Alex Santoriello has performed on Broadway, in the movies and on television but auditioning — even in The Villages – still gives him the willies.
“It’s like stepping on stage naked,” said Santoriello, who appeared in “Les Miserables,” “Chess” and “3 Penny Opera” on Broadway. He was in the Academy-Award nominated movie, “Far From Heaven” and also on the TV soap opera “All My Children.”
But here is Santoriello on a Saturday morning stepping on a Lake Miona Recreation Center stage with about 25 other local hopefuls. They are angling for a spot in Joan Knapton’s KC Productions’ “Man Of La Mancha.” It opens here in March.
“Nobody likes auditioning; it’s uncomfortable and feels bad,” Santoriello, 58, said. “And no actor is happy with his performance at an audition. I haven’t auditioned in 25 years, but here I am.”
Santoriello is auditioning for the part of Don Quixote, originated by Richard Kiley, in the famed musical. George Del Monte, the director of the play, has something in common with Santoriello.
“I hate auditions; I know what I’m putting people through.” said Del Monte, the veteran Villages’ director who has done more than 100 productions during his career.
“The people up on that stage know I have to judge them and in my real life I don’t do judging,” Del Monte added. He was sitting at a long metal table with a stack of papers looking like report cards. “I’m the one that has to say to these people, ‘you’re not good enough’ and I don’t like doing that. But this is theater and that’s the way it works.
“What I’m looking for today is actors who can sing. I want to see what they will project in the characters they portray.”
You can see a clip from the auditions at the Villages-News.com Facebook page:
Don Quixote is actually three roles in one. The character also includes author Cervantes, and the mad old man Alonso Quijana, who turns into the chivalrous knight Don Quixote.
“This is a complicated play and the director’s job is to show on stage what the author intended,” Del Monte said.
Jack Kolinski, fresh from his stunning Villages’ stage debut performance in “Les Miserables,” is trying out for the role of Quixote.
Kolinski is about to sing the song, “Dulcinea,” to his ideal woman. Her real name is Aldonza and she is a woman of ill-repute working in a kitchen. But Quixote views her as pure and ladylike, and ultimately transforms her.
“What do you see in this song (Dulcinea)”? Del Monte asks.
“It’s a love song,” Kolinski replies. “Not love in the physical sense but love in the ideal sense that embraces everything about Don Quixote.”
Later, Kolinski talked about auditioning.
“I’m retired and I’m doing this because it’s something I want to do and enjoy,” he said. “It’s not about competition — for me it’s about having fun.”
On stage, Kolinski’s voice is strong and convincing. He sings “Dulcinea” and “The Impossible Dream,” and seemed to grow stronger with each note.
Santoriello, meanwhile, is on stage for his version of “The Impossible Dream,” but just as he is about to sing, a contact lens falls out. “Wait a minute,” he said. He then puts in back in his eye. Then he laughs. “I feel like a fish flapping around on stage.”
Then it’s back to being serious and he delivers an emotional and powerful “Impossible Dream.” Santoriello is a seasoned and smooth performer. Every note and every hand gesture seems to move in sync. He has a dynamic stage presence and magnetic personality. And he has played Quixote before.
“He’s a great character and it’s a great part,” Santoriello said. He moved to The Villages a few months ago and is back on stage because, “I have to do something with my life.”
The lead female role in “La Mancha” is Dulcinea/Aldonza. Like Quixote, it is a physically demanding part with vocals for an operatic seductress. Dawn DiNome, a popular Villages singer, wants the role.
“Auditioning is an art in itself,” she said. “You have to go up there in front of strangers who are judging you and say: ‘This is who I am.’ I think I did OK. It’s a difficult role but it’s the kind of role I want to play.”
Other female roles include the housekeeper and Antonia Quijana. Both want to keep the delusional Quixote at home and spell out their intentions with the song, “I’m Only Thinking of Him.”
Billie Thatcher was one of several who tried out for the role and sang the song.
“I’m a wreck, I hate auditions,” Thatcher said later. “I’ve been going to auditions for 30 years and I still can’t stand it.”
Michele Topolnicki also auditioned for the same role.
“I was a little nervous but I feel good about what I did,” she said. “I put myself in the character and I felt I could play the part.”
So did Vanessa Russell.
“I was so nervous; when you’re up there auditioning you feel like you’re in front of a firing squad,” said Russell, author of the historical novel, “Four of a Kind.”
“I got more comfortable as the song went on and I felt better about it. This is a beautiful play and I would be happy to get any role and be a part of it. I love theater.”
One of the critical roles in “Man of La Mancha” is Sancho Panza, Cervantes’ servant who travels with Quixote on all his adventures. Sancho is a small bundle of energy who provides comic relief and loving friendship throughout the play.
Sam Rosalsky, who has worked on Broadway and was in “Les Miz” in The Villages, wants to be Sancho. He sang two songs, “I Like Him” and “A Little Gossip.”
“I did OK and it’s a wonderful role,” Rosalsky said. “I love the charm of Sancho and how he is so loyal to Alonso. He gives so much up of his own life to help his friend.”
The audition was over. The actors left.
Del Monte had time to assess what happened. The essence of “Man of La Mancha” is “dignity,” Del Monte said. “It’s about dignity in living, dignity in dying and dignity in what all the characters are doing.
“I saw a lot of talent today at this audition but I didn’t see a lot of dignity in the characters. It’s too early for that but it’s my job to show them how to achieve that dignity.”
Sitting at the tables were Del Monte, along with Joan Knapton, the producer, and Jamie Klatt, a production assistant, Laurie Scheben, choreographer and Patti Card, an administrative assistant.
They all had report-card sized papers in front of them. Actors were graded 1-5, with 5 being the top mark. The judges huddled and would go over the grades throughout the weekend.
Next week, the lucky actors who made it would be called back. Twenty-one roles are available in “The Man of La Mancha.”
“I’m glad this is over,” Dawn DiNome said after leaving the stage. “Now, all we can do is wait.”
It’s all part of the audition.