As a recent college graduate with no stage experience, but having just competed in the Miss Chinatown USA contest, the result of which was an invitation from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s casting director to audition for Flower Drum Song, and at the suggestion of my voice teacher, Charles McCool, I applied to audition for the State Fair Musicals in Dallas, Texas.   C.R. Meeker, Jr., their Producer and Managing Director,  invited me to audition with the proposal that if I failed the audition they would pay my plane fare. If I succeeded I would be responsible for my fare. A win/win proposition!

After a grueling audition at which the dance audition included the original Jerome Robbins choreography for WEST SIDE STORY,  I was hired!   To this day I’m amazed, because I’m sure “I am not a dancer” was emblazoned on my forehead as I tried to keep up with that incredible music and choreography!   Sometimes youth, ambition and luck win the day, I suppose!

Dallas News, no date, Musicals Ensemble Selected, Dallas News Photo by Bill Winfrey, Dallas News staff. 

Dallas News, June, 1960. Photo by Bill Winfrey, Dallas News staff. Musicals Ensemble Selected.

WEST SIDE STORY was my favorite musical,  and I loved being on the stage so much that I  could not believe I was actually being paid to perform! “It’s so exhilarating to be on stage, I  should be paying them!” I said to one of the principals from New York, who, thankfully, simply smiled at my naivete.  Interesting tidbit: Alongside me in the chorus that summer was a very young Tommy Tune, one of the jets, of course.

I was also told that I had to join Actors’ Equity.  “What’s Actors’ Equity?”  “We will take $20 out of your paycheck for four weeks and then you’ll be a member.”  “Okay.”  I had no idea what Actors’ Equity was or how lucky I was, how many young actors struggle for years to finally be eligible to join Actors’ Equity, the actors’ union!  I was lucky in so many ways!

Since I’d never been on a real live stage before I hadn’t the slightest idea about  makeup.  The very kind and generous Tina Ramirez from New York City, who played Rosalia,  took me under her wing and taught me where to get makeup, how to apply it, how to attach false eyelashes(!) and about general stage decorum.  I will always be grateful for her kindness.

Gus Schirmer directed and the incredible Lee Becker was co-choreographer with Zoya Leporska, who choreographed our second show, REDHEAD.   I couldn’t have been in better company than the marvelous principals from New York, some of whom had been in the original cast, and my wonderful comrades in the chorus!   I think watching them and being under Gus Schirmer’s direction set a standard for me, for which I was very lucky, especially since this was my very first show.

Cast: Carol Taylor, Robert Cole, Rita Tanno, Carmine Terra, Hank Brunjes, Al De Sio, Joe Rocco, Jerry Dodge, Roger Puckett, David Gold, Gary Leatherman, Brent Hickman, John Waldrop, Wayne Albritton, Johanna Carothers, Jolinda Winn, Alice LaMar, Sharon Hill, Trishka Bennage, Lee Becker, Jaime Sanchez, Tim Ramirez, Tom Fisher, George Roth, Tommy Tune, Danny Girouard, Joseph Gutierrez, Mike Douglass, Larry Berthelot, Tina Ramirez, Sue Sellors, Diane Laizer, Maria Strattin, Ginger Darnell, Hazel Rippe, Virginia Wing, Sammy Smith, Brendan Fay, Donovan Marley, Eugene Cole, Sue Erdmann.

The Dallas Morning News, Section 3, page 4, June 11, 1960.  Stage in Review, Musicals Open; Never Mounted a Better Show, by John Rosenfeld. 

The Dallas Morning News, Section 3, page 4, June 11, 1960.  Stage in Review, Musicals Open; Never Mounted a Better Show, by John Rosenfeld.

The reviewer above said, “From the attractive ensemble a   Chinese doll, Virginia Wing, was worth a second glance.”  AND I got an article all about me! A pretty good first professional gig!! I was indeed a lucky girl!!