JENI BARRETT thought singing in her high school’s production of Annie Get Your Gun was the best thing to happen to her until she met Mitch.
MITCHELL DALLMAN knew Jeni Barrett would be the perfect singing partner for pop star, Tony LaMont for the summer. Little did he know she would become special in more ways than one.
Jeni Barrett stared into the mirror over the makeshift dressing table. Tonight would be the last performance of her high school’s musical, ANNIE GET YOUR GUN. It would be the last time she would play Annie. Part of her wanted the night to be over. The rehearsals had cut into her study time. Part of her wanted it to never end; she loved the applause, the laughter, the sense she was entertaining the audience.
As she put the wig with braids over her short blonde hair for the first act, she thought about the conversation with her brother Harry earlier in the evening. Harry wanted her to continue her education. She argued that she wanted to be an entertainer.
Four years ago, their parents were killed in a car accident. After the funeral, she went to live with her older brother Harry, and his wife Sarah. Harry was thirteen years older than Jeni and, with such an age difference, they hardly had a brother-sister relationship. She was only five when Harry went to college. After that, he came home only during the summer and at the Christmas holidays. Then, three years before her parents died, he married Sarah Parker, and the visits became even more infrequent.
When she moved to Hatson, Wisconsin, from Maryville, Indiana, she knew her world ended. Hatson wasn’t her home and her friends seemed too far away. Now, four years later, she was comfortable here. Her grades were among the top in her class. Her friends were just as close as her friends in Maryville had been. And her minor disagreements with Harry soon became discussions easily forgotten after a few minutes. They’d actually grown close over the past four years.
With her eighteenth birthday just two weeks away, she wondered if they would remain close once his guardianship ended.
“Curtain in five minutes - curtain in five minutes,” Ralph Miller called from outside the door.
The first act went smoothly as it did for the two previous nights. Before she knew it, she was back in the dressing room. She just slipped on the white-fringed dress when a knock at the door interrupted her.
“Are you girls all decent in here?” the choir director called. She entered the room.
“There’s a gentleman who wants to speak with Jeni.”
“With me? Why?” Jeni asked.
“You’ll see. Don’t look so terrified. It’s something rather special.” Mrs. Janish’s eyes sparkled and her smile put Jeni at ease.
Jeni looked back at the girls in the room and shrugged her shoulders, raising her eyebrows, as she followed Mrs. Janish into the hallway.
“Miss Barrett,” the man said. “My name is Mitchell Dallman. I’m the manager for Tony LaMont. Tony is in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area looking for a female vocalist, and I’d like to have you audition for him tomorrow afternoon.”
“Me? Audition for Tony LaMont? You’re kidding me! What’s the joke?” Jeni’s tone was one of disbelief.
“There’s no joke. We’ve been auditioning all week. This afternoon at lunch an old friend of mine suggested I come and hear you sing. I figured if you were half as good as he said you were Tony should hear you. After seeing the first act, I’ve decided you aren’t half as good as he said, you’re ten times better.”
“Thank you, Mr. Dallman, but…”
“I know, you’d like to talk this over with your parents, but I’m afraid time is short. Tony has to fly to the coast on Monday afternoon. The auditions were due to end at noon today, but I persuaded him to wait until I was able to hear you this evening to make any decisions. You can bring your parents if you’d like.”
“My parents are deceased. I would like to bring my brother Harry. He’s my legal guardian.”
“Then you’ll come. Good. Here is the audition piece and the address of the hotel. We’ll see you at say three tomorrow afternoon?”
“Yes. Thank you, thank you, Mr. Dallman.”
Jeni shook his hand and returned to the dressing room, clutching the music, too much in shock to even look at the piece.
“What did he want, Jeni?” Her best friend
Suellen Graham asked as she walked back into the room.
“I’ll tell you later. I have to talk to Harry first.”
The call for the second act left no time for further questions.
The second act completed and Jeni listened as the band finished playing. At last the curtain parted and as the band softly played THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS, the cast took their final bows. Ahead of Jeni, Craig Warren, who played Frank Butler to her Annie, took his bow.
As she came from the back of the cast, the applause seemed thunderous and she realized the entire audience was on its feet cheering. A standing ovation for Jeni Barrett was unbelievable, and yet it was like nothing she had ever felt in her life. The two previous nights, there had been applause, whistles and cheers, but not a standing ovation. It was as though someone gave her a strange drug, which sent her to new heights she never knew existed.
Craig handed her a dozen long-stemmed red roses. The rest of the post play activities were a blur. Flowers were presented to the pianist, choir director, band director and dance instructor. Then everyone joined in singing THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS. It was as though the song had been written especially for her. After tonight, there was no business like show business for her, nothing else she wanted to do with her life.
Is Mr. Dallman being sincere? Will I be auditioning for Tony LaMont tomorrow afternoon? If so, perhaps my dream of becoming an entertainer could possibly come true. Do I even dare to dream it?
When the song ended the cast let out a yell and they all hugged each other. Soon the stage was filled with parents voicing their praise.
Jeni watched as Harry and Sarah made their way to her side.
“You were wonderful, honey,” Sarah said, giving her a hug.
“That goes for me, too. After listening to you yack on the phone and yell messages from upstairs for the past four years, I would never have believed you could sing like an angel,” Harry teased.
Jeni ignored his playful teasing. “Can we talk in private, Harry?” she asked.
“Sure, honey, but don’t you want to join in all the frivolity with the others first?”
“No,” Jeni said, shaking her head. “This is more important.”
Harry shot a questioning glance at Sarah, then followed Jeni back to the deserted choir room. “Now, Jen, what’s so important?”
Jeni took a deep breath, trying to compose her thoughts before she began. “During intermission, a man, Mr. Mitchell Dallman, came back stage. He said he was the manager for Tony LaMont. He also said they’ve been auditioning in Minneapolis, and he wants me to sing for Mr. LaMont. I know it sounds crazy, but he said you could come along and he gave me this.” She handed Harry the envelope containing the audition piece along with the hastily scribbled note on the back of Mr. Dallman’s business card.
“I don’t understand, Jen,” Harry said, looking over the card. “Tony LaMont is a big star. He’s always sung with Anita Saunders. I’ve heard enough of their CD’s to know that. What does he want with a young girl like you?”
“I’m going to be eighteen in two weeks. He’s only twenty-five and he is originally from Minneapolis. He may be a big star, but it’s entirely possible he wants a local girl to sing back up for him.”
“Maybe he does. I can’t say I’m not skeptical, but if this is what you want, I’m happy for you. I’ll just reserve judgment until I see what we find in Minneapolis tomorrow. Don’t get your hopes up. Even if this is the real thing, it could be all academic. If they’ve been auditioning all week, they may have already found someone.”
Jeni shrugged her shoulders “If nothing else, I’ll get to meet Tony LaMont and have a memory to last forever. Thank you for not laughing at me.”
Craig Warren’s parents had decorated the basement of their home for the cast party. Long tables were spread with food, which the other parents donated, and in the corner, a large tub was filled with ice and soda.
“Okay, Jeni, you promised, who was the man who came backstage at intermission?” Suellen asked.
Once again, Jeni repeated the story that still sounded too fantastic to be true.
“Oh, Jeni,” Suellen said, embracing her. “It’s wonderful. Imagine, you singing with Tony LaMont. And we knew you when.”
Jeni laughed. “It’s only an audition and we don’t even know if it is for Tony LaMont. Even if it is, I probably won’t be good enough. He’s a star. The honor is worth more than anything.”
Craig came over to her and put his arm around her shoulder, in the brotherly fashion she had come to expect. “So what are you going to be singing? Something from the show?”
“No, he gave me this.” Jeni opened the envelope, Mr. Dallman gave her and for the first time examined the music inside.
“That’s SPRINGTIME LOVE!” Craig exclaimed. “Tony and Anita just released it last month. It’s up to number six on the charts already.”
Taking the music from Jeni, Craig sat at the piano and began to play the notes. Not only were the young people familiar with the music, but the adults, too, enjoyed the easy listening rhythm of Tony and Anita’s songs.
When he played through the music once, Jeni joined in, singing the words she had sung along with the radio at home. Conversation ceased as everyone stopped to listen to Jeni’s clear soprano.
Even though the events of the previous evening exhausted Jeni, she was awake early. When Craig arrived at eight-fifteen, she’d gotten up and dressed for the day in jeans and a sweatshirt.
Surprisingly, the entire household buzzed with activity. Sarah was getting Aaron ready for the day, but Harry was also out of bed. He’d been on the phone for the last ten minutes arranging for rooms at the Hyatt in Minneapolis, and getting tickets for a dinner theater. He told Jeni since her appointment was set for three, the dinner theater would either be a means of congratulating her accomplishment or consoling her disappointment.
“What are you doing up so early?” Jeni asked Craig when she met him at the door.
“I’m here to pick up Aaron and to talk to you. My folks told Harry they would watch him this weekend. Is there someplace where we can talk that isn’t in the middle of all this turmoil?”
“Sure. We can go out to the screen house. It’s a bit cool yet, but Sarah put out the furniture last week.”
Although late April wasn’t usually known for mild weather, the morning was exceptionally nice. The temperature had already reached a pleasant sixty-five and the sun burned off the early morning fog.
“So what’s up?” Jeni asked as she sat in the padded chaise lounge pulling her feet under her.
“I thought you should know who told Mitchell Dallman about you,” Craig said.
“What on earth are you talking about?”
“I mean, last night, after the cast party, Steve called to see if Mitch made it to the performance.”
“Your brother Steve?”
“None other. Mitch was Steve’s college roommate. I wondered when you first said the name. Mitchell sounded so formal. Of course I rarely heard his last name. Steve always called him Mitch. Anyway, Steve and Nancy were at the show Thursday night and were quite impressed with you. On Friday, he and Mitch met for lunch. Mitch happened to mention they were holding auditions, but they hadn’t been very successful. Steve told him about you and the rest we know.”
“Then this isn’t a joke? He does work for Tony LaMont?”
“Now you’re getting the picture. Steve says Anita Saunders is taking the summer off. She and Tony have been married for three years now, and they’ve decided it’s time for a family. You’re auditioning to sing duet with Tony LaMont.”
Jeni sat speechless for several moments. When her composure finally returned she didn’t know which question to ask first. “So how does Steve’s old roommate from college fit into all of this?”
“When Mitch got out of school he happened to be in the right place at the right time, and Tony hired him. It was just luck.”
Jeni closed her eyes for just a moment, trying to comprehend everything Craig said. Last night she’d been honored to think someone, anyone, would consider her to sing backup for Tony LaMont. It seemed like a thrilling, impossible dream. Instead of telling her about the opportunity to sing back up he told her she would be auditioning to replace Anita Saunders for the entire summer. The thought was absolutely unbelievable. She knew she didn’t have a chance. Still, she reminded herself the honor was worth more than the thought of rejection.
“I hope I haven’t made you more nervous.” Craig said, when she opened her eyes.
“No, to tell you the truth, I’m not nervous at all. I figure it’s all academic. A big star like Tony LaMont will politely listen then tell me I’m just not what he’s looking for. It will be a wonderful experience, nothing more. You can’t tell me he would choose someone with an untrained voice over all of the people he’s auditioned already.”