Madison Avenue is calling me

“What’s it like to be married to a casting director?” seems a fair topic for my 13th wedding anniversary.

Of course, Joy wasn’t a casting director back then. Back then she was a performer. She was in the middle of a national tour when I proposed, and, as I’m writing this, she’s on a conference call in the next room saying, “As long as the actors are treated with RESPECT…” and that’s just how she said it: all caps. And this is not unrelated. Experiences she had as a performer, touring and auditioning, color her every move as casting director. And a lot of what she casts are national tours. So, first and foremost, she ensures that auditioning actors are well-treated. And that’s how she earned her reputation as the casting director people most love being in front of.

But now I’m thinking of Betty Draper. She’s a fictional character, a suburban housewife in the 1960s, married to an adman on Mad Men. Imagine the ad agency putting together an audition in which they seek a sexy woman. In a conference room in a Madison Avenue skyscraper, a parade of attractive females would be paraded in front of Don Draper and as many leering male colleagues as the room would accommodate.

Sound icky to you? How would you like to be in Betty’s position? Well, pleased to meet you: I am Betty Draper. I’m in a suburb making lunches for my child’s lunchbox while my spouse sets up a parade of hunks auditioning for a stage show called Magic Mike. Two ladies I’ve told this story to – one around 20, one around 80 – have informed me that they don’t find terribly muscular men sexy at all. And that’s fine. But Joy does!

Those ladies doth protest too much, a little like how Diane claimed not to find Sam Malone attractive when first they met on Cheers. Cheers comes to mind because Boston and Chicago recently saw a stage adaptation of the classic TV sitcom. And the job of finding the actor who could personify irresistible Mayday Malone went to you-know-who. And also Diane, and Coach, and Carla and Cliff and NORM! (I put that in capitals in case you felt compelled to shout along.) Consider how viewers feel about those actors from so many decades ago. How could an audience, today, ever accept different players, even if the set looked exactly the same? That’s quite a casting challenge, and, since I didn’t get to see the show, I’ll take a Chicago Tribune critic’s word for it:

These are different actors in “Cheers Live.” That’s Grayson Powell as Sam, Jillian Louis as Diane, Barry Pearl as Coach, Buzz Roddy as Cliff, Sarah Sirota as Carla and Paul Vogt as Norm. And you know what? It does not matter a jot. What more could any writer desire than to watch an audience so embrace fictional characters, fully apart from the actors who played them? Amazing.

And a tribute, actually, to these particular actors, who have a tough collective assignment. For “Cheers Live On Stage” actually is a much better show than you likely are expecting me to say.

There are several factors in its favor. One is a full Equity cast of performers with mostly Broadway credits (although you likely will recognize Pearl from the 1978 movie version of “Grease“). These are not nobodies, these are skilled character players and I found all of them very funny and, to a person, exceptionally adept at walking that tricky line between impersonation — Norm has to be Wendt-like to some extent, lest the audience riot — and original interpretation. Louis makes the boldest choices as Diane, and it’s quite the inspired comic performance, although Vogt dispenses those famous Norm bon mots with real aplomb, and at a faster pace. Pearl, meanwhile, is hilarious. I preferred him to Colasanto, and I was a great fan of that late actor.

Once, at 7 o’clock on a Friday night, a director demanded a list of available actors of a particular ethnicity by Monday morning. Two things about that: Joy had already created a huge list of actors that the director had seen a day or so before and had apparently ignored. But the more obvious thing: the director felt it was fine to ask Joy to drop weekend plans and work instead. As a spouse of a casting director, I can get pretty steamed at a thing like this, but have to hold my tongue. Running her own business that provides a service, Joy comes to decisions about how to respond without flying off the handle. The customer is always right, right?

So here I am, a bit befuddled, trying to explain this life to you. And it’s much harder to understand if you’re four-years-old. What must our daughter think of the many business trips that take Mommy away? She craves time together, just the two of them. And there’s this current TV ad that drove home a point.

So Joy recently took her to Disney World, where they stayed in the resort where animals roam right outside your window. An actual giraffe lit up our daughter’s eyes, just like in that commercial. And when they got back, and I picked them up at the airport, I asked “Did you miss me?” and she cocked her head, considering the question and said “…Sorta.”

Moral: It’s hard to compete with a giraffe.

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