(The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own)
By Chris Taylor
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Even for a jaded town like New York City, there is something magical about a Broadway show.
For those doing the singing and dancing onstage, getting cast on Broadway is the culmination of lifelong dreams. But for all the talent on display, it is easy to forget they started right down in the muck with the rest of us.
For the latest in Reuters’ “First Jobs” series, we talked to a few Broadway stars about their beginnings far from the marquee lights.
Broadway shows: All Shook Up, Xanadu, Damn Yankees
First job: Restaurant worker
This is a gross story. I’m from a really small town in Idaho, of less than 1,200 people, and I worked at a place called Grizzly Drive-In Pizza and Ribs. It was a popular little hangout, which served huge portions of meat and sauce. But I knew how we kept everything in the back, so it never seemed appetizing to me.
My boss had one leg, which added to the strangeness of it all. He would sit on a step-stool and just watch us, making sure we put the right amount of condiments on everything. The whole environment was so greasy that you would get a sticky film all over your body for hours afterwards.
I worked there all through high school, but I knew my ticket out of that little town was performing. I remember washing dishes there at night and singing along to the radio. Every time I get a new job as an actor, I remember all the disgusting jobs I used to have, and realize how lucky I am to be doing what I love.
Broadway shows: Gypsy, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
First job: Museum guide
This was at a museum in Kinnelon, New Jersey, which was one of the first houses in town and once owned by a lady doctor. But the previous guide gave me wrong information as a prank, so I used to tell everyone that the original owner was a dentist, when she was really a gynecologist. I should have known by the big chair with stirrups.
I only ever had a couple of visitors. It really was the most boring museum in the world. I remember once I was alone in the museum on my birthday, and it was about 107 degrees, and I just didn’t think life could get any worse.
But then it did, because I got a job at the local farmer’s market shoveling manure. I didn’t smell great, but at the time I was dating this vegan, punk rock, dreadlocked dude who wasn’t really into showering. So we really didn’t know who smelled like what.
Broadway shows: The Book of Mormon, Hamilton, Falsettos
First job: Office cleaner
My dad owned a small ad-sales company, and he used to pay me and my siblings to clean the office on weekends. Back in 1986 everyone was allowed to smoke at their desks, so I remember emptying a whole lot of ashtrays. Looking back, that’s such a crazy thing.
It probably violated child labor laws, but I used to make about $10 for the day. But for a child that was not bad, and I went out and spent it on a lot of useless stuff. There was a record store in Omaha called Homer’s, and I would go in there and buy cassette singles like T’Pau’s ‘Heart and Soul.’ Rick Astley and Miami Sound Machine also got a lot of my hard-earned money.
I’m pretty fastidious now, so that job instilled in me the desire to keep everything neat and organized. But mainly my brother and sister and I would just call ourselves on the company phone lines, or page each other on the intercom.
Broadway shows: Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, On the Town, The Addams Family
First job: Supermarket cashier
I was a cashier at a supermarket on Long Island called Waldbaum’s. I was the loser girl, and the other cashiers used to gang up on me and play tricks on me. There was one mean girl in particular with a creepy face who kept picking on me.
This was when scanners were first coming into vogue, so whenever my parents came there to shop, our conversation would be like: ‘Beep - Get me the hell out of here! - beep - Get me the hell out of here! - Beep.’
I made whatever the minimum wage was in 1977. At that time I already knew I wanted to be a performer, but on my breaks I didn’t sing or dance or anything. I just wept.
Editing by Beth Pinsker and Nick Zieminski