and he says, “Now, remember your number!” The theater looks exactly the same as it did 20 years ago. My heart pounds. I take my seat and drink tea to keep my pipes warm. Janis would have been drinking Southern Comfort.
Director Kenny Mazlow speaks to us, heir to the throne of creator Steve Silver (who died in 1995). He is seated at a table in front of the stage, along with Jo Shuman Silver (Steve’s widow), and several other people, probably the choreographers. TV cameras are filming. He is upbeat, tells us they are looking for specific types, so if we are not called back, it doesn’t mean we aren’t wonderful. Call-backs will be at 3pm today, final call backs will be 3pm on Thursday. I am already checking my date book. Bill Beck, the show’s musical director will be accompanying us. “Now everybody stand up and let’s sing to warm up!” Mazlow instructs us. The piano player begins a rousing version of “There’s No Business Like Show Business”, which everyone seems to know but me. I fake it with gusto. He has the first group of twelve or so line up on the stage and the next line up in chairs on the side of the stage.
The first few singers are musical theater types. Mazlow stops one blond ingénue and asks her to sing a verse of her song, “Crazy” like “Snow White” in a tiny soprano voice. Then like Cher. We are laughing, clapping, cheering everyone on. It’s like a giant musical theater summer camp, we are all high off the excitement. This is fun! A large, African-American woman in a jean jacket sings “New York State of Mind”, and Mazlow yells, “Sing it like Tina Turner!” The woman’s face instantly melts into a Tina Turner face and she begins to strut around the stage like Tina, “Some folks like to… gettt awaaaay…” “Now Patti LaBelle!” he exclaims. We are screaming with laughter. I say, “Good job!”, as they walk by me. I am with them, they are my peeps!
He keeps several from the first group and then changes things up. The next group has to take turns singing the chorus from “It’s My Party”, handing off the microphone to each other. If he approves, you sing your own song. Some guy drops his pants when it’s his turn. No call-back. A disabled little guy in a baseball cap sings some bizarre song from “Thoroughly Modern Millie”. He is freaky, but cool. We give him a standing ovation. Only four make this cut, it’s getting tougher. There are some really great singers, some who just suck. Kind of like karaoke. An attractive blond theater type whispers to me, “I audition for this show all the time. It’s never been done like this!”
The group song is changed to “Amazing Grace”. My throat is getting tight. I keep drinking tea. He has two of the large black women sing “Respect” together. It’s like a ferocious diva duel. They are amazing. A young black kid in his early 20s with dreds sings an India.Arie song acapella and Mazlow asks him to sing some vintage Michael Jackson. Astonishingly, the kid knows no Jackson 5 songs. We are screaming the words at him from the sidelines, where we are waiting. He fakes through “I’ll Be There”.
My group is next! Maslow makes us go back to “It’s My Party”. I am last and will show them I can rock! Then they will be blown away by my amazing Janis Joplin-ness. I change up the melody on “Cry if I want to, cryyyy if I want to,” adding some rasp, gettin’ down with my dancing and mic technique. Our entire group is cut. Not one of us gets through. We are the loser group!
I take my seat, crushed with the agony of defeat. Some girl asks me if I sing with the Glide Memorial Church choir, says I look and sound just like a singer she saw. Bless her. I feel better. I will stay and watch the rest. No one gets to sing their own songs anymore. It’s down to the wire. People are getting chosen for call-backs just by the group numbers. A young, cuter-than-Clay- Aiken type with dark hair nails it. I find out he is only 17, “almost 18,” he says. I could be his mother. A man in his late 60s/early 70s follows him. We are transported from American Idol “Waiting For Guffman.” TV cameras interview Jo Shuman Silver, who gushes, “This may be the best audition ever!”
It’s call-back time. They feed them pizza, from which I abstain, since I am no longer in the running. About 50 singers are left from almost 200. Mazlow breaks them up into groups. About seven black diva women sing “Proud Mary”, each soloing while the others sing back-up. One giant woman dances wildly, just like an Ike-ette. They are absolutely incredible, but it’s clearly down to big mama “Emily” and the smaller one in a white poodle skirt. They have a show-down. It’s like church, praise the Lord!
Next are the “Snow White” soprano ingénue girls, who have to sing “Someday My Prince Will Come”, and then Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” in a cartoony helium voice. Two make the cut. They are followed by all the black men, including a HUGE guy named “Tank” and the dred kid. Mazlow makes them each do a chorus of James Brown’s “I Feel Good”, which they all kick ass on. Then he asks them to run around the stage, expounding completely unintelligible James Brown mumbo jumbo. “Kiss myself, heyyy!” one cries. Mazlow screams, “No, I can still understand you! More garbled!” He tries again, but he just can’t do it. “Budda BEE, heyyyy, yabba bauuda DOOO, heyyyyygahhda beeena beyaa heYYY!” another one yells, as he prances around JB style to the max. Three more follow, each funnier than the last. There are many of us rejects out in the audience, we laugh like hyenas. It’s a man’s world.
The next group contains five non-black, non-big women. This would have been my category, I brace myself. They are asked to sing “It’s My Party” again, first straight, then like an over-the-top Barbara Streisand and then like a Spanish station coochie-coochie mama. “Cross your eyes, you have 11 inch nails!” Mazlow yells at one poor girl. “Now shake it like Charo!” I am impressed, but not sold. Not a rock singer in the bunch, I don’t really fit any type he chose. I feel vindicated. The young white guys are asked to sing ‘50s songs and Elvis, several are really great. One kid just played Conrad in “Bye Bye Birdie”, he’s a pelvis-shakin’ pro. Our 17 year-old son kicks ass. The last are big white women who can sing like Ethel Merman and Patsy Cline. The big babes strut their best brassy stuff. There’s no business like crazy show business.
Half the group is cut and call backs end – till next Thursday at 3pm. I am totally drained. The theater immediately begins to get ready for tonight’s performance. It’s now or never. I will officially trade in my reject badge for a journalist one. I approach Maslow, can I get a quote? “These auditions are one of the best perks of my job,” he beams, turning on the charm. “I admired Steve Silver so much and I have tried to be as gracious and generous as he and Jo. They respect the talent, and I welcome the experience. I don’t want the kids to feel pressure; I want them to have fun!” I like that Maslow guy. Even if he destroyed my dreams for health insurance. I decide to destroy my newly established journalist credibility by handing him my CD, “Sycamore Street”. “Great cover!” he covers gracefully.
As I leave the club, I see my favorite African-American diva with the giant, braided hair and rhinestone shoes. “Hey, Emily!” I call out. “They need to cast you, girl! Can I get your full name for this article I’m writing?” “Yeah!!” she exclaims. “Can I give you my picture?” It’s a head-shot with the name “Emily Baloney” printed under it. My baloney has a first name, it’s E-M-I-L-Y…
Maybe I’ll audition again when I’m 60. If I still don’t have health insurance.
This ‘n that around town/shameless plugz ‘o da month…
Bizarro’s Humor Thing at Sketchfest at the Eureka Theater in SF on January 29. Those wacky 4 funny boyz were at it again!...
Mark Pitta & Friends every Tuesday at 142 Throckmorton in Mill Valley – read my SF Chronicle article at sfgate.com/Friday or Markpitta.net…
The Martini Brothers every Thursday at Le Colonial., 70 Cosmo Place, SF…
My girl Toby Lightman at Slim’s February 5, bringing down the house...BATS Improv Group’s “Emotional Hospital” Soap Opera spoof, directed by John Remak, at Bayfront Theater, SF, February 19. Hilarious! Best on-the-water hang in Sausalito is Paradise Bay, 1200 Bridgeway, 415-331-3226… Shonna @Rockstar Hair, for musicians only, 415-819-9397, Tony’s Shoe & Luggage Repair, 38 Corte Madera, Mill Valley, 415-388-5935, and last but not least, PLEASE BUY MY CD “SYCAMORE STREET” at cdbaby.com/cd/kimberlye
See ya next time!###
To read other articles by Mizz Gold, click here!
Kim can be emailed by clicking here!