Source: USA TODAY
NEW YORK — On Tuesday afternoon, I left behind my job as a critic and reporter to launch a recording career.
It was, alas, a short life change, lasting just under two hours — and that includes the time it took to walk to the New York Society for Ethical Culture, where the recording took place, and grab a cab back to the office. I should also mention that I wasn’t paid a dime; nor were any of the approximately 700 people who sang along with me.
We had all been lured by the opportunity to lend our voices, collectively, to a Broadway cast album — for the new revival of Pippin, which last week nabbed 10 Tony Award nominations. Some had learned about the open session from an invite that ran in Time Out New York; others responded to an announcement issued by the label, Ghostlight Records, which will release the album on iTunes June 4 and in stores July 9.
No one had been asked to audition; enthusiasm was the only requirement for the gig. After all, it was a safe bet that some of us had at least crooned in school or other amateur productions — and that a few pitch-shy voices (or even a few dozen) would go relatively unnoticed in so large an ensemble.
Suffice it to say there were a lot of theater geeks in the crowd, present company included. When we arrived, we were handed little postcards reading “I Sang On The New Broadway Cast Of Pippin” on one side — with lyrics to the one refrain we would be singing, from the song No Time At All, printed on the back.
Many of us had no need to refer to them, as the 1972 recording of Broadway’s first Pippin — featuring a young Ben Vereen and Jill Clayburgh — is a cherished artifact among fans of the show. (When I was growing up, my parents played it relentlessly in the car, to my delight.)
“I’m going to take a wild guess, and say that some of you have that cast album,” quipped emcee Adam Feldman, Time Out‘s drama critic, once we had assembled in our seats. Whoops and hollers were the predictable response.
Then it was time to warm up in earnest. Charlie Alterman, the current Pippin‘s affable music director, led us through some vocal exercises — cracking jokes to ease our amateur anxiety — and introduced composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz, one of the event’s two star attractions. Schwartz explained that we’d be singing one chorus in unison, then two more in harmony.
After baritones, tenors, altos and sopranos had learned their separate parts, the other star, Andrea Martin, appeared. The veteran actress and comedienne is cast in the production as Berthe, Pippin’s plucky (and kinda naughty) grandma, who sings No Time At All to him as a plea to live in the moment.
Having already recorded her lead vocal, Martin was there mostly to provide encouragement. “Are there any Mormons out here?” she asked at one point. “You really sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir!”
Schwartz seemed impressed as well, but suggested that we all smile more — not to lift our spirits, or his, but because “it actually changes the sound of your voice, brings it more forward.”
By the end of the session, Schwartz had decided to add additional harmonies to the song’s final phrase. “We were just going to have you sing in unison, but then you guys were all so good.”
Our egos stoked, we posed in our seats for group photos taken from the stage — then all trudged back to our day jobs. Show business is a fickle beast, after all; and we had, technically speaking, enjoyed our 15 minutes several times over.
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