Calling all hunchbacks Auditions: The Disney studio is scouring the land for Quasimodos and Esmeraldas for "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

March 11, 1996|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

Wanted: A hunchback. "Misshapen, unattractive, locked away by a cruel guardian in the bell tower of Notre Dame, he longs to be part of the life he sees below."

Sounded like the perfect gig to B. Thomas Rinaldi, a rotund and swarthy product of Towson State's drama department. So the Baltimore actor showed up yesterday at Goucher College for a Disney audition of would-be Quasimodos and Esmeraldas for a new musical stage show at Disney/MGM Studios in Orlando, Fla.

Mr. Rinaldi was eager to win the part of the deformed bell ringer, the star of Disney's soon-to-be released animated film "Hunchback of Notre Dame." At the moment, he's playing Wilbur, the lead pig in a children's theater production of "Charlotte's Web." Besides, he's clearly a Quasimodo kind of guy. $$TC Casting director Russ Jordan asked for an up-tempo piece. Mr. Rinaldi belted out "Shaving Cream," a slightly off-color ditty that his grandfather taught him as a little boy.

Guess you had to be there. Mr. Rinaldi was not asked to recite his monologue. In other words, no call-backs for the 31-year-old character actor. He packed his gear and left, a dejected quasi-Quasimodo.

Baltimore was merely one whistle stop for Mr. Jordan and Jimmy Agnew, a vocal coach and accompanist, who have spent days on the road in quest of the characters from Victor Hugo's famous novel: Quasimodo, Esmeralda, the Gypsy woman; Clopin, a jester; the "cruel, cold, repressive and merciless" Claude Frollo; and Phoebus, a "war hero with a wry wit." They also need a trio of comedic gargoyles.

"We go all over the the country because we have to go where the talent is," said Larry Smith, audition coordinator for Walt Disney World. It's like the old days when film studios held nationwide talent searches, he said from his Orlando office.

Those hired in the double-cast production will sign a year's contract to perform "Hunchback" five times a day and work a 40-hour week. Salary starts at $426 a week and is negotiable, Mr. Smith said.

At best, filling over 400 full-time Equity positions is an exhausting and often hilarious business. Mr. Jordan, who got his start as a performer in the "Hoop Dee Doo Review" at Walt Disney World's Fort Wilderness, never knows what he's he'll find at an audition.

"We see everything," he said yesterday. "People bring food, little gifts. They wear Mickey Mouse ears." Auditioners have been known to pull out "prop guns and knives on us. At least, we hope they're props."

In some cities, the Disney casting crew is overwhelmed with hopeful entertainers. During recent auditions in New York and Chicago, Mr. Jordan auditioned more than 1,000 singer/dancers in six days.

At Goucher, merely 10 performers straggled into the Merrick Lecture Hall. There was Rachel Heer, 25, a Baltimorean who had sung with the Voices of Liberty at Epcot Center. She performed pieces from "Porgy and Bess" and "The Student Prince" in a lovely soprano. She didn't sound a bit like the low alto of Demi Moore, the voice of Esmeralda in the feature film.

"Uh, you're not right for this show," Mr. Jordan told her.

"I know," Ms. Heer replied.

Mr. Jordan offered to pass her name along at Disney, but she declined.

Next came Dennis Grochowski, 19 and clad in black. He sang something from "Les Miz." "Good, thanks," Mr. Jordan said a tad abruptly. "That's all we need today." And then he advised Mr. Grochowski, who plans to attend the University of Maryland Baltimore County, to make his resume more legible.

And so it went, until Reginald Davis was asked to audition once again. After two thundering monologues, a rousing "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and a piano piece or two, Mr. Jordan smiled. He liked Mr. Davis a lot. He just wasn't a Hunchback type, or, for that matter, a plausible Gypsy, evil judge or gargoyle.

But he could be right for something else, perhaps the Super Star TV Monster Sound Show at MGM or street theater at Epcot.

Mr. Davis, a 29-year-old composer, actor and singer, was ready for anything Disney offered, "as long as they're helping me grow as a performer," he said. Costumer Teresa Dingman took Mr. Davis' measurements and Mr. Jordan took his cellular phone number. His name would go on file at Walt Disney World for a year. And maybe, just maybe, he would get a call back.

And then, Mr. Jordan, Mr. Agnew and Ms. Dingman got ready for the next stop: Pittsburgh, known among cognoscenti as a great place to shop for deformed bell ringers.

Pub Date: 3/11/96

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