Your palms are moist and your mouth is dry and your skin feels clammy and the room is too cool – or maybe too warm – and you hope you look good but you look at the other dozen or so people in the room and you wonder why they don’t look like they are about to throw up or faint or cry, because the person behind that door is the God who has the job that is perfect for you, and you are about to go in there and try and prove that you are perfect for that job.
Welcome to the job interview. And welcome to the agony of a particular type of job interview being staged by the ever risk-taking Milwaukee Opera Theatre.
The show is "Thank You, Next," an original work commissioned by MOT, with music by Tim Rebers and lyrics by Alicia Berneche. MOT and artistic director Jill Anna Ponasik continue to redefine what opera means, staging provocative and very relatable productions, full of opera and fascinating stories.
This show, which I saw in preview Thursday night, features a handful of singers, all waiting to audition, behind a closed door. It’s a situation built for tension and something every performing artist has gone through in his or her life. The book focuses on singers, but the story is much broader than that; actors, dancers and musicians can all relate. And anyone who has ever gone in for a competitive job interview will, as well.
I’ve been through a whole bunch of auditions in my life, some with music, some without. Most of them could be described as failures, because I didn’t get the job. But artists keep going back, time after time after time.
The show takes its title from the moment in an audition, or job interview, when you have finished, and the God looks at you and says, "Thank You, Next."
The ingenious staging of this production, by Ponasik and David Flores, has the singers leave to a spot off stage behind a door, where Jack Forbes Wilson plays piano while each singer does an aria. The others can hear the audition through the wall, as can the audience.
The singers in the room range from those who have had a lot of success to those who have never had a part in any show at all. And they all share the same thing, that ineffable something that makes performing not a choice for a career but rather a necessity for life.
I once heard a great actor say, "I don’t act because I want to; I act because I have to."
That is the truth for all the singers on the stage at the intimate In Tandem Theatre. And they have all manner of moments in the sun, explaining their drives, their fears, their lives and how they got to this place and how they deal with all the things that happen to them because they sing.
Daniel Ellis plays Alan Bass, a former professional football player. The others are amazed at this transition in his life and he gets his song, "Mozart is the Sh*t."
I played football defense.
For a living. Shattered my knee. Game over.
Had this girlfriend, A singer
Played me Wagner. Didn't like it.
But there was one that was my jam. And it defined just who I am.
Now this was music.
Full of power, Full of seduction.
Like football, it was chaos with rules.
My body my weapon
Now, though, I sing my power, my violence
And I don't have to die from concussions.
Opera saved me from destruction
And who can I thank for that?
Mozart. He is the sh*t.
It seems incredible that there are this many great singers in Milwaukee, only two of whom I’ve seen on a stage in this city before. Beside Bass and Rebers, the singers are Tanya Kruse Ruck, Kathy Pyeatt, Jennifer Hansen, Natalie Ford, Heidi Boyd, Allison Hull, Diane Lane, Edson Melendez and Nathan Wesselowski.
The musical direction of Wilson and Maggie Rebers is some of the most evocative and difficult I could ever imagine. There must be a word for a song where two or more singers are all singing different songs. I don’t know what the word is, but it happened frequently in this show and it was an absolute marvel to behold.
A word must be said about Diane Lane, long one of my favorite comedic talents, both in musicals and stage plays. She is the biggest laugh in this show, with her sly slouch of a personality that pokes pins in balloons near and far.
When one singer mentions that she’s from the Midwest, while Lane is a dedicated New Yorker, Lane slouches in her chair and mumbles, "I’m a famous soprano from Ohio (pause), no one ever said."
This opera is a magical evening of theater, the kind of thing that takes the concept of opera, stands it on its head and shakes it up, proving that if you’ve got a great story along with great performers, you are most likely to end up with a great evening.
"Thank You, Next" runs through June 26 and information on showtimes and tickets is available here.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.