The Gleaner
Nanette Workman

The Big Apple

Question: Could you tell us more about your experience in New York and the Broadway musical that you performed in?

“This is the final call for passengers on Delta’s flight #1087 – destination: New York City. All aboard!” I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. There I was, just barely eighteen, and on my way to the most fascinating and exciting city in the entire world!

Mom had sent me to New York to audition for the famous music conservatory, Juilliard. Sadly, I didn’t get the scholarship that I needed, but I had about a week left over to spend in New York before I had to return to the University of Southern Mississippi.

Right after the Julliard audition I went to meet my cousin, Hy, at his restaurant. Wow! What a place. I never imagined that someone in my family would own such an exclusive and glamorous business. All the most famous stars in New York dined at Le Voisin.

My cousin told me that he had arranged for someone to hear me sing, because he had a “tin ear” and couldn’t tell one note from another. So, I sang for his close friend, the well-known actor, Rudy Vallee, who suggested that I audition for the understudy of the leading female role in his show on Broadway. He was the star of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, the new Pulitzer Prize-winning musical.

The leading lady was Michelle Lee, known then for her role on the American television series Knots Landing. Michelle’s understudy was leaving the show, and they were auditioning singers.

Several days later I found myself on the stage of the 45th Street theatre, singing for the famous Frank Loesser, author and composer of the musical. I was the last one in line to audition, and I was scared to death!

After he heard me sing, he had me come to his office later that day to sing for the producers. At the end of the meeting, they asked me what my plans for the future were. I told them I was returning to Mississippi to continue university.

Then they asked me a question that will remain with me all my life. “Well, Miss Workman, would you prefer to return home and go to school, or would you like to be in this show as the understudy to Michelle Lee?” I think I was close to fainting! The answer was obvious.

In a New York musical, it is common for an understudy to perform in the chorus as well as stay prepared to jump into the role he or she is understudying for, and to also appear in several different roles – as I did.

For months I performed on stage in the chorus, singing and dancing. I couldn’t believe that I was actually getting paid for so much fun!

Then, I got the chance all understudies dream of… Michelle Lee, having confidence in me, took a two-week vacation and then it was my turn to become the leading lady on a Broadway stage. There I was, just 19 years old, and it was my first night to perform the female lead in one of the longest-running and most popular Broadway musicals of the decade.

Mom and Dad flew in from Jackson and sat nervously in the audience. That night, my dream and their dreams came true. I didn’t think that life could get better than this.

When the show closed on Broadway, they gave me the role of “Rosemary” and I toured all over the eastern states with the Paper Mill Playhouse summer stock theatre. The tour went on for about six months and then I went back to New York, sure that I no longer wanted to return to school in Mississippi.

New York was where I wanted to stay.

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