Shirley Jones grew up in Pennsylvania, singing in church and coached by a vocal instructor from the age of five, however she was utterly inexperienced in theater when she auditioned for Rogers and Hammerstein in New York City at nineteen years old. At the time of Shirley’s high school graduation, she was unsure of which profession she ought to choose: Veterinarian or Broadway Actress. After all, opportunity to study at the Pittsburgh Playhouse Drama School was at her fingertips. Aided by her mother’s advice, Shirley applied for Junior College so that she could take time to decide.
The August before she was due to start her college chapter, Shirley and her parents took their annual trip to New York City to see a Broadway Show. There Shirley called her friend and former Pittsburgh Playhouse musical director, Ken Welch. The two spent their time by the piano, running through numbers and rehearsing the song Ken composed especially for Shirley, “My Very First Kiss.” Ken felt strongly about Shirley’s talent and introduced her to Broadway Agent Gus Schirmer who suggested to Shirley that she attend the open audition for Rogers and Hammerstein’s casting director happening that day. Shirley, having never auditioned in her life, awaited her audition slot in the wings with hundreds of other chattering actors. A moment later, she was standing alone and in front of the casting director, as inexperienced and vulnerable as she could feel, but went ahead and sang, “ The Best Things in Life are Free”.
“ Where are you from? What have you done before? Haven’t you been in any shows? Do you have something else prepared?” The casting director John Fearnley inquired.
Shirley replied with a “No, I haven’t done anything”, but trilled a second song “Lover” in a high key, using her songbird soprano register. After being asked to sing a third song, Shirley sang “My Very First Kiss” and was commemorated for her performance with the words “ I am very impressed.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Rogers was across the street rehearsing the orchestra for Oklahoma. Fearnley asked Shirley to wait as he rushed over to request that Mr. Rogers hear Shirley sing. She sang the same repertoire for Mr. Rogers, so flustered that she had not realized for whom she was singing.
“ You have a beautiful voice, young lady”.
Following this part of the audition, Mr. Rogers requested Hammerstein hear Shirley sing. An hour later, she was in front of the most famous Broadway duo there is, accompanied by an orchestra singing to the score of Oklahoma. Shirley was then offered a role in South Pacific on Broadway, and being the first performer ever to be put under contract with Rogers and Hammerstein signed a seven-year contract that thus began her marvelous career.
Patti Lupone: (Author of Patti Lupone: A Memoir, Two Time Tony Award Winner for Best Actress in a Musical, First Graduating Class of Julliard School of Drama Division Group One, The Acting Company, Sweeney Todd, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Anything Goes, Les Miserables, Company…)
Legendary Patti Lupone grew up in Long Island, performing in “The Lupone Trio” with her older twin brothers, one of who later became an actor. She attended The Julliard School in the Group One Drama Division and was part of Julliard’s first graduating class. Academy Award winning John Houseman, formed the class into the Acting Company that later earned a positive reputation for classical pieces. Each performance was produced and performed by the students. The Company traveled the country performing in shows and earning great respect. The Company performed Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Molier among other classics, while participating in master classes with award winning directors. The experience prepared Patti with knowledge and connections to make it on the biggest stage. In 1973, Patti made her Broadway debut in The Three Sisters. She quickly moved on to The Robber Bridegroom, from which she earned her first Tony nomination. Patti later won her first Tony after her outstanding performance in Evita. For years afterward, Patti collaborated with director David Mamet and became recognized by the New York Times as a force to be reckoned with, and thus began her fame.
Idina Menzel, a New Yorker by roots, began her claim to fame in the Off-Broadway production of Rent in 1996 at the New York Theater Workshop, before it promoted itself to Broadway as a result of increased popularity. When Idina auditioned, she had not expected the burst of success that followed the spontaneous decision to invest in the show. At this point in time, Idina had graduated from the New York University Tisch School of the Arts and was lead singer in a wedding band that she landed as a teenager. She had traveled the country singing songs by Aretha Franklin and Etta James, driven by her love for R&B and jazz culture. Idina auditioned for Off-Broadway Rent in the middle of the January/February season, one of the slow times for weddings and blew Michael Grief away with Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman”. Once Rent upgraded to Broadway, Idina was nominated for a Tony in the Broadway show of Rent, and she starred in the film adaptation with five of the original cast members. Later, she starred as Elphaba in the original cast of Wicked and won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. Since then, Idina has recorded solo albums, married and had a child, starred in shows on and off Broadway and on television, and has become the powerhouse voice behind the Tony Award Winning song “Let it Go”. Idina has also starred in the new original musical If/Then and has started a program for underprivileged girls called “A BroaderWay”.
Aaron Tveit, notorious for his performances in Next To Normal, Rent, and Wicked on Broadway grew up in upstate New York, spending his time as a strong academic, jock, and an actor/singer. Aaron grew up with a well-balanced life; he commends his high school for supporting the many clubs and sports that the students wanted to be a part of, and says that the flexibility helped him when he didn’t know what he wanted to be. Aaron played three varsity sports, sang in show choir and chorus, and had featured roles in all four of the main stage productions. For one year at Ithaca College, after turning down several business school scholarships, Aaron majored in Voice. The small break from theater revealed Aaron’s yearning for theater again and he switched to a major in Drama. Aaron’s life came to a turning point when the director of the national Rent tour arrived at Ithaca to conduct mock auditions for Rent, where the students showed up with a headshot and resume, prepared to “audition”. Although there was not supposed to be any outcome other than a learning experience from Aaron’s “audition”, Aaron was pulled aside. The director said “I think you’re perfect for this. I’m going to keep your headshot, and if anything opens up, I’ll call.”
Aaron got a callback, where he met director Michael Grief who offered him the part of Steve in the national tour of Rent, as well as the understudy job for Roger and Mark. Aaron left Ithaca to tour with Rent before debuting on Broadway as Link Larkin in Hairspray. Since then, Aaron has worked in Next to Normal as the acclaimed voice of Gabe and Frank Abignale Jr. in Catch Me if You Can, as well as film work in Gossip Girl and off Broadway plays such as Saved!