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Thursday, April 1, 2004 03:04 am

Grace about town 4-1-04

art947
Gracie Shinn

I just auditioned for A Chorus Line at the Springfield Municipal Opera. Doug Hahn and Gary Shull are the co-directors; Gary was the choreographer in the Springfield Theatre Centre's production, and Doug was the vocal director.

I haven't been in a Muni play in years. My last role was Lina Lamont, the dumb blonde in Singin' in the Rain. That was fun, except we were rained out the first two nights of the show.

My parents introduced me to the Muni. One of Dad's first roles was the hilarious Herman in The Most Happy Fella, and Mom had the lead in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. I went to rehearsals with them all the time and loved the singing and dancing.

I went to my first Muni audition was when I was 10. The play was TheMusic Man, and I sang "The Wells Fargo Wagon." Doug Hahn played the piano for me. I was loud and enthusiastic, but halfway through I got confused because of all the chords. I stopped and glared at him. "What did you do?" I asked.

This got a big laugh, and they cast me anyway; I was Gracie Shinn -- and I was hooked on the Muni. I was in plays almost every summer until I finally moved away from Springfield after Singin' in the Rain.

That first summer, I had my initial encounter with a celebrity weatherman (surely this was foreshadowing my own attempt at Weather Greatness?). Do you remember Flip Spiceland, who used to do the weather on CNN? Before that, he was the WICS-TV (Channel 20) weatherman. He was also the assistant director of The Music Man. He was tall and dreamy, and I was short and annoying, and every night I pestered him for money to buy popcorn. He gave it to me, too. Flip was a genuinely nice guy, and I don't know how he put up with my constant badgering.

I never had dance lessons when I was a kid, but at 15, I wanted to learn how to tap-dance. Making lots of noise while dancing appealed to me. So when I was cast in No, No, Nanette a year later, I got to tap in the many tap numbers throughout.

I also remember that summer fondly because I was at my ideal weight for two perfect weeks (tap-dancing every night is a great way to lose weight). I've spent too much of my life trying to achieve that weight again, but so far I haven't succeeded. But I won't give up. (I can imagine myself, 103 years old, squawking, "Just five more pounds, I just need to lose five more pounds.")

In Good News, the choreographer was fired, I believe. The first night of rehearsal, she told all of us in the chorus to "do what you feel" as opposed to giving us any kind of actual blocking. There were plenty of first-time performers in the chorus, and the lack of direction created quite a bit of chaos. The next night, the choreographer was gone.

Different people filled in, choreographing different numbers, which worked out OK. My friend Margaret did the choreography for a snappy little number I was in called "On the Campus," and I remember it to this day. During the performances, it was unbearably hot outside, and three people fainted one night onstage. Another night, a dog wandered up onto the stage in the middle of a scene. It wasn't one of the Muni's best shows, but it sure was exciting.

In Grease, I was Patty Simcox, the uptight cheerleader, and I was supposed to teach Sandy how to twirl the baton. I dropped mine.

I did a lot of dancing in plays, including Evita and 42nd Street. I kept congratulating myself on fooling people into thinking I could dance. At least 42nd Street involved lots of tap-dancing. Why don't more shows include it? Nothing sounds more impressive than a stage full of people tapping in unison.

A more obscure Muni play was the Joseph Papp version of Two Gentlemen of Verona. It was '70s-inspired, with all kinds of wild costumes. I sang a song called "We Come from the Land of Betrayal" (I still remember it, if you ever want to hear), and during the finale I bounced onstage on a pogo stick with a Carmen Miranda fruit hat on my head. We never had big audiences for that play, but it was great fun to perform.

And then there's A Chorus Line -- a play about dancers who dance a lot. When I was in it at the Theatre Centre, it was hard. Almost all the other women in the cast had buckets of ballet and jazz training. I didn't have a lot of confidence in my ability, so it was grueling for me.

Part of the reason I wanted to do it again was to have fun this time. Even though the play needs a bunch of great dancers, it also needs some comic relief. And besides, I faked the dancing in all those other shows -- couldn't I fake it again?

Next week, I'll tell you how the audition went.

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