"Thank you, Betty."
"Very pretty, Dawn, thank you."
"Thank you. Hey! Excuse me. Excuse me!
On Thursday morning "Ain't Misbehavin'," the 1978 Tony Award-winning musical tribute to Fats Waller playing at the Warner, held open auditions for possible replacements.
In row six, Vinnie Liff, the casting director from New York, doodled as he listened to another wobbly rendition of "Stormy Weather."
One young woman hadn't bothered to bring the two copies of sheet music requested. "I just heard about it last night," she explained.
"She comes in with a strike against her," said company manager Stephanie Hughley. "It shows she's unprofessional. And to make an excuse - it's better to come out and flub."
Leilani Jones came to Washington two weeks ago from her home in Hawaii to study at the Academy of Performing Arts at American University. "They had the audition notice posted in the music department," said the virbrant 22-year-old. "My singing teacher told me 'Get down there!' I got down here."
About 45 women in all made it down to try out for the three female parts, which call for two heavyset wailers and a short slim girl who can dance and prance for two hours without dropping her smile. Many of the women had not seen the show.
"When heard they were looking for someone thin," sighed slender Esther Williams," but nothing about being short."
Too bad Denise Berryhill couldn't spread her experience around.
"I've seen every performance of the show in Washington," said the "over 21" usher at the Warner, who feels that she's spent a long enough while in the aisle. "You have to be an exhibitionist. You have to want to be out there or else you might as well go home and sing in the shower."
Backstage you can tell who's been to an audition before and who hasn't. The first-timers' eyes dart back and forth. They're afraid they might miss something important going on. The regulars stare straight ahead.
As far as the "Ain't Misbehavin'" people are concerned, however, the length of the aspirant's resume matters no more than its width. Liff said he places "next to no importance" on past experience. That went down just fine with Corinne Gantt, whose family urged her to take a shot at one of the two "hefty" parts.
"She's never done anything but church choir," smiled Liff, shaking his head appreciatively toward his associates as Gantt sang. She was called back for the 4 p.m. dance audition - the second elimination.
Experience, though, has its advantages. Leilani Jones finally got her call. Standing alone on the cavernous empty stage, she seemed tiny until she sang. Liff and company liked what they heard.
"Would you come back to dance for me at 4:30?" asked Liff.
"Would you like me to wear leotards?" she responded obligingly. "And what type of shoes would you like, sneakers or heels?"
"She knows what she's doing up there," whispered a production staffer.
She proved it at 4:30. She danced as well as she sang. When the final decisions are made, hers will be one of the names under consideration. And she did it without her lucky number.
"My lucky number is five. I wanted number five but they said it was reserved for someone else. So they asked me, 'Would you mind if you were 13?'"
Jones didn't mind.