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January 13, 2011


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I hope you will allow me to post an anecdote from Stephen Sondheim's "Finishing the Hat" (2010) to make a triptych with the two anecdotes above:

"I have witnessed a number of memorable auditions in my time, some of them so stunning that we hired the performer virtually on the spot [...], others so grotesque that we couldn't believe what we were seeing. Hermione Gingold's audition for Madame Armfeldt covered both bases. Her professional persona had been honed in British revues as an eccentric both in looks and personality, and although she had occasionally played a character straightforwardly, as in the musical movie of 'Gigi,' she was always Hermione Gingold. She was camp both on and off the stage, and couldn't have been more wrong for the role of an imperious, elegant ex-courtesan (her physical appearance alone disqualified her). Nevertheless, she insisted on auditioning for us. Hal, ever the gentleman, persuaded Hugh and me to humor her, even though it would be a waste of time. Considering her insistence on being heard, we were therefore somewhat taken aback when she arrived at the theater not only without an accompanist but without having prepared a song for us to hear. When I murmured deferentially that we knew she could sing but that we needed to hear her vocal range (an excuse to hear whether she could sing or not), she offered to ply us with a music hall song, a capella. Which she did, charmingly. She then read a couple of scenes with the stage manager--with, unexpectedly, genuine verve and autocratic condescension. Intrigued as we were, we were not prepared for the coup de theatre which followed. She thanked us for allowing her to audition against our better judgment--not that anyone had told her such a thing, she had merely assumed we would think her wrong for the part. She then added, 'I notice that in the script Madame Armfeldt is seventy-four years old. Coincidentally, gentlemen, so am I. I also noticed that when she dies at the end, the stage direction indicates that her wig slips a bit off her head. Well--' And with that, she lifted off her wig, revealing herself to be completely bald. As the clang of three jaws hitting the floor died away, she thanked us once again and left the stage. We decided to give her the part before she left the theater. Incidentally, she was actually seventy-five."

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