Ten-year-old Josh Ford of Chatham wasn’t too nervous ahead of his try-out. Credits: Peter G. Kane
Bridget McGarry of Chatham, an old pro, came with her glossy headshot. Credits: Peter G. Kane
“Do a deer a female deer, Re a drop of golden sun …” Credits: Peter G. Kane
The line at the Papermill formed early. The first arrivals showed up at 4:15 a.m. Credits: Peter G. Kane
Brookside Drive in Millburn became the “Great White Way” of hopeful children actors. Credits: Peter G. Kane
The Sound of Music and Youthful Dreams of Fame Fill the Papermill Playhouse
Monday, September 17, 2012 • 6:15am
MILLBURN, NJ – Hundreds of area boys and girls turned out on Saturday morning to audition for one of nine coveted roles in the Papermill Playhouse’s upcoming production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s last collaboration, and most popular masterpiece, "The Sound of Music."
By 9 a.m. when the doors opened, the line of over 400 eager young actors along with their nervous parents snaked along Brookside Drive.
At the front of the line was eleven year old Bridget McGarry, a 6th grader from Chatham who arrived in Millburn with her mother at 4:15 a.m. Bridget, a veteran of several TV commercials and shows, confessed that although she had never seen "The Sound of Music" on stage, she has seen the 1965 Oscar-winning movie several times.
Bridget is no stranger to local audiences. “I was in 'The Grapes of Wrath' at Chatham Playhouse in March,” she said. She received a Perry Award nomination as Outstanding Youth Actress in a Play for her role. The prestigious Perry Awards are given out each year to the best of New Jersey’s community theaters and performers.
Once inside the theater lobby, the young thespians handed over their resumes and glossy headshot portraits and were assigned an audition number to pin on their chest. Next, their height was measured and recorded. Finally, the children were taken upstairs where the director, producer and a keyboard accompanist gave a refresher class in the lyrical anthem known to singers everywhere, “Do Re Mi.”
In groups of eight, each actor sang solo for three or four bars of music as the production staff took notes and provided encouragement. The range of talent and confidence was impressive but as any actor will tell you the audition process is tension-filled and ruthless. As the singing groups were led into an adjoining room, the director and his team compared notes and made their first round of cuts.
The job of breaking the news about callbacks fell to Caesar, a young casting assistant who called off the numbers of those who would be asked to return at 4 p.m. By the end of the morning, the 400 hopefuls had been winnowed down to 80.
The director of this production is James “Jimmy” Brennan who also serves as the show's choreographer. Brennan, himself a Papermill performer in the late 1980s, directed "The Sound of Music" at the Papermill in 2003. That year, a young Nick Jonas won the role of Kurt, the younger of the two Von Trapp boys.
“Nick had just finished doing Les Miserables on Broadway,” recalled Brennan. “I remember he had recorded a Christmas CD and asked us if we would let him sell it in the lobby at Intermission. When he told me he had a band with his brothers I thought, 'Oh no, not another boy band!'”
When asked what qualities he was looking for at Saturday's audition, Brennan replied “It never changes. I want to see some animation, a 'spark' or eagerness … an intelligence in the eyes. Obviously we want to select kids who can sing and can demonstrate musical dexterity and pitch.” He summarized by saying “I want to be able to look into their souls.”
At callbacks, the 80 finalists were taught a simple dance routine by Brennan and, after the opportunity to demonstrate their terpsichorean talents, another round of heartbreaks and hope.
Final casting decisions will be made later this week when the lucky nine children, seven assigned parts and two understudies, will be selected. Rehearsals begin in New York City on Oct. 29. Industry work rules require that a professional tutor work with the underage actors for three hours each day followed by five hours of rehearsal.
It seems the Papermill is inspiring people of all ages. According to Mark S. Hoebee, producing artistic director “our subscriptions have increased in the last few years to over 17,000 subscribers, the highest it has been in years.”
Perhaps the next Nick Jonas will blossom in Millburn. More likely is that scores of young people will come to know and appreciate the gift of live theater and how fortunate they are to have the Papermill, a cultural touchstone, here in their own backyard.