Whenever I speak to young actors I tell the story of how I got the job in my first Broadway musical, Beauty and the Beast. I had been in New York for less than two years, and was still trying to meet people and make connections. I had an audition for the national tour of Angels in America. They read me for the roles of Joe and Louis, switching back and forth. Ultimately, I fell squarely between the two characters, which is what I suspected would happen. I almost didn’t go to the audition. I’m glad I did.
This was my first audition for casting guru Jay Binder who also casts a lot of Broadway musicals. Perhaps because I had been able to read the audition scenes cold, he asked me to be the “reader” for an audition he would be holding the next day. It was the first national tour of Beauty and the Beast.
A “reader” is that person who reads the scene with the person who is actually auditioning. In the old days of Broadway this was the stage manager. In television and film today it is often the casting director. In theatre auditions it is now usually an actor who has been hired specifically for this purpose. I was happy to be asked, as it would afford me the opportunity to spend a full day with Binder, to see how the process worked, and to experience a musical audition. I went to the video store, rented Beauty and the Beast, and got to work on the sides.
The next day during the auditions I was blown away and intimidated by the talent. In auditioning for a play it seems to be generally understood that you are showing a stage of your work in an ongoing process. Many directors are even suspicious of actors who are too polished or rehearsed in an audition. In musicals it seemed to be the opposite. These were full blown performances, sung by the best talent in New York.
At one point I was reading the role of Cogsworth opposite an actor auditioning for Lumiere. It’s a silly scene, full of punning and vaudeville rhythms. Cogsworth has a British accent, so I supplied one. It was fun. When we were finished, Jay got a strange look on his face and said, “Switch roles”. This time I read the French candelabrum Lumiere, shamelessly imitating Jerry Orbach, who had shamelessly imitated Maurice Chevalier.
Binder thanked the other actor and sent him away. He then said a few words which changed the whole course of my career: “You could play this, Patrick”. He had me sing “Be Our Guest” and offered to find me a vocal coach before my audition for the producers and director. I resisted. Remember, I was a Classical Actor (meaning one who gets paid five times less than an actor in a musical!) and deathly afraid of singing and dancing. Jay persisted, and several auditions later I was offered the role. I stayed with the tour for two years, met my wife (who also almost didn’t take her part), and then spent three years in the Broadway company. And all because I was wrong for two roles in Angels in America!