It was only 6 o’clock in the morning when Elisa Van Duyne got in line outside a casting office in New York City, among almost a thousand hopeful actors to audition for a revival of the infamous Broadway show “42nd Street.” But her story ended differently than most — she got the part.
“That day alone 900 people showed up,” she recalled in a recent phone interview. “And that was after five months of auditions.”
“There were 100 of us brought in at a time,” Van Duyne said. “Kind of like the movie ‘A Chorus Line.’ They taught us very quickly and made us tap one at a time, a cappella, no music.”
That moment was her big break, and she boiled it down to three things: “You have to have skill, you have to have connections, and sometimes you just have to be the right look for that day.”
Van Duyne spent the next chunk of her life acting in Broadway shows, appearing on TV shows like Rosie O’Donnell and David Letterman, going to opening parties and mingling with celebrities, but she never forgot the days of 6 a.m. auditions.
“The work was always fun and challenging and fulfilling,” she said. “Getting the work is the hard part. When people say, ‘You’re an actress, it sounds so glamorous.’ It is, but there’s also the grueling part of it that’s not so glamorous.”
But Van Duyne paid her dues and got to live her dream of being a Broadway actress and now she’s starting a new chapter. The Vermont chapter. A mother of two boys, she relocated to Vermont this past November, where her husband’s family is from, to continue to act and hopefully pass on what she learned on Broadway to aspiring performers here.
“I came to Vermont with a lot of experience and a skill set and thought I’ll try to market this as best I can,” Van Duyne said.
As a teaching artist, she works at several different performing arts studios, and through one of them, met a fellow Broadway veteran and Vermont transplant who happened to be putting up a new show. Like Van Duyne, Peter Boynton’s big break came with a revival of a Broadway show, and he spent his career between musicals and soap operas — he played the villain on “As the World Turns” for years — but in 1996, he also made the move to Vermont to raise a family.
Boynton has been performing, producing and directing shows as owner of the Skinner Barn in Waitsfield for the past 19 years. He conceived of a new piece last year, a compilation of Broadway duets performed by a mix of Broadway vets and talented, aspiring Vermont theater artists. He and Van Duyne are co-headlining the show called “Better by Two.”
This time Van Duyne didn’t have to wait outside at 6 o’clock in the morning to audition.
“It’s funny — in New York City as well as Vermont, it’s all about connections,” Van Duyne said.
“It’s a Broadway revue,” she described the new show. “Standard duets, and some obscure, anywhere from ‘Annie Get Your Gun,’ which is a classic Broadway musical, to ‘Wicked,’ a more recent one.”
“A lot of them are from pretty famous shows,” Boynton said. “‘Oklahoma,’ ‘Man of La Mancha,’ shows that are really well known.”
The numbers have been woven together to create a loose story from one song into the next. It might be a character through-line or a situational one that ties the show together, but Boynton said, “The most fantastic thing is you don’t have to be in New York to be an actor.”
Or to see a New York-caliber show.