We had decided to field a different cast, because we thought we would learn more from seeing new faces and hearing new voices. We were fortunate to find a truly dazzling Sissy in Natasha Diaz, half Puerto Rican and half Italian, a Sissy who cried real tears onstage. We cast Jeremy Kushnier, the star of Footloose, as Bud. As Jesse, we were blessed with The Voice, B. J. Crosby, star of Smokey Joe's Cafe, which had just closed.
We also had a new music director, the tall, handsome, manic John Rosen, who not only played piano but also wrote some new songs for us. We used one of them to open the show:
Bud: Hello, Houston, here I am / I heard that this is the promised land / I got nothin' to lose but my innocence.
We even had Miss America: Kate Shindle, our new Pam, won the title in 1998. "Would you do a nude scene?" Phil asked.
"I'm really conscious of being Miss America," she said. "It would have to be really integral to the story. I wouldn't audition for Hair."
"Aaron, would you do a nude scene?" Phil asked.
"Not only would I not do a scene with my clothes off," I said, "I wouldn't do a scene with my clothes on."
This time, we invited show people. Playwright Wendy Wasserstein said kind things about our play. Mike Nichols also offered kind words and welcome advice: He thought we should change the ending. A representative from Disney loved the show but said Disney was only interested in making Disney musicals out of Disney movies.
I loved our second reading, saw how far we had come since the first, but I also felt restless and somewhat frustrated: I wanted to see the show on its feet and the mechanical bull kicking up its heels.
We submitted the script to lots of theaters; the Gloucester Stage Company invited us to come up to Massachusetts. They would underwrite the $65,000 production and make back roughly half that much on ticket sales. We would rehearse for two weeks and run for three.
On our first day of rehearsals, we had a nor'easter. The wind blew, the rain fell in torrents, and, worst of all, it was about 40 degrees in our unheated rehearsal rooms. Phil wandered about with Lindy's pashmina shawl draped over his head ("It's called Madonna with beard," he muttered).
We had a new hero, because by now our first Bud (James Carpinello) was starring in Saturday Night Fever on Broadway (he got to play Travolta after all), and our second Bud (Jeremy Kushnier) was still starring in Footloose. We also had a new Sissy, because Natasha Diaz was starring in Pippin at the Paper Mill Playhouse.
We rehearsed at a dance camp in nearby Rockport. Upstairs was a big bare studio with one mirrored wall. Downstairs, we had a living room and a kitchen, both of which were freezing. We started with the dancing. If our show gets to Broadway, we will have twenty dancers, but in Gloucester we had two -- Lindy and her partner, Chad Shiro -- assisted by our new co-choreographer, Robert Royston. Lindy and Chad did a number of showy duets designed to divert the audience while stagehands moved furniture on and off the set.
"Something's wrong," said Phil. "I said I didn't want the dancing to be country the way you see it on TNN or CMT. But in what you're doing now, there isn't enough country. You need to slow it down. You need steps instead of pirouettes."
Lindy and Chad slowed it down, but not enough, according to Phil. "When we were doing The Will Rogers Follies," Phil said, "we did this one dance where everybody was sitting down in a chair. It was the best dance in the show. In a dance, you need to define a limitation. That's what makes it great. So this time, why don't you pretend that your feet are nailed to the floor."
Lindy and Chad entwined their bodies and writhed like snakes with their tails nailed down.
The snakes writhed more slowly.
"Slower. The slower, the sexier. If it's really sexy, you don't have to do too much. The audience isn't going to be bored."
They danced together like two willows, their roots anchored in the earth, limbs blowing gently in the wind, and they weren't boring.