Song of Norway
Broadway Production - Song of Norway - "Freddie and His Fiddle"
An excerpt from my new book, Memories A La Carte, Essays on a Life
For a time, I entered the show business world again. A friend suggested I audition for a benefit performance of the Song of Norway being put on in downtown Portland. I don’t remember who was to benefit but the tickets were priced from $50 to $150 a seat. I didn’t know it going in, but the leading lady who played Nina had paid her way into the part with a huge donation to the project.
The Song of Norway, highlighting the life and music of Edvard Grieg, was first produced on Broadway in 1944. In the musical, Grieg dreams of becoming a great composer and these dreams are shared by his friend Nordraak and Grieg's sweetheart, Nina. The music in the show is truly beautiful. I decided I wanted to be in it.
I wore my favorite blue knit hot pants outfit and high heel boots to the audition, trying to show off my legs which at that time looked show biz hot. While I waited to try out, a skinny blond kid walked up to me and asked, “Where did you get that hot pants outfit? It’s smashing.” I told him I couldn’t remember.
“Do you think I could borrow it sometime?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said, not really knowing what to say. But no shock there. Being in any creative arts but especially theater, we girls all knew there would be gay boys asking to borrow our clothes.
I was cast as the peasant girl who danced and sang to “Freddie and His Fiddle” with a Portland boy named Norman. While we performed our duet, the boy of the hot pants request, whose name was Eric, would skip around the stage playing the fiddle. It turned out I liked Eric better than anyone else in the production.
I should have sensed trouble for this production even in the rehearsals. The joint directors were two guys named Dirk and Sylvester from Portland theater who may not have performed in anything for years. They had that arrogant patina of performers who know that, so they cover for it by treating the cast like dirt.
Rehearsals were dismal from the start. Every time I moved a foot, Dirk would stop me and shout, “No! NO! I want height. I want bounce in your steps.” He didn’t bother Norman that much. He might have thought it was no use because although Norman could sing pretty well, Norman was not a dancer and would probably not be a dancer in time for the show.
Sylvester, who directed the singing rehearsals, didn’t seem to know a chord from and an arpeggio or anything about rehearsing a song. Luckily, he had a cast who knew how to sing on their own, so they just ignored him. Nina was good enough. Nice soprano voice. Probably not the best Nina they could have found for $150 a seat.
“Where did they get these clowns?” one of the chorus girls asked me after rehearsal.
“I don’t know,” I said, “but my hopes for this show are fast traveling downhill.”
To be expected, the incompetence of the directors and the confusion as they kept changing their minds about staging caused us all to feel insecure as the performance drew near. We kept asking each other what the last staging was for this scene or that scene. By the opening, we had probably rehearsed the whole show in its final form about twice. The night of the performance we gritted our teeth and decided to go for it. As I peeked out at the audience, looking for John, my boyfriend, and some of our gang, I got a foreboding chill.
The performance started well, at least the Prelude and Rikard’s opening lines. Then it was time for Nina to make her sweeping entrance. Nothing. The performer with her cue line spoke it again. Nothing. We went on in silence for maybe two minutes. It seemed like two years. Norman and I were onstage with the chorus. Our dance was three scenes later. I could see Freddie bouncing around backstage, practicing his fiddle.
Finally, Cliff, a sweet older man who was a plumber by day, told us and the audience, “Looks like Nina musta got hung up down at the fiord.”
We the cast stared at Cliff with the sincerest disbelief. What the hell? Hung up down at the fiord? Now what do we do? Dirk waved madly at us from the wings and signaled the orchestra to start up “Freddie and His Fiddle.” I wasn’t sure if Dirk knew or remembered that he had just cut Nina and Edvard’s opening dialogues which gave the storyline for the whole play. At that point, I didn’t care. I looked at Norman. He looked at me with a silly grin. His eyes said, let’s go. I licked my lips and tried to remedy the dry mouth that had overcome me when I realized I was called to save this joke of a show with Norman at my side. Freddie, God love him, rose to the moment and lunged onto the stage as the orchestra lit into the opening chords of the song.
We made it through. In rehearsals, Norman had repeatedly upstaged me in the dance, and I told him if he didn’t cut it out, I would cut off his toes. As it turned out, Norman upstaged me throughout the whole number anyway, but I was too busy surviving to kick him in the shins. Freddie was fantastic. I made a mental note to give him my hot pants outfit after the show.
Nina finally deigned to arrive onstage, looking quite unaffected by it all. She had been in her dressing room, greeting guests and had just lost track of time. I resisted tripping her as she strolled across the stage for her exit. Then I made a mental note to strangle Dirk while I asked him where the damn stage manager was at the moment of Nina’s grand entrance.
After the show, I skipped the cast party and went home with John and friends. All the way home, John kept saying, “Well, it looks like Nina got caught up down at the fiord.”
The Song of Norway was my last real performance. I walked out the door of that theater and decided to never sing or dance again. My life was changing anyway about then, but I tell this story to show that I had a perfectly good motive for quitting musical comedy.