NEW YORK — Almost every night for the next year, Alison Cimmet will show up at the Broadhurst Theatre on West 44th Street and prepare to go on as the lead in the new Broadway musical “Baby It’s You!”

She’ll warm up her voice, settle her nerves and go through the rest of her pre-show routine. And if all goes according to plan, Cimmet will never see the stage.

The Maine native, who has one Broadway show to her credit along with several high-profile TV commercials, serves as the standby to the show’s big star, Tony Award-winner Beth Leavel. She’ll only go on if Leavel cannot, but has to prepare for the role as if it were hers and hers alone.

Now in previews, “Baby It’s You!” opens at the end of the month. Cimmet has a year-long contract, fulfilling a fantasy she has harbored since appearing in “Finian’s Rainbow” at Lyric Music Theater in South Portland when she was 6.

Now, at 34, her dream is coming true. Even if she never gets the call to cover for Leavel, she gains the experience of being on Broadway and preparing for the starring role. Her previous Broadway experience in “A Tale of Two Cities” found her in a lesser role.

This one is a biggie, and it almost certainly will lead to others.

Cimmet treats every night as if she were going on, although she knows it’s possible she may never get the chance.

“I may or may not. Beth Leavel has a reputation for not missing shows,” Cimmet said during a recent interview in New York after a day full of rehearsals.

“To me, it’s about having a credit and being a part of the Broadway community. I love going to the theater every night; I love the community of artists in New York and the spirit and the energy of the city. I find it incredibly exciting.”

“Baby It’s You!” is a pop and doo-wop romp that tells the story of a New Jersey woman named Florence Greenberg. You may not know her name, but you know her legacy: she helped discover the R&B stars The Shirelles, The Isley Brothers and Dionne Warwick, among others.

Written by Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott, the show is packed with hits from the 1960s associated with Greenberg’s Specter Records, including “Baby It’s You,” “Louie Louie” and “Twist and Shout.”

Given the success of other early rock, rockabilly and pop shows – think “Jersey Boys” and “Million Dollar Quartet” – it’s entirely possible that “Baby It’s You!” will enjoy a long Broadway run.

That’s what excites Cimmet. During the rehearsal and preview process, she’s learned from and gained confidence with the experience of bringing a new show to Broadway.

“It’s been real interesting. I don’t know how standing by is going to work out. We’ll see,” she said.
“Honestly, the idea of going on is so daunting to me. It’s not a part of my thinking. I just keep coming to work every day, and we’ll see what happens. I hope it’s a successful job, because it’s great to be on Broadway again. It’s a real honor.”

The history of showbiz is full of stories about understudies who get a chance or lucky break and are discovered by talent scouts and show directors. Shirley MacLaine began her Broadway career as an understudy to Carol Haney in “The Pajama Game.” Haney broke her ankle; MacLaine got the call and became a movie star.

More recently, Judy Kaye landed a minor role in “On the Twentieth Century” and also was cast as understudy to leading lady Madeline Kahn. When Kahn left the show, Kaye became a star overnight.

A LONG AND WINDING ROAD

But of course, stars are not made overnight. Cimmet has been working toward this most of her life. She grew up in Scarborough, and her family was entrenched in community theater. Her parents, Joe and Eve, worked in all aspects of local theater, on stage and off, as did her siblings.

Her mother died last year, and her father now spends much of his time in New York attending as many shows as possible. The day after this interview, Cimmet planned to take her dad to see Daniel Radcliffe in the revival of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

Cimmet went to school at Waynflete, where she acted and sang. She was deeply involved in community theater at Lyric and Portland Players, and later helped get the Arundel Barn Playhouse off the ground as a member of the summer theater’s early acting troupe.

As a youngster, she impressed her adult directors with her commitment to the craft of acting.

“She was so focused. She seemed to know already what she wanted to do,” said Claudia Hughes, who directed Cimmet in many productions at Waynflete. “As a high school girl, she would do the work and do it in a professional way. She understood there was a rhythm to the play that directors must find, but they can’t find that rhythm unless the actors do their work. They have to know their lines and be prepared. She would be the one who always did her work.”

After Waynflete, Cimmet went to Brown University in Rhode Island. While most of her theater classmates opted for graduate school, Cimmet went to work. She moved to New York and took any job that came her way, doing all kinds of theater, independent movies and comedy.

She took jobs on the side. She waited tables, worked for employment agencies and interpreted for deaf people, using ASL skills that she learned at Baxter School for the Deaf while in high school. Working as an ASL interpreter gave her access to theaters across Manhattan, as she signed for theater audiences.

For a while, Cimmet created her own side business, Fancille. She made greeting cards, purses, wallets and the like, using her creative skills in the craft business.

“I’ve always wanted to work, and was never afraid of work,” she said. “I’ve definitely paid my dues. It’s made me a stronger person and made me appreciate what I have become. I can see how far I’ve come. I know how hard it is.”

Along the way, she met and married David Hoffman – “a civilian,” as people in theater refer to folks who are not part of the theater community. He is a civil engineer. They live outside Manhattan with their two young children.

‘A GREAT FACE FOR COMMERCIALS’

Because of her looks, Cimmet always seems to get cast in the funny roles. She has big eyes, flaming red hair and, at 5-foot-9, more height than many women.

Her red hair is not natural. She dyed it red in college to improve her chances at getting cast in a specific role, and kept it because she liked how it looked. Her trade secret: it’s Nice ’n Easy No. 108, Natural Reddish Blonde.

“The kind of roles that I can get cast in being a redhead has served me well,” she said. “People think funny, sassy people should be redheads.”

Her looks have served her particularly well in TV commercials.

Cimmet’s commercial work came somewhat by chance. A friend told her, “You have a great face for commercials.” She never thought of herself in those terms, so she got a head shot and shopped it around to commercial agencies.

“I was the right type at the right place at the right time,” she said.

Her break came late in 2004, when AOL placed her in a national ad campaign. You might remember the ad: she plays a secretary to an AOL exec. A line of subscribers floods her office, eager to share ideas about the Internet.

Cimmet goes to her boss and tells him that members want to see him. Which ones, he asks.
“Looks like all of them,” she says tentatively, looking out the window at an endless mass of people.

The ad put Cimmet on the map. Last year, she did three major ad campaigns, for Staples, Ikea and Cheerios. The funny thing is, she doesn’t watch TV and rarely gets to see her ads. But she knows when they are on, because people tell her.

Landing the gig for “Baby It’s You!” involved some chance, but it also had a lot to do with her willingness to work. She was hired to be a reader during auditions. That means she worked opposite actors who were auditioning for roles. She never intended to audition herself.

After several weeks of readings, she developed a rapport with the creative team and mentioned in passing to a few of them that she could sing too. They took note of her, and everything shifted. Soon enough, she was given the chance to audition.

She got the job just before Christmas.

Life has been a whirlwind since, with long days of rehearsals, anxious nights of previews and exciting days leading up to the opening later this month.

Back home in Maine, Cimmet has a community of friends cheering her on and hoping she gets a chance to prove herself to the big Broadway community – not in a supporting role, but as a leading lady.

Among those leading the cheer is Ed Reichert, who teaches music at the University of Southern Maine and directed Cimmet many times over the years. He helped her land roles in regional theaters before she made it in New York.

Reichert has no doubt she will get the chance to perform the lead in “Baby It’s You!” and also no doubt that she will turn heads.

“This is gigantic,” he said. “The world is her oyster. All it’s going to take is one person to see her go on, and it’s going to explode for her.”

Reichert first took note of Cimmet when she performed in “A Little Night Music” at Lyric Music Theater. She was in high school.

“That girl has something extra special going on,” Reichert remembers thinking at the time. “She was sharing the stage with adults and playing the role with such ease and sophistication. It was easy to see that she had it all.”

Cimmet tries to keep everything in perspective. So far, nothing has happened beyond her landing an opportunity with a high-profile Broadway show. She takes nothing for granted.

All she knows for sure is that her husband has to put her kids to bed at night for the near future.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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