Sometimes actors don’t have to be connected with a performing arts high school in New York City or the Yale School of Drama to find a place in professional theater. Sometimes, their dreams can lift them toward that goal via an alternate route. What is needed is the determination, the perseverance and the talent to “bring it on,” and “bring in a great audition.”
This is what Susan (Moorea Martin) and Johnny (Trevor Kowalsky) and fellow actors (Mickey Lynch, Lucy Almada Makebish, Natalie LaBossier), high school seniors, discover when they audition for an Off Broadway musical in Broadway or Bust by Rosary O’Neill with lyrics and music by classical guitarist and composer David Temple. Broadway or Bust directed by Deborah Temple enjoyed its world premiere at Bard College’s Fisher Center for the Performing Arts this week in a limited run.
Sweethearts Susan and Johnny have their sights set on Broadway careers. If they can showcase their talents Off Broadway, all it will take is similar leaps of faith and great roles and performances. Then the Great White Way will be in their reach. It’s a hope shared by thousands. Susan and Johnny know the competition is very stiff, but they are doing their best to audition with special song and dance numbers. However, the casting director/interviewer (Larry Miller) is alienating and disaffected. Also, their personal troubles threaten to impact their steadiness. Underneath, fear is trying to slip in to grab hold of their convictions and undermine their faith in themselves.
Overcoming the casting director/interviewer’s attitude, Susan and Johnny sing beautifully and execute the dance steps so the interviewer doesn’t dismiss them outright. However, as the interviewer calls out the minutes left and the audition grows more intense, we realize there is more to this than their dreams of a Broadway and entertainment career. In a subtle turning point conveyed by the book, music and lyrics, O’Neill and Temple have raised the stakes and elevated their characters’ situation to another level. They are in a race against time in a life and death struggle.
To an extent, life and art parallel each other in this collaboration between the regionally-renowned Red Hook High School Performing Arts Club and Bard College which has opened its doors to the talented high school seniors. The production is a true showcase of the students’ exceptional skills and effort, and of the hard work put in by the director and writers. Rosary O’Neill is an established playwright, but, this work represents the first successful collaborative work among these creators on a musical. Between O’Neill and the Temples there was a meeting of the minds and hearts almost magical and seamless.
But Murphy’s Law came to visit (if things can go wrong they will) and things went awry in the personal lives of the director and the playwright. Despite obstacles of every shape and color, including physical injury (the playwright broke both ankles and was unable to see the performances) the final production received a standing ovation to a sold-out house.
Indeed, though the clichés abound in this musical world premiere (“the show must go on,” “there’s no business like show business,” “break a leg”), one thing appears certain. The playwright, director, and musical director and composer are considering their next step with this production. There is the the hope that Off Broadway NYC and beyond is a direction they will head in with feet planted firmly on solid ground.