The lives of Broadway gypsies

(CBS News) In theater parlance they're called "gypsies" - the members of the chorus, the ensemble, the singers and dancers who travel from show to show to show. They're the body and soul of musical theater. (What's a Broadway musical without big ensemble numbers?)

They're on the road for months, maybe years at a time - and someday, they hope, on Broadway. A few of them become bona fide stars; the legendary Chita Rivera, for example, is known as "Queen of the Gypsies."

Even if they're not marquee names, most are living the dream. Correspondent Mo Rocca met with some of the most successful and asked them to describe their lives as Broadway gypsies.

To watch click on the video player above.

Complete coverage: The 2012 Tony Awards

Also: Don't miss Mo Rocca's report on one of the highest honors in the Broadway theater, the presentation of the "Gypsy Robe."


Featured in the "Gypsies" interview video are:


Adrien Bailey
Credits include: "Your Arms Too Short to Box with God," "Sophisticated Ladies," "My One and Only," "Legs Diamond," "Prince of Central Park," "Jelly's Last Jam," "The Who's Tommy," "Smokey Joe's Cafe," "The Wild Party," "La Cage Aux Folles," "Hot Feet" and "The Little Mermaid."

When asked what advice he would give a young performer who wants to become a Broadway gypsy, Bailey said, "I would tell them to take care of themselves. I mean, physically and emotionally, because it is a hard business. There can be a lot of disappointments. There's a lot of highs, but there can be some lows. And physically, it's very demanding."

Jessica Bishop
Credits include: "The Phantom of the Opera," "West Side Story."

Bisho said she attended a conservative church growing up: "And there is, at the very end, the benediction, followed with a triumphant hymn. And I would dance in the pew during the triumphant hymn. And my parents like to foster the creativity in a child. So they were like, 'Okay, that's kind of nice.' But one day, it kind of got out of hand. And I went into the aisle and did a huge liturgical dance. My parents looked at each other and said, 'Wow, we're gonna need to figure out a way for her to use all this energy. Maybe we get her a dance class.'"

Jennie Ford
Credits include: "The Music Man," "Sweet Smell of Success," "Hairspray," "Dance of the Vampires," "Urban Cowboy," "All Shook Up" and "Evita."

"I am proud to say I'm a swing. I'm proud to say I'm chorus. I'm proud to say I'm ensemble. It just different words for the same amount of dedication and hard work. And I remember a friend of mine saying that, you know, sometimes you're playing the lead in a show and sometimes you're in the chorus and creating the other parts of the story. He said, 'You know, sometimes you're a peacock and sometimes you're a feather duster. And you have to be good at both.'"

Jean Michelle Grier
Credits include: "The Lion King."

After graduating with honors from Princeton University with a European History major and taking her LSATs, Grier decided to give acting a try: "It was a very strange thing. Everyone else seemed so clear about their path and, you know, they had their interviews lined up and they were excited about it. And I wasn't excited about it. And the only thing that made me excited was visualizing a different kind of future. I didn't know what that future was going to be. I knew it was going to be in the arts in some capacity, but I didn't know exactly what it would be. ...

"And to just say, 'I'm going to cast myself, you know, into the city and not have any idea what I'm doing' was a little frightening for me. It was exhilarating for me. I was a little nervous about it. I thought, 'You know, I'll give it a go and then perhaps I might do something later.' And the more I kept going for it, I knew."

JoAnn Hunter
Credits include: "Jerome Robbins' Broadway," "Shogun, the Musical," "Miss Saigon," "Guys and Dolls," "Damn Yankees," "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," "Chicago," "Steel Pier," "Kiss Me, Kate," "Thou Shalt Not," "Thoroughly Modern Millie," "All Shook Up," "The Wedding Singer," "Spring Awakening," "Curtains" and "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever."

In the 1980s Hunter received a scholarship to study dance in New York City between her junior and senior year of high school. "I was just in seventh heaven. I was 17 years old. And I would not recommend that now. I knew nothing, I was green. You know when you know nothing, you're not afraid of anything? I walked around in the shortest shorts that you can imagine, just oblivious to the world! I lived at a woman's hotel on 57th and Lexington - little did I know at the time it was the women that were released from Bellevue actually were living there!

"And after that summer was over, I went back home and I said to my mother, 'I'm not comin' back!'" she laughed. "I knew New York was where I wanted to be. So, I didn't finish high school. My high school would not allow an early graduation, even though I had the credits, so I was a drop-out. And it wasn't until 1989 that I went and took my GED and got my high school diploma!"

Richard Korthaze
Credits include: "Phoenix '55," "Happy Hunting," "The Conquering Hero," "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," "Skyscraper," "Walking Happy," "Promises, Promises," "Pippin," "Chicago," "Dancin'," "The American Dance Machine," "Take Me Along" and "Anything Goes."

Korthaze described his audition for Bob Fosse's "The Pajama Game": "He came up to me and he says, 'Don't I know you?' And I said, 'Yes, Bob, I worked for you in Chicago - I mean, in the city.' And he said, 'Oh, yeah, I thought so. Sorry, though. I'd like to work with you, but I can't use you in this show.' He said he was looking Midwest types.

"'But Bobby, I was born and raised in Chicago in the Midwest,'" he replied. "He says, 'Yeah, I know, but you're not quite the type.' I realized later after seeing the show that he was looking for Midwest, more or less, factory workers. And I thought to myself, 'Well, I guess I'm not looking like a factory worker!'"

Brian O'Brien
Credits include: "Promises, Promises," "The Pirate Queen," "Annie Get Your Gun," "Steel Pier," "Chicago," "Beauty and the Beast," "Spamalot," "Annie," "The Will Rogers Follies," "South Pacific," "Fiddler on the Roof," "Shenandoah," "West Side Story," "The Pajama Game," "On the 20th Century," "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," "Anything Goes," "Mame" and "Purlie."

"At any given time, there's probably about 15 musicals [on Broadway], and in each ensemble, say, there's ten [singer/dancers], so, maybe 150 to 200 dancers working on Broadway at any given time. I've been able to work with or I'm familiar with many of them. But, you know, there's a whole next generation of great talent that's coming up, certainly inspired by shows like 'So You Think You Can Dance' and 'American Idol' and all of these other talent-based shows. And the dancers are better and the singers are better. So, it's great to see that there's still a great love and passion for performing.

Does that make him nervous? "No. Because after a while, through attrition, you certainly become one of a few!" he laughed. "So, at my age and with my skill set, I become one of a handful of people. So, many times in my case, you know, it-- if I go in to audition for something, I'm likely to see maybe the same 10 guys that have, you know, lasted this long and have the ability to do what it is necessary for the show, whether it's a small part, understudying a leading man or a television star that will be coming in to play the role, and be able to dance the material in the ensemble."

Chita Rivera
Credits include: "Can-Can," "Seventh Heaven," "Mr. Wonderful," "Shinbone Alley," "West Side Story," "Bye Bye Birdie," "Bajour," "Sondheim: A Musical Tribute," "Chicago," "Bring Back Birdie," "Merlin," "The Rink," "Jerry's Girls," "Kiss of the Spider Woman," "Nine," "Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life, and "The Mystery of Edwin Drood."

Rivera said her iconic performance in the Jerome Robbins musical "West Side Story" - though a major character - was also a gypsy. "That's what gypsies are, a part of a whole. Anita was sort of like the den mother of all of them. You know, she understood everybody's problems. And she understood and she shared. And that's what gypsies do. They share, you know? They rub elbows with each other all the time. They love to laugh. Because it hurts so much, they have to find something hilarious [to] live with that pain. You know, they're strong. Gypsies are strong."

Judine Somerville
Credits include: "One of The Dynamites" and "Hairspray."

A graduate of New York City's High School of the Performing Arts, a/k.a. the "Fame" school (she admitted to dancing in front of the school building, but not on top of cars or cafeteria tables), Somerville said she was the "audition Queen," who would try out for any part: "If they wanted a girl six feet, blonde, blue eyes, I would go in and get the gig. 'Cause I was prepared, hungry. And I just loved what I did. I loved auditioning. I loved dressing up and getting ready and being prepared. So for me, it was fun. I was nervous, but you know, it's like, if you don't audition, you don't work. So you quickly figure out in your mind what needs to happen, and you sort of tweak the things that need to happen so that you can go in there and be confident. When they call your name, you have to stand tall and be ready.

"I always use the example of Tyra Banks or, Naomi Campbell standing next to me. I have to be able to stand tall and say to myself, 'I'm just as fabulous. I'm just as pretty. I'm just as talented.' And you literally have to have that mantra when auditioning. Because if you don't, you're doomed! That's just it in a nutshell."

Tad Wilson
Credits include: "The Full Monty," "For the Glory," "Les Miserables," "Wonderland," "Rock of Ages," "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" and "Bonnie & Clyde." Having performed in live shows and theme parks in the South, Wilson decided on a career change - a return to the stage - by answering an open call for "Wicked" in New York City: "I didn't know what I was doing. I was also 75 pounds heavier than I am now! I showed up. I was non-Equity. I had a resume that had experience on it that was 10 years old. I didn't have a book - I had a piece of sheet music.

"And I sang. The woman behind the table said, 'You're not from around here. And it's obvious that you're not from around here. But if you're serious about this, you should stay. You should move, because I think you could do this.'

"After that first 'Wicked' audition, I was walking down the street, and one of the guys behind me in line who was typed just like me tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'Hey man, you've got a great voice. I hope you'll stick around.' And I thought, 'Wow - that was two affirmations right then. One from someone who potentially could have cast, one from somebody who potentially I could have been cast and that person would have lost the job, because we were the same type person.

"And I thought, 'I can do this.' And I went home. I packed a bag. I came back. And I stayed at the Edison and got up every morning and went to auditions - audition after audition after audition - because I learned quickly that that's how you're gonna get a job. If you don't go to auditions, you can't get a job, which sounds so stupid, but it's true!

"I wanted to come up here and do it. I wanted to throw myself in. And that's what I did, with the help of my parents, with the support of my family. I auditioned professionally every day, whether I was right for the part or not. I just went to auditions. And it was amazing, amazing experience. It really was. I look back on it now, these open calls, and it's unbelievable to me, the community of people that are here, trying to make it on Broadway. It's fascinating."

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