About Me

My Photo
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
A Sports-obsessed Toronto-area Actor and Singer, Teacher and Writer, Jeff Madden starred as "Frankie Valli" in both the Toronto and Australian productions of JERSEY BOYS. In 2009, he won Toronto's DORA award for outstanding performance in a musical by a male actor.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

My West Side Story - Part 2


I had a good night’s sleep and felt great about what was to come today, Thursday November 8, 2007: in the afternoon, the final dress rehearsal for the understudy ballet dancers, and then Opening Night, baby!

So what did I do in the morning before my big day? I gots ma hairs done, of course! As I’m walking out of the salon feeling all sexy-like, I notice I have a new message on my cell phone. When I realize it’s from our esteemed Conductor David Briskin, I stop dead in my tracks. In his gentle voice, he calmly tells me to get my butt to the theatre ASAP because the Director has decided to have me sing my solo up on-stage!

I kinda freak out -- It’s great news... but it’s Opening Night for God’s Sake! The director wants me ON-STAGE? NOW??? After all the rehearsals, the sound-checks, the headphone-level checks, getting used to the sound in the pit (where I was READING my score, off my MUSIC STAND) now I have to perform it in front of 2000 people, memorized, at the new state-of-the-art Opera House, and make it look like I’ve been rehearsing it like that for weeks! No problem, right? He couldn’t have thought of this idea, oh, I don’t know, YESTERDAY??? Or maybe earlier in the week after one of our run-throughs? The odd thing about it is, the only other time this ballet has been performed in the world - in New York City in 1996 - at the same director’s ballet company, the singer was on-stage! It might have occurred to him, oh, I don’t know ... 10 years ago!!! But apparently not. Oh well, at least my hair would look good... But I digress...

So, I arrive at the the final dress rehearsal just before the beginning of “Glass Pieces”, and quickly warm up in my dressing room. 15-minutes later, during the first intermission, I get hooked up with a body-mic, and we try to squeeze in a sound check before Act 2 starts. I have to say, it did not go well. While I’m singing, I try to figure out what I’m hearing. Unfortunately I find the sound from the stage WAY different than from the pit. My voice was ringing around the hall so much that I lost track of the orchestra now beneath me. I forgot my lyrics, I lost my pitch, and got off the beat. YIKES. We stop. The sound guys, the conductor and I chat about it for a minute, and they make a few adjustments. We begin again, but we are stopped halfway through the song. Time was up. They were on a tight schedule, and Act 2 had to start.

I walk off stage with my head spinning a bit. I started getting really nervous, thinking that maybe the sound would still be such a problem for me that I’d blow the song on Opening Night, which could seriously affect the whole show. Back in my dressing room, I keep running the lyrics over and over until Act 3 is about to start.

When I get down to the stage for the run-through of West Side, the sound guys tell me that they have boosted the orchestra in an off-stage monitor so I won’t get lost. Feeling relieved, my cue comes and I walk out there to sing it for real - my one and only crack at it before the Opening Night audience. My heart pounding, I was like a bunny in the headlights. I notice all the seats in the theatre, I see the production team sitting out there talking to one another, and to top it off the orchestra still sounds too quiet. With all these things racing through my mind, I mess up a few lyrics off the top, but somehow get through the song. Afterwards, I ask for even more orchestra in the monitor, and I was told they would do what they could for the show that night. With my solo now done and the run-through still going on, I head down to the pit to finish the show, only to find the plexi-glass walls gone from around our microphones. Ch-ch-ch-changes...

In my 10 years of theatre experience, usually by Opening Night there are zero last-minute surprises. You spend so much time in rehearsal polishing and tweaking, making things just right. You have a few preview performances to get the feel of how an audience might affect the show. Everyone’s confidence is about as high as it will be. But I could remember nothing in my past that would help me here.

I spend the break from 4:00 - 7:30pm visualizing myself singing on the stage (with the correct lyrics, of course) and convincing myself that everything will be fine. It was mind over matter. And before I knew it, it was SHOW-TIME. I was focused and confident, and ready. I love this music so much, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could overcome these obstacles, and to prove to the brilliant Mr. Briskin that he was right to hire ME, and not some other guy. The audience won’t know that I just got up on-stage that very afternoon. They expect me to knock it out of the park.

I don’t know if I knocked it out, but I certainly smashed a bases-clearing double. I did it! I was nervous all right, but somehow I nailed all the lyrics, hit all the notes, and maintained my composure. The applause carried me off-stage, and into the safety of the wings, while my arms and legs were tingling with the adrenaline of the big moment. My sound guy Greg smiles at me. “So, did you have fun?” he asked. I pause to process it all... “NO!” I said exasperated. “It was frickin' hard!”

The rest of show goes off without a hitch, and the crowd obliges with a standing ovation. Even us singers are given a bow up on-stage, and if you've ever been to the ballet, you know how long the bows can be! It was at that point when it finally sunk in. What a sense of relief and accomplishment I felt. Amazing, this job. All in a days work, I guess.

Since that first show, I have had A LOT OF FUN singing my solo on-stage, and singing the finale from the pit. It’s been a wonderful experience, a learning experience, and one that I won’t forget for a long time. Sometimes, things are NOT what they appear to be. Was it the easiest gig I have ever had? As it turns out, no freakin’ way!

"What, and quit showbiz?"

Not me.

7 comments:

Gabrielle Jones said...

Great story Jeff!
What doesn't kill ya makes ya strong!
oxoxo Gabrielle

Anonymous said...

of course you could do it!!
you're the pro-i-est pro i know i know!
enjoy your run!
Freddy

Julie said...

You knocked it out of the park Madden!!! I was there on Opening and you were a Star. You sounded beautiful and though I'm sure it wasn't effortless, you sang it with ease. Congrats my friend. Have a great final week.
xo Julie

Anna said...

Welcome to the world of the Classical, young jedi. Previews and preparation are foreign to us; we enjoy the improvising. Keeps the blood pressure high and ensures that we will die prematurely and open up job opportunities for the young uns.

That's why I dig Shaw. We rehearse there. It's nice.

Congrats; I wish I'd been playing.

Laura Stiles-Clarke said...

Wow... nerve-racking and crazy, but ever fun as the theatre/ballet can be! I read about you in this show by accident in the Globe, which was a very weird and wonderful happenstance. The critic loved you (and mentioned you by name, you dog). Congratulations!
Laura

kim said...

I ran into you opening night and got to hear the news from you! You may have been nervous but it did not show! I was lucky and got to hear you every single night and your voice sounded amazing!

Congratulations!

Kim

george said...

Attaboy!