Center Stage – Chapter 1

The fourth and final book in my Scrubs series, titled Center Stage, is set for release April 15th.  While you wait, here’s a sneak peek into the first chapter. This content is under copyright and I own all rights.

Theatre

Chapter 1

Theater is a calling, an art, and the Juilliard School in New York City was one of the most respected and renowned places in the world to perfect this art. Known for its rigorous program and extensive admission requirements, Juilliard only accepted eight to ten new candidates into the actor training program each year.  Ever since she was a little girl, Lauren Hanson dreamed of singing on a Broadway stage. Gaining admittance into Juilliard led her one step closer to fulfilling that dream.

This year’s incoming freshmen had the opportunity to go on an educational tour through various theatres in New York City. While touring the Ambassador Theatre, Lauren and her classmates were invited to act out impromptu or monologue on the stage if they wanted to. But Lauren didn’t do either of those things. Instead, she confidently stood before an empty house and belted out the song ‘Defying Gravity’ from the musical Wicked.

Roger Zellers, a professional Broadway actor, was backstage retrieving his cellphone when he heard Lauren’s heavenly voice echo through the theatre. He roamed onto the stage wing to investigate. Standing center stage, singing her heart out, was an incredibly attractive young woman wearing a Juilliard tee-shirt and jeans. He watched in rapt attention, mesmerized by the intense emotion she projected through her performance. He had to find out who this woman was.

When the class was about to exit the theatre, Roger intercepted her at the door. “Excuse me, Ma’am?”

Lauren turned around. “Yes?”

“I’m sorry. I know you don’t know me, but I just heard you sing, and you have the most beautiful voice I have ever heard.”

She offered him a small, shy smile. “Thank you.”

“I am correct to assume that you’re a student at Juilliard?”

“Yes, I am.”

He extended an open palm and graciously shook her hand. “I’m Roger Zellers, and if you’d allow me, I’d like to offer my assistance.”

“Assistance with what?”

“I would like to provide you with an opportunity that will help you gain exposure and allow you to meet and work with people in the Broadway community.”

She asked for clarification. “What do you mean?”

“I’m an actor currently doing a show here at the Ambassador. I happen to know that the manager of this theatre is looking to hire theatre arts students as interns. You’ll be behind the scenes during productions, you’ll get to work directly with Broadway performers, and you’ll learn a few tricks of the trade. It’ll get your foot in the door, and people will get to know you. I’d like to give your name to the manager. You certainly captured my attention, I know you’ll capture hers as well. You interested?”

The chance to meet and work with Broadway actors and be backstage during shows was a once in a lifetime opportunity toward fulfilling her dream of performing on Broadway. As excited as Lauren was about this opportunity, she was a bit apprehensive because she knew nothing about this man and didn’t know if she could trust him.

Sensing this woman’s reluctance, Roger offered her an alternative. “Tell you what, why don’t you stop by tomorrow afternoon and talk to her.” He pulled a business card out of his wallet and grabbed a pen to write something on the back. “We have rehearsal tomorrow at 3:30. When you get here, go around the back and enter through the stage door. Show the security guard this card and tell him Roger sent you.”

He handed her the card and she carefully examined it. Printed on the front in huge block letters were the words Roger Zellers, Broadway Vocalist/ Actor/ Dancer. A phone number and website followed.

“So will you stop by tomorrow?”

She smiled with satisfaction. “I’ll be here.”

 

After class the next day, Lauren headed over to West 49th Street. She wasn’t sure what to expect and wasn’t totally convinced this Roger guy was telling the truth about who he was or his connections with Broadway. But as soon as the cab pulled up to the Ambassador Theatre, any doubts Lauren had about Roger quickly disappeared. The marque out front promoted the musical Chicago. Larger than life still shots from the show, one of which captured Roger posing in a black suit, were displayed on the walls outside. Obviously he had been honest with her about his involvement on Broadway, and she felt less reluctant about blindly walking into the theatre.

Once Lauren gained access inside, she took a seat in the back and watched the performers rehearse. Roger, dressed in black jazz pants and a tee-shirt with Chicago printed on the front, danced around the stage with a black fedora on his head and a cane in his hand while he sang a song called ‘Razzle Dazzle.’ He had a powerful baritone voice and quite the stage presence. He was incredibly entertaining to watch.

At the conclusion of rehearsal, Roger gulped down a bottle of water and peered out to the rows of empty seats. When he saw Lauren seated in the back row, a huge grin brightened his features. Removing his fedora, he stepped off the stage and strolled to the back to greet her. “I’m glad you made it,” he said. “I told Carmen about your remarkable performance yesterday. She’s looking forward to meeting you. Come with me and I’ll introduce you.”

Lauren stood up and followed him.

The theatre manager, Carmen Hollister, discussed details with Lauren. Job responsibilities included cleaning up props, helping with costumes, and basically running around making sure the performers had everything they needed before and during the show. Carmen was willing to work around Lauren’s class schedule and offered her twenty hours a week during nighttime and weekend performances. After chatting with Carmen for about thirty minutes, Lauren gladly accepted the job.

When Roger found out Lauren took the position, he beamed with excitement. “That’s fantastic. Congratulations!”

“Thank you so much for your help.”

“No problem. When do you start?”

“Monday night.”

He flashed her an irresistibly captivating grin. “I guess I’ll see you on Monday.”

 

On her first day at the Ambassador, Lauren arrived early, eager to get started. Several cast and crew members were already there, including Roger. He leaned against the makeup counter conversing with another man. The moment Lauren walked in, conversation ceased and Roger’s eyes drifted her direction. “Well, look who’s here. Hello, Lauren. It’s good to see you again.” He motioned for her to come closer. “Have you met Jason? He’s our lead dancer.”

Jason welcomed her with a firm handshake. “Welcome aboard. Always good to have a helping hand around here.”

“Thanks. I’m looking forward to it.”

Roger stood up straight. “Let me show you around.” He said goodbye to Jason then led Lauren back to the dressing rooms. He introduced her to several performers from the show and she met one of the makeup artists. Roger showed her where props and costume racks were stored then guided her back to the main gathering area. Several dancers were now warming up, and crew members busily began to prepare for the show. “Do you have any questions?” he asked her.

She looked around the theatre feeling a bit overwhelmed. “This is a lot to take in.”

“It is, but things run pretty smoothly around here. We’ll help you figure it out.” He checked the time on his watch. “I have to get ready for the show. Have fun tonight.”

“I’m sure I will. Break a leg, Roger.”

“I’ll try not to.”

During intermission, Roger reached into the mini-fridge to grab a bottle of water. As he unscrewed the lid, he caught sight of Lauren. With the bottle in his hand, he moseyed her direction. “How’s it going?”

Lauren looked up. “Busy, but I love it. Everyone has been so helpful.”

“I’m glad to hear that.” He leaned against the wall with his hand in his pocket and gulped down a huge drink. “How are you getting home tonight? Is someone coming to pick you up?”

“I was going to take a cab.”

His eyes widened. “By yourself?”

“Yes.”

He rubbed his hand across his chin. “Traveling alone at night in New York City can be dangerous. Please allow me to escort you home after the show.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“I insist. I won’t be able to sleep tonight if I don’t see you home safely. Meet me by my dressing room after the show and I’ll take you home.”

Grateful that he cared so much about her safety, she agreed. “That’s very kind. Thank you.”

“It’s my pleasure.”

Throughout the week, Lauren worked three evening shows and all day Saturday. Prior to Saturday’s matinee, Lauren tapped on Roger’s dressing room door to see if he needed anything.

“It’s open,” he called out.

She walked in to find Roger clothed only in a pair of black trousers, holding a white button-up dress shirt in his hand. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you weren’t dressed.”

Roger shrugged it off. “It’s alright. Come on in.” He slipped the shirt over his shoulders, leaving it unbuttoned.

In her hand, Lauren held the black fedora Roger needed for his opening number. “You left your hat by the makeup counter again.”

“Did I?” He chuckled at his own forgetfulness. “Silly me.”

She stepped closer and placed the fedora on his head.

“Thank you for returning it. I appreciate the way you keep tabs on the items I’m always misplacing. Keeps me in check.”

“Someone has to.”

“And I’m glad that someone is you.” He turned away and began to button his shirt. “You’re doing a great job, by the way.”

“Thank you.” Gaining his approval boosted her confidence. “Do you need anything before the show starts?”

“No, thanks. I’m fine.”

“Alright. I’m going to check on the others then. See you later.”

During a break between the afternoon and evening show, Roger bounded backstage, rubbing his growling stomach. “My tummy is rumbling. We should do a Schmackary’s run.”

“I’m in.” Jason reached for his wallet and handed Roger twenty dollars.

Several other performers added to the fund.

Lauren overheard the conversation and joined them. “What’s at Schmackary’s?”

“Only the best cookies on the planet.” Roger slipped the wad of money in his pocket. “Do you want to come with me? I could use some help carrying the boxes back over here.”

“How far is it?”

“About half a mile. We have plenty of time.”

Lauren willingly agreed to go with him.

When they arrived at the bakery, Roger ordered two dozen cookies—Sch’mores, Carmel Apple Crisp, Chocolate Chip, and his personal favorite, Peanut Butter Cup. Once the boxes were filled with everyone’s favorites, he asked Lauren, “Any kind in particular you’d like to try?”

She peered into the glass case, eyeing the huge selection of sweet treats. “I want one of those sprinkle cookies.”

“Good choice.” He added one to the box just for her.

On the way back to the theatre, Roger struck up a conversation. “Have you seen much of New York City?”

“My sister and I went exploring when we first got here. We saw Central Park and quite a bit of Times Square.”

“Experienced any nightlife?”

She shook her head. “Other than working in the theatre, no.”

“Some of us are going to 54 Below tonight. Would you like to come with us?”

“What’s 54 Below?”

“A dinner club with live performances and drinks. It’s open stage night, Broadway Sings the Blues. Do you want to come?”

Uncertain, she lifted a shoulder. “I don’t know.”

Hoping to entice her, he offered, “I’ll pay your cover and buy you dinner.”

“That’s really not necessary, Roger.”

He did his best to convince her. “C’mon, Lauren. Come cabaret with us. You’re in New York. You need to get out and experience what this city has to offer.”

“Are you sure the others won’t mind?”

“Of course not. We’d love to have you.”

After a bit of persuasion, she agreed to go.

Around 11:00 P.M., Roger, Lauren, and two other Chicago cast members strolled over to West 54th Street. As soon as they arrived, they descended a narrow wooden staircase, enclosed by walls plastered with red-patterned wallpaper. At the bottom of the stairs, they were greeted by a 54 Below doormat. The maître d’ met them at the entrance and graciously invited them inside.

This intimate and classy restaurant was full of sophisticated New York City glam. The décor was stylish and inviting—leather backed chairs, archival pictures, and a central stage complete with grand piano. The entire place had a 1920’s ambience. Every detail from the wallpaper to the molding to the art was reminiscent of a speakeasy.

The group was led to a four-person banquette table. Lauren took a seat next to Roger.

“Do you want a drink?” he asked, hanging his jacket over the back of a chair. “They have a ginger lemonade that’s pretty tasty.”

Being adventurous, she decided to give it a try.

Once everyone was situated and the waiter took their orders, Roger updated the group on the latest news. “Holiday Inn premiers in a few weeks.”

“Yes, I saw that,” Jason said. “I’m surprised you aren’t involved in that.”

“Don’t have time right now. With eight shows a week, benefit concerts, and recording sessions, I barely have time to breathe.”

“Recording sessions for what?” Lauren asked, curious about Roger’s activities outside the theatre.

“A collaborative benefit Christmas album. It occupies a lot of my time, but it’s for a good cause. That alone makes it worth the hours I devote to it.” He took a sip of his wine then set the glass on the table.

While they ate, several performers took turns singing, each entertaining the crowd with their own rendition of various classic blues songs. When it was Roger’s turn to take the stage, he sat at the piano and began pounding away at the keys with effortless eloquence. He boisterously sang ‘Walking in Memphis’, pouring his heart into every word. The intensity of his performance gradually increased until it reached its powerful crescendo. He ended the final note with his eyes fixated right at Lauren.

The restaurant patrons applauded, and Roger slowly rose from the piano bench and shuffled off the stage.

When he returned to the table, Lauren praised his performance. “I had no idea you could play the piano.”

“A little something I do in my spare time. It helps me unwind.”

At closing time, Roger offered Lauren an escort home. When they arrived at Lincoln Center, he walked her up to the main building of the Juilliard dormitory. “Did you have fun tonight?”

“I did. Thank you for inviting me.”

“Thank you for joining us.”

She pulled her keys out of her purse. “I appreciate you going out of your way to walk me home.”

“It’s my pleasure, and it’s not out of my way. My apartment is only a few blocks from here.” Hoping to get her to mingle with some of his Broadway connections, Roger suggested, “Some friends and I are meeting at Tavern on the Green for brunch tomorrow morning. You’re welcome to join us.”

“I appreciate the offer, but my sister and I made plans to hang out tomorrow, and I have some studying to do.”

“Alright. I just wanted to throw the invitation out there, help you meet some new people.”

“Thank you for being so welcoming.”

“It’s not a problem. Enjoy the rest of your weekend, Lauren.”

“You too. I’ll see you on Monday.”

He smiled charmingly then stepped away from the entrance, whistling as he made his way home.

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