For five years, Calvin Remsberg taught drama at the Maderia School. $1He directed plays in local amateur theaters, and got parts like the First Beggar in Kismet at Wolf Trap. He got parts with the Washington Opera and contracted orchestras and singers or other productions. He became a member of the Washington performing community.
He had a good life -- friends, a nice apartment, a basset hound, satisfying work. But all the time he had a dream unfulfilled; a longing for that Big Time which for all performers lurks somewhere within the forbidding boundries of Manhattan. Sometime before he was 30, he thought . . .
Every year he escorted a group of 40 or so Madeira students on a drama binge to New York; 40-teen-age girls and all the plays they could squeeze in. bOne year he took them to "Sweeney Todd," a new Stephen Sondheim musical that had stunned audiences and critics with its bloody drama. "I told them they might love or they might hate it, but it was an important show," he said.
As for himself, he loved it. He loved it so much he saw it nine times. He loved it so much, he told an old college friend on one of his New York trips, that he would give anything to have something to do with the production. But who was he?Nobody. He couldn't even get an audition for the chorus.
But wait! His old college friend just happened to be an actress named Glenn Close, and she had a lead in the musical "Barnum," and she was living with Len Cariou, who happened to be the male lead in "Sweeney Todd." l
A few weeks later he had an audition for the casting director, who was hiring people for the touring company of the production. She loved him, she said, but she didn't know yet whether the man who had the part Remsberg was auditioning for wanted to go on the road. Well, he said, you've got my number.
Three weeks after his first audition, he got a call from New York -- could he come up to audition for Hal Prince, the producer?Could he ever! Never mind that it was the day before Madeira's graduation and he was in charge of the lighting and sound and other technical work for it. To New York, he went, and came back to Washington the same day.
At 1:30 a.m. he got a call from a friend. He got the part of Beadle Banford.
He burst into tears.
And he wasn't 30 yet.
"New York can eat you up," he said. A few hours later he was to get new publicitiy photos taken. "I had to decide if this was a fluke or a beginning. pI decided it was a beginning.
So it's goodbye Washington, hello New York -- and all the other cities the company will play during its 14 months on the road. A few hours after the Washington Opera's "Un Ballo In Maschero," in which he had a small part, closed, he went straight from the Kennedy Center to Union Station with his two suitcases and chugged off to a new life; Washington is his home, but New York is his future.
"At the first rehersal, when I looked out into the theater and saw Hal Prince, Stephen Sondheim, and Hugh Wheeler, who I consider to be the nts giants of American musical theater . . . All I could think of was that it looked like Mount Rushmore to me.
"I was too scared to go to New York after college (William and Mary)," he said. "I decided I would rather eat and have a lot of friends. Other friends from school did it and failed. Your head has to be ready for New York . . . I guess I waited unitl I was ready, unitl I Knew I could audition well."
He is a true Washington-area product. At Fort Hunt High School he was in the chorus. His father worked for HUD until he retired and moved back to Roanoke. Remsberg's first job after college was with the Performing Arts Organization of Alexandria. His voice teacher was Fred Wilkerson, who, until he moved to New York (and was subsequently murdered), was considered one of the top voice teachers in Washington.
Thus it was an added gift that the road tour of "Sweeney Todd" opened here. There were a lot of friends in the audience at the opening Saturday night. His parents came up from Roanoke and he hired a limousine to bring them to the theater. In November, over 100 students from Madeira will go to the show to see their old teacher. "It's a big deal over here," said Jay Morse, Remsberg's successor as drama teacher.
Local Boy Makes Good. Doesn't everyone have that fantasy? To come back home with a new luster, the bands playing and the flags waving. Even if nothing else happens to him for the rest of his life, he'll always have that fine memory.
"I'm ready for this," he said. "I think I'm really ready."