In her latest blog, Louise Sorel (Vivian, DAYS) dishes on her first Broadway gig…
There we all are. The producer Hal Prince, the director Mr. Abbott, the two stage managers and the cast. We are in a rehearsal hall on Seventh Avenue. It is bare bones. There is a long table, folding metal chairs, dirty windows, musty and gorgeous. Our names are called and we are all introduced to each other. The cast is much more off-center than I imagined it would be.
Elizabeth Ashley is high energy with a little Audrey Hepburn-like look and Art Carney is just the gentlest and most affable person. Of course, I had watched him on THE HONEYMOONERS and thought he was brilliant. Everyone seems a little nervous and so it’s less frightening. We’re all trying to please Mr. Abbott.
A lot of Actors Equity Rules are read and we appoint an Equity leader among us. Rehearsal schedules are addressed. We have a pep talk from Hal Prince. Sitting there in this empty rehearsal hall, I think I’ve died and gone to heaven. The costume designer comes to each of us and gives us an appointment for our wardrobe calls. Her name is Florence Klotz and she just seems so friendly and enthusiastic. The out-of-town tryout dates are announced. We are going to New Haven and Boston. We are opening on Broadway in November.
Opening? Oh my God. The O of opening gets stuck in my throat.
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO is as much as I can get out.
The process begins. We have a table read first. This is to hear everyone’s voice and get acquainted with the comedic flow. Everyone is excited and willing to dive in.
We have about four weeks of rehearsals in Manhattan, during which I am dealing with Vince’s jealousy on the phone. I sit at home almost every night playing Sinatra and dreaming of him but he doesn’t believe me. I could do without this craziness. I even train to Philadelphia after rehearsals on occasion and am met with accusations. This doesn’t bode well.
Penn station. We board the train for New Haven. I feel like I’m in a movie. There we all are in one car, chugging our way to Connecticut. On the way, various members of the cast are called to the back of the car where the writers and Mr. Abbott are making changes, additions and subtractions. Each of us is praying that we get additions. I am lucky enough to get an added scene.
Hal Prince is a prince. He is generous and accessible. He never makes us feel like he’s wielding power. I just found out this is his first show without his producing partner, Robert Griffith, who has passed away.
We are finally in dress rehearsal at the Schubert in New Haven and I’ve been waiting to use some of my acting exercises from the playhouse. We had been given lots of ideas about independent activities to complete the history of a character and to show vulnerability.
For instance, in the play I am a college student who isn’t sure if her parents are coming up to visit and I think I’ll round out my character by putting rollers in my hair for one scene, as though I were getting ready for my parents’ arrival. Mr. A bellows through his megaphone.
“Miss Sorel, do you have curlers in your hair during dress? What happened to your hairdo?”
“Well, Mr. Abbott, I thought maybe Sarah would set her hair for her parents and I’m sort of using that as a….”
“Use your feet and go fix your hair, thank you.”
“Uh, yes, fine. Okay.” Out came the curlers.
I made a few other attempts to use my “independent activity work,” such as arriving on stage with a bottle of nail polish. I have managed to get two nails done before the exasperated tones came asking me why I was doing my nails onstage in the middle of Miss Ashley’s monologue.
“Well, Mr. Abbott, I thought Sarah might be doing them for her parents arri….”
“Miss Sondegard, do them in your dressing room!”
That one got me because I happen to know Gale Sondegard, who received an Oscar for her performance in Anna and the King of Siam, later known as The Kind and I. She also happened to be a family friend. No one else in the cast has a clue and I just love that he referenced me that way.
And so it went, and it turned out that Mr. A was always right. I got a huge laugh on my entrance, merely by crossing the stage and puffing on my cigarette until I rode the laugh to its end. He just directed me into a perfect position and told me to trust it. Opening night, Schubert Theater, New Haven. There is Phyllis holding a giant bouquet of roses and the biggest smile I have ever seen. Flowers keep pouring in for everyone. The Harvard-Yale game is on the same day and Yale won, so the energy in the theater is fantastic and giddy. The college jokes worked perfectly.
My opening line, “This place is a goddamned nunnery,” got a huge laugh and then I ride it with pacing and puffing on my cigarette holder. I can’t believe it. In truth I never thought it was funny but who was I to complain?
We had two glorious weeks in New Haven. I never moved further than two blocks from the theater. It was my church, my haven, my world.
On to Boston, where the critic Eliot Norton thought the show was delightful and the Boston crowd and Harvard loved it. I am checked into the Hotel Tourraine and am rooming with June Harding, who plays the young daughter to Art Carney. She’s a peach. Soft-spoken, gentle and a very good actress. She has a mop of red hair and a long body like an overgrown child. She is easy, bright and spiritual. Art Carney is every one’s pet. The only problem is a tendency to miss matinees due to a fondness for a bit of liquid imbibing. It does keep us on our toes and on occasion we take turns hanging out with him the night before the matinees.
We are heading for New York and home. However, the home I’m heading for is not the one I’m in. There is a glitch.