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So Bitter and So Sweet: Adam and the Aragorn Curse

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So Bitter and So Sweet:  Adam and the Aragorn Curse

 

Part I: December 2008

 

Adam pulled the itinerary out of his pocket and read it again. A round-trip ticket on Jet Blue to New York City. No surprise there. But then, a week at the Waldorf Astoria. That was different. A night at the Comfort Inn had been an extravagant treat when he traveled with Wicked.

But still. Five work days. And then what? Neil Mecklan, the agent who called him out of the blue three days ago, had a broad Brooklyn accent and was vague on the details: “Be here in three weeks. That’s January 5th. The production is in rewrite, so you won’t get a script until New Years Eve. Study it. Memorize it. Focus on the scenes at the Prancing Pony, the love scene with Arwen, and Boromir’s death. Don’t worry about the Elvish. You may never need it. Work your ass off anyway. I can’t believe they’re giving you this chance.” Well, maybe no one expected him to last beyond a week. He wasn’t sure he did.

“I have a really, really bad feeling about this.“ Adam looked imploringly across the kitchen at Brad.

Brad, in one of his rare domestic moments, had the mixer on high, whipping egg whites, salt, and water into a frothy meringue. He shook his head at Adam, indicating he couldn’t hear.

“I SAID, I HAVE A REALLY BAD FEELING ABOUT THIS,” Adam shouted above the whir of the mixer.

Monte stumbled into the kitchen, bleary eyed, and asked from behind Adam, “Bad feeling about what, dude?”

Adam startled, turned around. “What are you doing here?”

Monte shrugged his shoulders. “I was too damn drunk last night to drive home after practice. I called Lisa, and she told me just to sleep it off, so I crashed on the couch. Surprised you didn’t see me when you got up.”

Well, Adam hadn’t really been noticing anything that morning, caught up in his, he had to admit it, unreasonable panic about the week-long audition. He’d never heard of anything quite like it. On the one hand, it was quite a compliment; they liked him enough to give him a chance to prove himself. On the other, it wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence, either; there were plenty of ways to fuck things up in a week.

For starters, the play was supposed to be monstrously long—four and a half hours. So there would be lots and lots of lines to memorize. And joining a cast that had been working together already for weeks—hell some of them for years—could be like stepping onto a field with hidden landmines: in-jokes Adam wouldn’t know; flirtations he’d have to avoid interrupting; small triumphs and failures…not to mention the all-too-widely discussed disasters that had led to this opportunity in the first place.

“Earth to Adam. Are ye there, man?” Monte leaned forward, a look of concern on his face.

Adam shook himself. There was Monte, standing right in front of him, and, oh God, he hadn’t even broken the news to Monte. Time to focus on the here and now.

“Sorry. I’m just kind of distracted this morning. And well…honestly, there’s some stuff we should talk about. But let’s have breakfast first, okay?”

Monte just nodded. Adam loved that about Monte—the way he could wait for things to unfold in their natural way with never a hint of drama or angst in his work or personal life. Patience wasn’t really Adam’s strong suit. Maybe Adam should take notes.

“So, when you called Lisa, was she pissed?” Adam asked, genuinely curious. “I would have been…. I think.” He was still trying to make up his mind about how relationships should work. Wasn’t there a clause about waking up together in the morning…at least when you were in the same town?

“No. She’s good that way; I’ll make it up to her today.” Monte stretched. “God, I am getting too old for this shit, though. Do you have coffee?”

Adam waved vaguely towards the coffee maker.

Brad finally turned off the mixer and held the bowl aloft, displaying the whipped eggs to the room. “All stiff! Just the way I like them,” he announced proudly. “Monte, go sit down. Madonna’s guitarist does not have to serve himself coffee in my home, even if his diva-ness is too lazy to get up off his ass.”

Adam rolled his eyes. Monte had spent a good part of the last two months practicing with the rest of the band at the house and was hardly a guest anymore. But there was no stopping Brad when he was in his southern hostess mode, and clearly Monte had no objection to being fussed over.

“Thanks. I take my coffee black. But what the hell are you making at this early hour?”

“Ziss morning, monsieur we are serving Le Belgian Soufflé Omelet in Meringue,” Brad announced in a truly awful French accent.

Adam laughed. He couldn’t help it—he loved Brad’s corny accents. And besides, who had ever even heard of an omelet meringue?”

“Awesome. I think I chose the right night to crash here,” Monte grinned.

“Oh no, monsieur, I assure you zat this simple repast is de rigeur at the Lambert-Bell home.” Then Brad laughed, too. “Seriously, I was watching TV yesterday and saw this funny little housewife from Des Moines make this, and then Adam got his news, and I thought to myself, ‘What better way to celebrate a new Broadway star zen with Le Belgian Soufflé Omelet in Meringue and…”

“Brad! Shit! I haven’t even told him yet!” Adam’s face was turning red, he could feel it. Brad looked flustered and mouthed the word “Sorry” to Adam.

“Told me what?” Monte asked softly.

“Brad’s making too big a deal of this. It’s just a part. Maybe. But it’s in New York.”

“Just a part!” Brad flicked a little meringue at Adam for emphasis. “Just a part? Since when did you become Mr. Understatement.” Brad walked over and unceremoniously smacked the back of Adam’s head. “Monte—it’s Aragorn. They’ve asked our very own Adam to play Aragorn. On Broadway. In The Lord of The Rings. In a rock opera!”

Monte leaned back in his chair, saying nothing. Adam quickly filled the silence.

“Look, I’m not even sure I’m going to audition.” Adam ran his fingers through his hair. “You know I quit Wicked so I could follow my path…. And come on Monte—we already decided—you and me, baby. We’re gonna make it big together. You on guitar, me frontman—so coooool. And it’s what I want, it really is.”

Monte was frowning. He never gave Adam shit about anything. Maybe Monte thought Adam was backing out of his commitment to Citizen Vein. But that wasn’t what was going on at all.

“I’m so over musicals—I decided that at Burning Man. It’s all about the singing now. No more being at the beck and call of someone else’s vision, singing songs that mean nothing to me. Monte—we’re on our way. We’re about to kill it, I just know it. Then I get this call out of the blue and I’m supposed to drop all that? I don’t know, a year ago I would have jumped, but now, not so much. Brad can tell you—the last time I worked with a big name, it was Val Kilmer, and it totally sucked. Not to mention that the musical was crap. Been there. Done that. Sooooo, I was thinking that maybe, probably…. I should just say no.”

Both Brad and Adam jumped as Monte slammed his fist down on the kitchen table. “You bloody well better not say no! Are you kidding? Aragorn in Lord of the Friggin Rings. How cool is that?”

Adam hadn’t expected that reaction from Monte. They’d been working so damn hard on the band. Sure, there hadn’t been more than 15 people at their first gig, but word was getting out. They were good—really good—and the clubs had been packed at their last two performances. Adam could feel he was in the zone; he was owning the stage. And there was a rumor that an A&R exec was going to be at their next gig. Until he received that call from Neil Mecklan, Adam had been certain things were finally falling into place.

“Sooo…you think I should take it?”

Monte started chanting in a deep voice: “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all…"

Brad joined him for the last line: “and in the darkness bind them.”

Adam looked at them, his brow furrowed in confusion. What was this? Some sort of secret nerd ritual? “Um, I take it that has something to do with Aragorn?”

Brad clutched his heart in mock horror, but Monte seemed genuinely distressed.

“Adam Lambert—are you telling me that you’ve never read Lord of the Rings?”

Adam shrugged.

“Well, for all that is sacred, surely you've at least seen the movie?” Monte’s voice rose to an unusually high pitch, disbelief shining on his face.

“Well…no. I just never really had the time.”

“Sweetheart, we watched Velvet Goldmine nine times one weekend. You definitely had time.” Brad gave Adam one of those smoldering looks that meant he was thinking about all the great sex they’d had that weekend, so then of course Adam was thinking about it, too, and he so did not want to go there.

“Don’t you need to finish making breakfast,” Adam grumbled. “Wouldn’t want your meringue to go all limp now.”

“Oooh la la! You’re right mon ami. Back to ze cooking of ze omelet!” Brad waved a cooking spoon with a flourish and returned to the counter.

Monte leaned forward, looking intently at Adam. “Ok, so I’ll just take it at face value that somehow you are the only person on the planet who has never seen Lord of the Rings. I mean, it’s not even a dude thing, Lord of the Rings is a people thing. But somehow, clearly, you have led a sadly sheltered life. Still. How can you even be thinking about turning down an opportunity like this? That’s not like you. ”

Before Adam could muster an answer, Brad sang out: “He thinks he’ll catch the Aragorn Curse!”

Adam grimaced. He hated it when Brad was right.

“What Aragorn curse?” Monte may have read the Lord of the Rings eleven-million times but clearly he was sadly behind on his celebrity news. Adam pulled out a copy of Entertainment Weekly and handed it to Monte to read.

“Somewhere in Mordor, Sauron’s Cackling.”

For the second time in two months, Tim Burton’s beleaguered Broadway musical, Lord of the Rings, has lost its Aragorn. With a score written by Andrew Lloyd Weber and David Bowie (the most unlikely pairing since Gimli met Legolas), expectations were sky high for the production. Early in the casting process, Burton asked Elijah Wood and Ian McKellen to reprise their roles from the LOTR movies. After that, he cast his net wide, bringing on a galaxy of luminaries from stage and screen.

First cast in the role of Aragorn was Hugh Jackman, Broadway’s go-to man for that magical combination of talent and bankability. But two weeks into rehearsal, in the now infamous Bagel Incident, Jackman tripped over the delivery boy and broke his leg. While Jackman couldn’t be reached for comment, Bagel Delivery Boy Tommy Joe Ratliff told us, “Ah man, I feel really bad about the whole thing. I was just lying down for a moment on the stage, you know, to get a feel for the epic energy of the place, and I guess Mr. Jackman wasn’t watching where he was going.”

A week later, in response to Tim Burton’s personal request, Johnny Depp stepped in to save the day.

Monte looked up from his reading. “Johnny Depp as Aragorn. I don’t know. He seems like an elf to me. Maybe Elrond or Legolas. But Aragorn, I don’t see it.”

“Oh, he would've been brilliant. “ Adam had his laptop out and read aloud from Vanity Fair online, “Listen to this interview with Johnny Depp.”

“When Tim asked if I’d play Aragorn, I said of course yes. Because you always know with Tim that he has a specific vision and it will be exquisite.”

 

You really do seem to be a kind of muse for Tim Burton. Yet I have to wonder if the singing gave you pause. I’ve heard that the part demands amazing range.

“Well, I know I’m not really seen as a real singer. But I did muddle through Sweeney Todd, and that was some complex stuff. Sondheim usually is. Anyhow, going into acting was an odd deviation from a particular road that I was on in my late teens, early 20s, because I had no desire, no interest, really, in it at all. I was a musician and I was a guitarist, and that’s what I wanted to do. So, really, when it came to the challenge of Aragorn, I said bring it on.”


But that didn’t work out so well for you did it? First there was the sword fight injury.

“Oh that was a laugh, really. And my own bloody fault. I was thinking too hard and not focused enough. First, I’d gotten lost on the subway on my way to rehearsal…”

I had to interrupt him there. Johnny Depp takes the subway?

“Oh sure. I always take the subway when I’m in New York. I think it’s like riding through the veins of the city, always moving, always rushing forward. You can feel New York’s heart beating.”

Johnny stops for a moment to light a cigarette, and I temporarily succumb to my unremitting crush on the man and simply gaze. He looks up at me, and I remember that I am a professional. Interviewing Johnny is my job. So, I ask him to tell me more about his Aragorn adventures.

“Well, between the being late for rehearsal, memorizing lines, learning Elvish, and trying to sing while sword fighting, I’m afraid I simply lost concentration. So, natural consequences and all, I was stabbed in the gut by an orc.”

 

Johnny, I heard you were actually bleeding and broke a rib, but were determined to continue in the part.

“Oh, I was bleeding some. But it was a stage sword, you know— More scrapes and bruising than actual piercing. Ultimately, the broken rib and everything helped me to understand Aragorn better. I finally developed his gait and his voice after the orc incident. He’s a fascinating character, really. Rather daunting to make him three dimensional—to show the years of rough living, and a nobleness that is real. Oh, and I love his compassion. That’s what I was really interested in exploring. So, no, I wasn’t going to leave the play.”


But then you received the news that the Category 5 Hurricane Hortense had directly hit your island, Little Hall’s Pond Cay.

“Yes. Fortunately, my family wasn’t on the island at the time. But a young boy, a sweet six-year old named Theo, was killed by a falling branch. His father works for me, and my kids played with Theo, and of course his whole family is still devastated. And while, by comparison, it is a minor thing, virtually all of the buildings were damaged. So, I had to go and see what I could do to make things better. Tim said, of course go. So I flew there with the kids and Vanessa, and when we got there it was, well, just overwhelming. People were really hurting, both on our island and on neighboring islands. I could see immediately that this wasn’t just a short term thing. And you have to understand this: that is our home. It turns out that there is a limit to 'The show must go on.'”


Before I ask you about the work that you’re doing to help with restoration after the hurricane, I have to ask one more question about

Lord of the Rings
Johnny gives me a weary look, but I plow ahead with my question. Do you believe in the Aragorn Curse?
 

I’ve just told you about real people dying, and you are asking me if it’s all because of a curse on a play? I find that despicable. Oh, not you personally, but all of you who keep going on and on about this curse. Just because it makes a good story, doesn’t mean it’s true. Sometimes things just happen. ”

Adam looked up from the laptop. “The rest of the story's about all the work Johnny’s doing to help hurricane victims in the Bahamas, but yeah—that's the story of the Aragorn curse.”

“You’re not taking this curse stuff seriously, are you?” Monte peered at Adam incredulously. “Because I think Johnny nipped that in the bud quite nicely.”

Adam was embarrassed to admit he kind of had been taking it seriously. Creating a dozen scenarios in which he was horribly humiliated, injured or, worse yet, brought disaster down on everybody he loved. Reading Johnny’s words aloud put the curse in a whole new perspective

“I’m being an idiot, aren’t I?” Adam quirked a smile as both Brad and Monte nodded their heads: Yes, Adam, you are an idiot.

He closed his eyes for a moment to think. What was getting in his way? He’d thought it was something about loyalty and promises made. About the band and, if he were honest, a little bit about Brad. How sad was that? God. Maybe he was scared that he would be cast.

Suddenly, right there before him, he saw his name in lights—ADAM LAMBERT—on Broadway! He opened his eyes wide.

“What the hell have I been thinking? I mean, this is the opportunity of a lifetime. My God—I might get to work with Tim Burton, not to mention His Royal Fairyness Sir Ian McKellen! And HOLY SHIT, David Bowie—Ziggy Stardust himself—wrote the score!” Adam jumped up and ran to Brad, who had a huge grin on his face. “Oh my God how sick is that! Oh my God, oh my God. This could be it. Brad, this could really be it!” Adam swept Brad off his feet and twirled him around the kitchen, while Monte beamed his approval.

The rest of the morning was a whirlwind of celebration and planning. The Belgian Soufflé Omelet in Meringue was a culinary triumph, and Brad, as sometimes happened, got emotional about how good it felt to pamper his “favorite guys.” Monte had lots of instructions for Adam about the Lord of the Rings, and Adam actually took notes. Apparently Adam was not allowed to see the movies before he read the books.

“The books are the thing,” Monte explained. “The movies are just frosting on the cake. And they're long, Adam, so you better start reading today.“

Adam cancelled everything for the next three weeks, except for his singing and dancing lessons; he wanted to be in top form when he arrived in New York. It turned out that Brad had a copy of Lord of the Rings (who knew he read it again every few years?), so Adam started the book right away.

He called Monte after the first chapter to complain.

“It all seems just a little too precious. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to wade through this. And Aragorn’s not even mentioned.”

“Just keep reading,” Monte intoned.

So Adam did. And by midnight he was in the story’s thrall, already imagining himself as Aragorn, fighting the Ringwraiths on the summit of Weathertop.

***

The next morning Adam sent an e-mail to Cassidy, Lee, Scarlett, Neil, Ferras and Alisan. “I might have a big break. I’m going off the grid for a while. I can’t explain right now, but everything is really, really good. Please only contact me if you have an emergency. I love you all more than you can imagine.” Danielle was the only friend besides Brad and Monte he took into his confidence. He invited her over to talk.

She screamed with excitement. “Adam this is it! I can just feel it. Everything you’ve been working for. Now, just don’t undermine yourself. You can do this.” And then she burst into tears. Adam pulled her into a hug.

Dani spent the next hour expounding upon her view of Lord of the Rings, which apparently included a deep held belief that Tolkien was a sexist who had completely underwritten the women in the text, and that Peter Jackson had only partially addressed this by expanding the role of Arwen.

Who knew that every single one of his friends was secretly an LOTR buff? What else was Adam missing about these people he knew so well?

“Look—Arwen, Galadriel and Eowyn should be three of the most kick-ass women ever. But two of them spend half their time moping around about Aragorn, and Arwen even gives up her immortality. So you’ve got some pressure on you, Adam—you’ve got to be the kind of man that a woman would fall for with little or no hope of any kind of a happy ending.” Dani narrowed her eyes, considering. “Well, now that I think about it, you’d really be kind of perfect for a part like that.”

Adam looked away.

Dani laughed wryly, “No worries, my sweet. I am so far past all that now.”

Adam wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do with all of that—a feminist reimagining of Lord of the Rings was just not going to make his current set of priorities. But Dani, no matter what, would always be at the top of his priorities. So he turned the conversation away from himself and spent the next couple of hours catching up on all things Danielle, offering his opinions on everything from what her set list should be at her next gig, to how she should handle a spat with her boyfriend, and whether it was fair that her mother wanted her at home for every holiday. Before she left, Dani kissed Adam on his cheek and said, “I’ll text you every day, like usual, but otherwise just forget about me. I’ll tell you if the sky is falling, but now it’s time for you to focus on you. Make those dreams come true for all of us, Adam.”

What followed were some of the happiest days Adam had experienced since that first year of dizzying joy when he and Brad had found each other.

By some unspoken agreement, the two of them had set aside the new and still painful—at least to Adam—domestic accommodation they had reached after their official split at Burning Man. After the Burn, they had agreed they would each find their own apartment; but somehow, the timing was never right. Between Wicked, gigs at the Zodiac and Upright Cabaret, voice lessons, dance lessons, and forming the new band, finding a new place to live kept falling off of Adam’s list of priorities. And Brad never had money. It didn’t help that Brad was always leaving jobs (as a waiter, a messenger boy, a data entry specialist, a fry cook, and, for one hilarious week, a “hot and horny man/boy” for a gay sex line) because the jobs were too exhausting, too boring, too greasy, too demeaning, or generally too unsparkly to bear.

So Brad had moved into the guest bedroom, and instead of pooling their money together, they were scrupulously separating out expenses each month. They rarely ate a meal together, never slept together, never talked about love or played dress up. But they still bickered over TV shows, Brad snuggled into Adam on the increasingly disreputable lavender couch, and somehow, someway, they each always made it back to the apartment before the sun rose.

It turned out that Brad had been serious about his desire to expand his experience with other men. While Brad could be a bitch, he usually did his best not to rub Adam’s nose in this, but their circle of friends was tight, and Adam couldn’t escape hearing rumors of Brad’s endless quest to kiss all the “material boys.” It irritated Adam to the core that this had all started when Brad kissed “Plaid Boy” at Burning Man. The thing was, when Adam had named him Plaid Boy, he’d never imagined that this would set Brad off on a journey to make out with the most unlikely array of men ever to be found in the greater LA area. (Let’s face it—you just don’t find men wearing velour or poplin at your average gay nightclub.) Even worse, Adam had also memorably kissed Plaid Boy at the Burn, a piece of information that Brad was definitely not privy to. That kiss had actually meant something to Adam—he wasn’t quite sure what, but something—so Brad’s endless delight in joking about Plaid Boy as the gateway drug to a wonderland of queer kisses was really getting old.

Adam had been expanding his horizons as well—on the art scene, on the fashion scene, and, yes, on the boy scene. But he set all that aside, and for two weeks delved into all things Tolkien. He finished The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers by the first weekend, and he and Brad agreed that watching the first two movies could be allowed under Monte’s “LOTR Rules of Engagement.”

During the first movie, Adam said, “Viggo Mortenson is beautiful. My God, I’ll never be that gorgeous. Or that skinny.”

“Hush,” said Brad, and after the movie, for the first time since the break up at Burning Man, Brad invited Adam into his bed, and spent a glorious hour reminding him just how beautiful he was.

During the second movie, Brad asked, “Legolas or Aragorn? Who would you do?”

“Oh, I rather like the hobbits. I mean Frodo and Sam, epic love story, right?” Adam replied.

Brad sighed. “You know you’ll be meeting Frodo. I mean Elijah.”

“Brad, I’m not even going there.” Remembering Dani’s words, he added, “I just need to focus.”

“That’s true, baby. But I could put on some furry feet for you.” They missed the second half of the movie in an extended exploration of Brad’s feet, his legs, his lovely arse ("I’m sure that’s the word Aragorn would use,” noted Adam), and, of course, his pretty, pretty cock. After a quick shower together, they rewound the movie and watched the whole thing.

For the past week, Brad had been in a Christmas frenzy, feverishly decorating the house with replicas of the stars on Hollywood Boulevard, trimming a kitschy white Christmas tree with Barbie and Ken dolls in a dizzying array of outfits, and blasting carols at full volume until Adam had begged him to stop. Ignoring the season completely, Adam went searching on the internet for a guide to the Elvish language, practiced pronunciation in front of the mirror, and thought about what life would be like as a Ranger in Middle Earth.

In the second week, Adam finished the trilogy, and he and Brad both cried as they watched Frodo and Gandalf sail off to the Gray Havens. Brad moved out of the guestroom and into Adam’s bed. Each night, Adam read bits of the story aloud, and Brad, for the first time in ages, muted his endless commentary on absolutely everything, opting instead to lean his head against Adam’s shoulder and simply listen.

In the third week, the script arrived with a recording of the score and songs from the musical. Attached to the CD was a basic contract from Actor’s Equity noting that Adam would receive the base rate for the week long rehearsal, with a new contract to be negotiated should he land the part. Also enclosed was a note from Mr. Mecklan:

 

Lambert. This is your big chance. No one expects you to have this memorized. Try anyhow. There will be a limo for you at the airport. Get a good night’s sleep and come in on Monday ready to work. Don’t fuck this up.

Adam’s stomach churned. He closed his eyes and did his deep yoga breathing. He looked at his wrist; the eye of Horus tattoo looked back at him, a tangible reminder from the Burn where he’d had his revelatory moment: when he’d promised himself to stop doubting, to believe, to not get caught up in the trivial stuff, to move forward with vision and passion. He dove into the script.

At night, he and Brad were fucking like, as Brad said, “the proverbial fluffy bunnies we are!” And by day, Brad alternately mocked, prodded, and soothed Adam through bouts of self-doubt and insecurity. Adam had never felt more alive, more centered. Scenes from Middle Earth saturated his dreams, and he hummed the music everywhere he went. One night, during a particularly athletic bought of lovemaking, he jokingly told Brad he could call him Strider. Brad responded by climbing on top of Adam. “If you’re Strider the Ranger, I shall be your Rider of Rohan. Let me just settle my arse upon your noble prick and giddyap cowboy!” Adam found he didn’t mind the mixed metaphors at all.

Finally, it was the morning of his departure. He had packed the night before, accompanied by Brad’s running fashion commentary. Adam woke up excited to the core and deeply panicked. After a quick shower, he pulled on his best New York City black jeans and leather jacket and ran through some basic vocal exercises to settle his nerves.

Before leaving the room, Adam pulled out an envelope which held a plane ticket he’d hidden in the back of his underwear drawer. Reminding himself not to jinx the audition by thinking of a weekend in New York with Brad as a consolation prize in case of failure, Adam firmly wrote across the envelope: Aragorn and Cheeks Take Manhattan! With a look of satisfaction, Adam folded the ticket into his pocket, ready for the big reveal.

In the kitchen, Brad was just starting to make coffee. Adam walked over and leaned in for a morning kiss, but Brad turned his head away, and the kiss landed awkwardly on his cheek. Adam drew in a sharp breath; suddenly Brad appeared to be intensely interested in precisely measuring the espresso beans into the latté machine.

“What the actual fuck?”

“Um. I’ve gotta tell you something before you go.” Brad’s expressive face was, for once, completely blank.

Adam looked at him with a sinking feeling. It was happening again! “Okay. What.”

“I’ve found my own apartment. I won’t be here when you get back.” Brad looked up at Adam, and his expression softened. “Baby, you’ve known this was coming. These last few weeks, they’ve been amazing, sparkly. But we’ve been there before, haven’t we? It’s just time.”

Adam felt something close in his heart. Like an actual *click* of a lock. He looked at Brad and said, “I’m calling Danielle to take me to the airport. You don’t need to bother yourself.”

“Don’t be like that!” Brad held his hands out to Adam. Adam turned and walked out of the room to call Danielle.

 

 

Part II: January 2009

Monday

Adam woke the next morning with a sense of unreality as he looked around the hotel room. Unfuckingbelievable. He didn’t even have a suite, but it was still the most luxurious place he’d ever stayed. Two cozy arm chairs, a panoramic view of the city, some kind of antiquey-style wallpaper and chairs, and lots of muted ivories and reds. Brad would have known the names for all of it. Somehow Brad had a complete interior design vocabulary. How did a boy from Texas do that?

Well, that did it. Back to reality. Fucking Brad.

Adam had spent half the flight from L.A. with scenes from the life of Brad and Adam running through his mind—remembering how fabulous they’d looked in their matching costumes for the big party at Cassidy’s; the afternoon they’d both put on mini-skirts and went bowling; the day Brad had talked Adam into going from ginger to black; the evening Adam had found Brad at home, crying on the floor after his grandfather died; the expression on Brad’s face the first time he heard Adam sing; Brad in his tangerine harem pants wielding a sword in the fight with Plaid Boy at Thunder Dome; and, oh God, their first break up scene at Burning Man. Not to mention how Brad knew every inch of Adam’s body; the soft sounds of outrage and want Brad made when Adam bent him over his knees and warmed that lovely ass with the sharp slap of a leather-gloved hand; how Brad took nothing seriously enough and everything just a little too seriously; and, above all, the way Brad just seemed to get Adam in a way no one else ever had.

They’d had all of that, but it was never enough for Brad. Somewhere over Indiana, Adam stopped himself and noticed he wasn’t feeling much of anything at all. He’d done all this before. How many times could he be broken apart? As far as he was concerned, numb was good.

By some miracle, Adam scored an entire row of seats to himself. Picking up his script, he spent the second half of the flight sounding out names and words in Elvish. Adam loved the sounds of the words and didn’t care that the flight attendant was staring at him, apparently assessing whether Adam was a threat to national security. Mithrandir, Ellesar, Arwen Undomiel, Nauthannen i ned ôl reniannen. Renich i beth i pennen, Le annon veleth nín, and finally, Ellesar, Ellesar, Ellesar. I am Ellesar-Elf Stone, I am Strider of the Rangers, I am Aragorn, he whispered like an incantation, a promise held out for the week to come.

But at 6 a.m. on Monday morning, the week-long audition was staring him in the face. Thankfully, he wasn’t due at the theater until 10; he needed the time to prepare. Stretching exercises and vocal warm ups completed, he meditated, in a twitchy, distracted sort of way, for about 20 minutes. As he dressed, he contemplated whether to put on his eyeliner. After a moment, he thought, Fuck yeah—he would either get the part being fully himself, or not. It was in Fate’s hand.

By mid-morning, Adam found himself center stage under the scrutiny of Tim Burton and Sir Ian McKellen. Seats had been removed in the front few rows and replaced with a work area, complete with a long table, folding chairs, and green accountant lights that gave their faces a rather ghostly hue.

To Adam’s surprise, Sir Ian was clean-shaven, his white-grey hair worn short, and dressed in a simple black turtle neck and jeans. He looked nothing like Gandalf and didn’t bother to greet Adam, seeming more interested in taking notes and talking on his cell phone. By contrast, Tim Burton walked right up on stage and welcomed Adam with a handshake. Adam took in Tim’s curly mop of dark, graying hair, unruly beard and infectious smile, and decided that he liked him.

“I’m going to spend the morning just getting a visual feel for you,” Tim explained. “I know it’s not the way things usually go with a musical, but I am who I am. I see the world in pictures. There’s a visual through-line I’m following. First, I’m going to get a sense of how you hold the stage by yourself. Then we’ll call in other cast members. Francois here will be taking photos.” As if magically conjured from thin air, a balding, rather surly man (looking nothing like a Francois) appeared on stage lugging lights and a camera.

Adam was more confused by what Ian McKellen was doing sitting in the house watching Adam with the cool confidence of a cobra eyeing its prey. Adam had been looking forward to meeting his Royal Sirness—famous for his brilliant acting, outspoken gay advocacy, and generosity with younger actors. He’d hoped there’d be at least a little bit of that unspoken frisson of sexual recognition that so often happened when two queers met, but apparently not.

It was unusual for an actor to be actively involved with casting, but maybe being a knight had its privileges. Well, at least he wouldn’t have to deal with any homophobic bullshit. Adam had been through too many auditions to worry much. The good news here was that Tim was actually taking the time to fill him in on what was going on. Adam had been dismissed before he’d even opened his mouth at too many auditions to get hung up on the details. He just knew that looking like he was trying too hard was certain death. Of course, so was looking like he didn’t care.

“Okay. Just let me know what you need.” Adam looked Tim in the eye and smiled. Okey dokey, he was going to play fashion model this morning. Oh well, that could be fun. In fact, he and Brad had made kind of a thing of being photographed. As soon as Brad came into his mind, Adam felt himself tense. Cut it out! he told himself sternly. Think Aragorny thoughts.

And so Adam did. With bits of dialog—in English and Elvish, thank you very much—tumbling through his mind, Adam stood and let himself be looked at. All the meditation and yoga seemed to be paying off. Adam felt relaxed, even confident. He posed with and without a sword. He flung on an Elven cloak, “loped” across the stage, and looked stage left at, as Tim explained, the statues of Isildur and Anárion that guard the passage of the Great River Anduin.

During this last scene, Sir Ian stood up and walked on stage.

“Do you see them?” he asked, without any kind of a ‘how do you do.’

Adam almost answered yes; he was supposed to be able to see them, right? But instead, he answered honestly: “Well, not really over there. But if I close my eyes, I might be able to.”

Sir Ian stood right beside Adam. “Well then, close your damn eyes.”

So Adam closed his eyes, and gradually the image of the two mighty statues emerging from the river formed in his mind’s eye. He tilted his head up and opened his eyes, ready to strike a more effective pose, one worthy of the sight. There, about an inch in front of him was Sir Ian, peering intently into his face and, before he could stop himself, Adam startled and stepped back. Without a comment but a small half-smile, Sir Ian left the stage.

Sounding amused, Tim announced that it was time for Adam to take a break before working with the other cast members.

First up was Hal Greer, the actor cast as Boromir. He was a brawny, dish-water blond, all muscle and self-confidence, slightly taller than Adam. He walked up to Adam and gave him a business-like shake of the hand. Tim had them pose, standing back to back, swords held aloft. He then had Hal kneel before Adam. Adam looked down and thought he’d rarely been less interested in a man in this position.

Next up was Elijah Wood. Elijah walked onto the stage with a lithe, self-confidence. He nodded at Adam in a friendly manner before turning his attention to Tim and Sir Ian.

 

“Ian!” Elijah exclaimed with delight. “I didn’t know you were here already. I didn’t expect you until next week.”

“Surprise!” Sir Ian replied with a twinkle in his eyes that hadn’t been there before Elijah arrived. “I’m here for the duration now.”

“And glad I am of it.” Tim sketched a slight bow towards Sir Ian. “Elijah, I don’t know if you’ve heard; Ian signed on as a co-producer over the holidays.”

Elijah apparently hadn’t heard. He leapt off the stage and gave Sir Ian a huge hug. The two immediately fell into what was clearly a familiar banter while the photographer on stage impatiently fussed with lights and grumbled under his breath about the delay. Tim seemed intensely interested in the byplay between Elijah and Sir Ian, and no one seemed to remember Adam at all.

Patience. Adam tried to stand at his ease, stopping himself by sheer willpower from anxiously fiddling with his cloak and shifting his weight from leg to leg.

Finally, Elijah ran back up on stage. Sir Ian settled back into his seat, all of the hale fellow well-met friendliness dropped from his manner, and he again stared up at Adam with a stern, slightly disapproving expression. Adam groaned to himself. So, this is how it’s going to be. No special pass for being Family—maybe even a higher bar to cross. Crap!

And then Elijah was next to him, his eyes sparkling, a little breathless and apologetic. “Sorry about the delay. But God, Ian as a producer? How awesome is that?” Adam smiled politely. Elijah continued, “Well, I’m glad to meet you. I’m Elijah, and you, of course, are the mysterious Adam. One of the two hand-picked guys auditioning to be Aragorn.”

 

Two? That was news to Adam.

“Glad to see you haven’t been scared off by the Aragorn Curse. You’d be surprised at some of the big names who have been. We need to get this production moving forward again, and Aragorn is such a lynchpin to the whole story.” Elijah paused, and before Adam could reply, he continued, “Honestly, I can’t believe I’m going to get to be Frodo again! It must be kind of weird for you to step into the middle of all this. Tim and his photo shoots—kind of crazy, yeah? But there’s a method to his madness. So let’s just have fun with it. I’ll be all hobbit, and you be all noble, and no matter what happens, we’ll get some gorgeous pictures out of the day. Okay.”

With that, Elijah touched Adam’s arm and gave him a blatantly flirtatious smile. Adam wasn’t up for flirting; at the moment he was just done with men. But he couldn’t help noticing that Elijah was just his type: petite, elf-like, stunning big blue eyes, and, whoa that’s odd, a funny little smile.

And then, in a moment that would live in infamy, Adam finally had a chance to speak. “What small teeth you have.” SHIT!!!!!! “Um, I mean I’m really glad to meet you.”

Without missing a beat, Elijah replied, “Said the Big Bad Wolf.” And they both cracked up. This was going to be okay. The two of them fell into an easy ‘getting to know another actor’ conversation as Tim gave complicated directions regarding positioning and cameras to Francois and his crew.

Posing with Elijah was sick—they had an immediate rapport that Adam knew would translate well on film. At one point, Tim stopped them and said, “We need a bigger height difference between Frodo and Aragorn. I can only do so much with lighting. Let’s try the boots.” A stage assistant brought a pair of awesome black platform boots. Feeling a little like Cinderella, Adam tried them on; they fit perfectly.

“Can you move well in them?” Tim asked. Adam grinned. The wonderfully familiar sense of toppiness in the boots made him feel more like Aragorn already. He walked the stage for Tim, who beamed back, looking pleased.

After a few more photos with Elijah, it was time for another break.

“We’ll finish up with Arwen and you. In the afternoon, I’d like you to work with our choreographer and fencing master in our rehearsal space. Ian will observe, but I have other business to attend to.” Just great. Tim was probably going to do his photo thing with the other Aragorn. Before Adam could dwell too long on that, Tim was calling in his Arwen. “Ms. Cleopatra Jones! You’re needed stage center. Don’t make me wait again, darlin’.”

“I’m right here, Tim,” she answered mildly from stage left. “Just waiting my turn.” And onto the stage, adorned in a simple white dress that swept to the floor, walked one of the most gorgeous women Adam had ever laid eyes on. Six feet of willowy grace, big brown eyes slanted upward in a decidedly elvish manner, gorgeous long dreds, and arms with muscle tone that Adam immediately envied. She reminded him a little of Iman, who, being David Bowie’s wife and all, was one of Adam’s fashion icons.

“Well, hello, Maybe-Aragorn,” Cleopatra Jones greeted him warmly.

Adam couldn’t help himself, he stepped forward and bowed to her.

She gravely nodded her head in acknowledgement, then, laughing, held out her hand. “Please, call me Cleo.” Raising her voice so Tim couldn’t miss her next words, she added, “No one calls me Cleopatra except my mama. And she’s earned the right!”

After a couple of awkward mis-starts, Adam and Cleo found a rhythm with one another, striking a series of poses: back to back; gazing into one another’s eyes; arms draped around each other’s waists; Cleo’s head on Adam’s shoulder. And finally, Adam was the one to find himself on his knees. He didn’t even need to manufacture the look of wonder on his face as he took in the beauty of the goddess standing regally above him.

“Okay. That’s a wrap for the morning,” announced Tim. “Cleo, you’ll be needed back here at 3. Adam, there’s lunch in the green room. Brooke will meet you in the Smithson rehearsal space at 1:30 and teach you some of the choreography. I’ll expect you back here tomorrow at 10 for your singing audition.”

Cleo explained she was running off to pick up her niece from daycare, but invited Adam to join her for dinner at a Japanese restaurant close to the theater. He gladly accepted. As she left, she whispered conspiratorially in Adam’s ear, “Just beware of lounging Bagel Boys, and you’ll be all right.”

The afternoon went by swiftly. Brooke, it turned out, was an assistant to the choreographer—and an expert fencer as well. She spent an hour coaching Adam on stage fighting basics and seemed satisfied with his progress. Explaining to Adam that casting for dancers was still underway, Brooke called in about 20 hopeful-looking dancers to learn the choreography, along with Adam, for the “Strange Meetings at the Dancing Pony” and “Rivendell Revelations” scenes. Adam was glad he was in decent shape. With a secret plan to eventually convince Monte to glam up Citizen Vein performances, he had been taking dance classes twice a week since quitting Wicked.

The choreographer, a whip thin woman with a pony tail of silvery hair by the name of Natalia Banks, entered the room, followed by Sir Ian. To Adam’s relief, she didn’t ask him to dance alone, but simply wanted to see all the dancers working together. Sir Ian sat on a high stool, legs crossed, back straight as a yoga teacher, and watched the audition with a critical concentration, occasionally scribbling notes in a battered old lab notebook. Twice, he called Natalia over and whispered something in her ear. Adam noticed he wasn’t the only one who glanced nervously at the cloud of disapprobation that seemed to hang over the man.

At the end of the day, Natalia pulled out six dancers and announced that they had made the cut and would start rehearsal on Friday. She dismissed the rest.

“And you, young man, of course will stay for singing tomorrow. Clearly dancing’s not your first love, but that’s to be expected. You do listen, and you certainly can move, and that’s far better than many they’ve sent my way. We may well see each other again.” With those words, Natalia, Brooke and Sir Ian left the room.

***

That night, Cleo and Adam fell deeply in-like over sushi and sashimi. Cleo was not in the least bit ethereal in real life; she ate her food with gusto and had a deep, wonderful laugh that made Adam curious to hear her sing.

Adam started the conversation by asking her what she thought of Sir Ian McKellen.

“I’m kind of in awe of him,” she answered. “We don’t really have many scenes together, so I just watch him from a distance. I noticed he seemed a bit off today. He’s usually quite the charmer, you know.”

So Adam kept hearing.

After sharing edamame and sake, Cleo gave Adam a snapshot version of her life, worthy of a first date. Born and raised in Greenwich Village, she was living again with her parents to help them raise her niece, Akima, while Akima’s mom was in the “hard knocks recovery program sometimes called prison.”

Cleo had been in a number of shows on and off Broadway, and even done a stint as the understudy for Elphaba in one of the touring productions of Wicked. Adam was delighted by this common thread to their experiences, and they spent a half hour trading Wicked stories.

“But Arwen’s my first leading role. You could have knocked me over with a feather when my agent called and told me I had the part. Best damn thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“Your agent?” Adam gave her an inquiring look. “He isn’t by any chance the not-so-charming Neil Mecklan, is he?”

“Nope. Never heard of that guy. I work with Gracie Lum. She’s just the kind of pushy bitch you want to have your back. Don’t you have an agent?”

“No. I did for a while, but lately I’ve been working with a band and, unfortunately, we haven’t exactly needed one.” Adam took a sip of green tea and leaned forward. “Soooo, Elijah said there’s someone else they’re considering for Aragorn—and that makes sense. I mean, I’m no one, really. I can’t even quite believe all of this is happening. But I’ve gotta ask…do you know who it is?”

Cleo nodded. “It’s s’posed to be a big secret, but I hate secrets. They probably won’t put him through all the paces you’re going through because he seems to be more of a known entity. Neither Hugh nor Johnny even auditioned, you know. Rumor has it that this guy’s been on some cable TV show. Let’s see, his name is Nathan…something. I forget the last name, but I think it starts with an F and sounds like a pony or horse—”

Adam nearly choked on his Maguro. “You don’t mean Nathan Fillion, do you?”

“Yeah. That sounds right. Why, do you know him?”

No, Adam didn’t know him, but Brad had made him watch every episode of Firefly, and they both loved Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. In fact, Brad always pointed to Dr. Horrible as evidence that he was perfectly justified in his conviction that Go-Cheeks-Go was on the verge of world domination through social media.

“Cleo! Nathan Fillion is…” Adam ran through a long list of adjectives in his brain and finally settled on, “depressingly awesome. Smart, funny, good looking, and he already has a totally dedicated fan base.” Adam grimly popped a piece of Cleo’s tempura shrimp into his mouth.

“Don’t worry yourself. There’s always someone we’re up against in this business. I bet you’ll be fine. I mean, I’m already rooting for you, and I have excellent taste,” Cleo said, in what Adam was sure was meant to be a reassuring tone.

Both were silent for a moment.

“I can totally picture him as Aragorn,” Adam couldn’t help whining a little. “He’s got the whole sorrowful hero thing down pat. And he sings.” Adam played idly with his chopsticks thinking about his competition. Suddenly, he smiled. “Well, he does sing. He’s not bad at all. But me—I can sing. If it comes down to the music, I’ll be okay.”

“Good.” Cleo nodded her approval. “Just know who you are and the Way will open. I have a feeling about you and me and the big bright lights of Broadway.” Cleo glanced at her watch. “Speaking of which, we better get home and get some beauty sleep.”

Outside the restaurant, Adam waited with Cleo for her taxi.

Just a little tipsy, she looked earnestly at Adam, sighing, “Damn you’re fine!”

“You’re pretty gorgeous yourself,” Adam replied.

Cleo took a step closer to Adam, looked into his eyes, and laughed. “Alas, I fear, you are not for me.”

Adam wryly nodded his agreement.

“I bet you break all the boy’s hearts,” she teased.

“Oh, no, not really. Not lately.” Adam rubbed his eyes tiredly. It had been a long day. Cleo must have caught something in his expression, because she reached her hand out to lightly touch his cheek.

“Aw baby,” she said softly. “So it’s like that.”

Adam shrugged. A taxi pulled up, and Cleo headed back to the Village, blowing a kiss as she left.

Adam headed for the subway and his oh-so-comfortable bed at the Waldorf Astoria.

Tuesday

 

Back at the theater at 10 a.m. sharp, Adam was greeted with instructions to meet with the scholar Ryszard Derdzinski in the Little Room, where apparently he was to be tutored in Elvish. Who knew there were actual Elf scholars? Oh, Monte. Yep. Monte probably knew.

 

Adam found Cleo in a room about the size of a walk-in closet, talking with a man she affectionately introduced as Rizzie, the Professor Of All Things Elven. Adam thought he looked rather more like a garden gnome than an elf, but kept this insight to himself.

“There’s some Elvish in the duet we’re singing today. Of course I’ve already learned it, but I always enjoy a session with Rizzie, so I thought I’d come along to help out,” Cleo explained.

Upon request, Adam tried out the string of Elvish words and phrases he had memorized.

“That’s a pleasant surprise. It’s amazing how many people don’t even know a single word. I don’t know what they teach anymore.” Rizzie appeared quite serious about this point. “The fact that you have some rudimentary words and phrases will help tremendously as we develop your pronunciation—which by the way, needs a lot of work. It is fortunate that Aragorn isn’t an elf, so an unusual accent is to be expected.”

Cleo, sitting behind Rizzie, sent a mischievous grin Adam’s way.

Despite his dismay at the general lack of Elvish literacy, Rizzy proved to be a kind and patient teacher. Still, Adam found he was having some trouble getting the words to flow smoothly.

Cleo jumped in with a suggestion. “Let’s try singing the lines from our song. I always do better when there’s music.” Thus it was, tucked away in that little room far from the rest of the world, Adam discovered for the first time the sheer joy of singing with the phenomenal Cleopatra Jones.

At the end of the duet, Rizzie stood and vigorously applauded. “That was lovely, just lovely! And Adam, Cleo’s instincts, as usual, are right. Once music is added, your Elvish is almost flawless.”

With the sweet glow of success, Adam headed back to the Smithson room where he spent the rest of the morning working with the assistant to the musical director, reviewing the songs for the afternoon audition. After a light lunch and a cup of tea, Adam was back at center stage.

Sitting in the house were Tim, Sir Ian, and Andrew Lloyd Weber. Adam had a momentary sense of giddy unreality. He hadn’t known that the man himself, king of the Broadway musical, would be there. He looked around for a moment, wondering if David Bowie was also somewhere in the theater…but no. Bowie was nowhere to be seen. Adam supposed that was a good thing, because talk about distracting. Adam wasn’t sure he’d be able to stop himself from acting like a crushed-out fanboy if Bowie appeared before him.

A piano was on the stage, and the piano player, Matt, from the morning’s practice sat ready to accompany Adam.

Tim gave a brief, unnecessary introduction. “Adam, this is Andrew Lloyd Weber.” The legend nodded to Adam. “We’d like you to start with Aragorn’s Theme,” Tim instructed. “After that, we’ll see how your voice works with some of the other players’.”

And so it began. Adam sang the words written so long ago by Tolkien himself, set to a haunting melody:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

 

“Good. That’s good.” Andrew Lloyd Weber stood up. “Now try the version sung in the final battle scene. Matt, you know which one I’m talking about. It has more of a rock edge to it.”

With the ease of a river following its natural course, Adam sang for the rest of the afternoon, moving from one style to another, one song to the next, with other actors and alone. By late afternoon, Andrew and Tim were talking with one another in low, excited voices. But, damn it, Sir Ian sat with eyes closed through half of Adam’s numbers, only occasionally glancing up at the stage.

The last song of the day was the Lay of Aragorn and Arwen. Cleo joined him on stage, an almost shy smile on her face.

“You are magnificent!” she whispered in Adam’s ear.

“Let’s blow them away,” he whispered back. And in English and Elvish, singing low and high, they did just that.

As they finished the song, Tim, Andrew, and even Sir Ian, gave the pair a quick round of applause.

Andrew Lloyd Weber stood up. “Well, a most interesting afternoon. That last was very well done indeed! But you’ve also made me see some issues with the composition and libretto. I must skype David right away—we have some things to work through.” He rose and walked up the aisle and out of the theater.

“Well, that’s a first,” Cleo gushed. “They never applaud.”

Adam tried to suppress the thrill of hope that ran through him. You just never knew with auditions.

“Go home, Cleo, and give your sweet Akima a kiss,” said Tim. “Be back here at 11 tomorrow. We’ll have you and Adam run through Act IV, Scene III.” Clearly dismissed, Cleo gave Adam a brief, fierce hug and left the stage.

“It’s all about the acting tomorrow, young man,” Sir Ian spoke up. Adam had almost forgotten the man could talk. “I believe you were sent some of the key scenes before you arrived in New York. Take another look at them tonight, and we shall see what we shall see.”

“To be a little more specific and less mysterious,” Tim gave Sir Ian a rather puzzled look, “I’ll be having you run through a bit at the Prancing Pony, Gandalf’s fall to the Balrog, Boromir’s death and, of course, the scene where you urge Arwen to leave for the Grey Havens. I need you here by 9. Get yourself a good night’s sleep.”

Adam politely bade Tim and Sir Ian a good evening. He left the theater, wondering how he was supposed to review all of those scenes and get a good night’s sleep, too.

***

 

Back at the hotel, Adam ordered room service and caught up on text messages. For the first time since Adam left L.A., Brad had checked in.

Message 1: Sorry for abrupt goodbye. U know I luv u bb.

Adam hit delete.

Message 2: Aragorn is a beautiful man w/big sword. U r made for the part.

Adam hit delete again.

Message 3: Don’t doubt yourself.

Delete.

Message 4: Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

Shit, Brad. Way to reach right in and twist his heart. Since when did Brad quote Tolkien, anyways? And what the fuck was that supposed to mean?

Adam saved the message, but didn’t reply.

Instead, he took the crumpled wad of paper that had once been Brad’s round trip ticket to New York from the top of his bureau and threw it at the waste basket. It landed on the floor, and Adam left it there.

Adam called Dani; she did a little happy dance over the phone when he described his day. And then she ran lines with him, like they’d done for so many other shows. Dani was his go-to person for memorization help, and he saw no reason why a couple thousand miles should get in their way.

An hour into the conversation, Adam found himself stumbling over lines he’d known by heart just yesterday and uncharacteristically snappish when Dani corrected him.

Near midnight, Dani finally stopped him. “Adam. You’re no good like this. For my sake and yours, get some sleep.”

Adam ended the call. Climbing into bed, he placed the cell phone on his pillow. He scrolled down to the text message from Brad and touched his finger to the screen before turning the phone off for the night.

Exhausted, he fell into a night of troubled dreams.

 

Wednesday

 

Standing in the wings, Adam looked down ruefully at his jean-clad legs. No costumes today—more’s the pity, because Adam had a huge and unfashionable rip in one knee and was spattered with slush and mud from the wintery streets outside.

On the way in that morning, he'd received one more text from Brad.

Message: G’mornin Sunshine. Break a leg.

And he almost had. Because just as he’d looked down to read the text, a bicycle messenger boy had careened into him, and they'd fallen together onto the busy Manhattan sidewalk, a tangle of legs and bike and manila envelopes. After colorfully cursing, the messenger boy was full of apologies. Although once he was assured that Adam was more or less in one piece, he quickly bicycled away, leaving Adam to limp the rest of the way to the theater.

Besides the disreputable state of his jeans and the wound to his dignity, Adam had a huge goose egg on his knee and he felt generally bruised and battered as he joined Elijah on stage to run through their meeting at the Prancing Pony. No new actors joined Elijah and Adam on stage, instead a stage assistant read lines for the other hobbits. It seemed Tim was once again only interested in seeing the interplay between Adam and a few key actors.

Adam had all the music for this section down pat, but Tim told him, “We’ll skip over the songs today. I just want to hear Strider explaining himself to the hobbits. When you’re ready….”

Adam had the first line, and Elijah, no, Frodo, responded on cue. They got through about half the scene, but Adam knew he sounded tense and probably looked like he was trying too hard to remember the words. By contrast, Elijah seemed to slip on the character of Frodo like a comfortable old sweater.

“Stop for a moment,” this from Ian who, as usual, was seated at the desk with Tim. Ian bent towards Tim and they engaged in an extended exchange of hushed voices.

Elijah sat down on the stage and gestured for Adam to join him. “Hey. I think you need to slow down and breathe a little. I know they can kind of be intimidating.” Oh shit, not good when Frodo was comforting Aragorn. “I temporarily went speechless the first time I met Ian. And I nearly puked before singing for David."

“Oh, so you’ve sung for Bowie?” Adam attempted a tone of nonchalance that must have failed utterly because Elijah clapped his hands together in a positively hobbit-like manner.

“I know. Isn’t it the coolest thing ever? I mean, Bowie, he’s a fuckin’ god, right? And it turns out a helluva nice guy, too—in a kind of opinionated, artsy British sort of way. Definitely more thin-white-duke than Ziggy Stardust in real life.”

Before Adam could respond, Tim was calling them back to attention. Adam was relieved to realize that during this brief break, his shoulders had relaxed, his throat had unclenched, and some of his familiar stage-ease had returned to his body.

Tim stood and said, “Adam, we’d like you to take it from the top.”

“And don’t move your hands so much,” Ian added. “You’re a Ranger. Cool, contained, mysterious. Use your script if you need it.”

With some of his nerves settled, Adam didn’t need it. He and Elijah ran through the scene, and Adam felt it had gone relatively well, until near the end Tim interrupted him and asked, “Is your speaking voice always that high?”

Adam’s heart sank, but he was damned if was going to let it show. Standing tall and loose, he raised an eyebrow at Tim and replied in a lower timber, “No, it isn’t. I’ll keep it in this range, if you’d like.”

“Yes, that would be a better choice,” Tim said. “Take 15 and we’ll run through Boromir’s death scene. Elijah, go meet with Andrew the rest of the morning. He wants to rework the Mt. Doom fugue with you and Michael.”

Elijah nodded and gave Adam a brief, encouraging smile before leaving the stage.

In the bathroom, Adam examined himself in the mirror. He’d kept the make-up muted today—just a little foundation and a hint of eyeliner. He’d let his hair grow out and put just enough product in to be sure that it framed his face without falling into his eyes. He looked at himself and thought about Boromir’s death and felt…irritated. He attempted a sorrowful expression, eyes slightly widened, lips drawn. Well, that made him look like shit. What was the deal with Boromir—greedy for power, self-important, and a bully—he reminded Adam of half the men he met in L.A. Why should Aragorn grieve for him? Adam sure as hell wouldn’t.

Back on stage, Adam kneeled awkwardly over Hal, his injured knee humming with pain. Adam was having a hard time thinking of him as anything but Hal the Workout Guy, because he looked just like Brad’s personal trainer at the gym back home.

Get it together here, Lambert. Think tragic, noble thoughts.

Adam and Hal recited the lines.

The script was great here, although it veered away from both the movie and the book. Back in California, Monte had been horrified when Adam first shared the scene, exclaiming, “Aragorn does not drive his freakin’ sword into Boromir. That just doesn’t make sense!”

But Adam had disagreed, “Sure it does. Boromir is mortally injured, but who knows how long it would take him to die? Aragorn’s saving him from being picked over by the Orcs—it’s the ultimate symbol of the trust and love that’s grown between the two of them.”

“You shouldn’t fuck with the original,” Monte had grumbled.

“But it’s a rock-musical, Monte! There’s got to be some adaptation. Besides, the song Aragorn sings after killing Boromir is AMAZING!” Adam had sung a few lines to Monte, who’d settled back, looking thoughtful.

Adam knew there was magic in the dialog between Boromir and Aragorn, but he just couldn’t connect to it anymore. He genuinely tried to go there, but between reminding himself to keep his voice deep, containing his natural tendency to talk with his hands, and the musty smell emitting from his still slightly soggy jeans, a bravura performance just wasn’t in the cards.

Hal didn’t help much, reciting his lines in a wooden manner and treating Adam with a formal, stiff politeness.

Somewhat unnervingly, neither Tim nor Ian said a word during the scene.

“Okay, Hal. That’s all we’ll need from you today.” Tim raised his voice, “Cleo, honey, you’re up.”

Cleo was dressed in a brown leotard, tights and a fierce wrap-around skirt in burnt orange and browns. Ian and Tim were again ensconced in conversation, so Cleo was free to greet Adam with a warm hug and a blazing, infectious smile. Adam felt warmed to the core and smiled right back at her.

“You look a little the worse for wear, baby. What happened to your knee?” She poked gently at the hole in his jeans.

Adam shook his head and said, “Just another way the stars haven’t been aligned for me today. But you’re here again, so the Evening Star is in its right place now, and all should be well.”

“Oh, you, how you do go on!” Cleo replied in a broad southern accent.

“Enough chit chat up there!” Tim said to Cleo. “We have an audition to complete here. We’re ready when you are.”

Cleo and Adam each took a few moments to center themselves. This was the scene Adam knew best—interlaced as it was with Elvish and English, he’d spent hours learning the words and trying to find the emotion behind them. But when the scene began, the thing that even people who aren’t actors have nightmares about happened: he couldn’t remember his lines. Or rather, he remembered some of them, but the words were jumbled and in the wrong order. It was as if he’d suddenly acquired a kind of verbal dyslexia.

Cleo tried to help him, patiently repeating her lines and even quoting some of his lines under her breath. But nothing seemed to be working.

Adam looked out and saw Tim scribbling notes with a blank face, and Sir Ian gazing right at him. Then Sir Ian did something odd: he nodded gravely at Adam and put his hand across his heart.

Adam didn’t know what to make of this, but it gave him courage to do the unthinkable, in the middle of the most important audition in his life, for a part which he now saw he didn’t have a prayer of getting, a part which actual famous people were lined up to take: he asked the director and producer if he could take a break and try again.

Tim looked at Sir Ian, who raised his eyebrow in some kind of silent communication, then nodded briefly. “Yes, go ahead. Take 15 minutes.”

Adam walked stiff-legged off stage and out the back door of the theater. He leaned back against the brick wall of the theater and breathed in the cold winter air.

“Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck FUCK!” Adam wondered if maybe the Aragorn curse was getting him after all. He hadn’t screwed up an audition like this since…well, really, ever. “FUUUUUCCCCKKK!”

“Don’t wear the word out, dude,” an amused voice interrupted. Adam opened his eyes, and there standing next to him was a blonde-haired, mascara-wearing goth boy, holding a pink bakers box and wearing a baseball cap with the words “Bagel Delivery Boy” emblazoned across the front.

“I must be fuckin’ dreaming.” The last time Adam had felt this way, he’d been tripping on mushrooms at Burning Man.

“There you go with the fuck again.” Bagel Boy gave a mock look of disapproval. “Dude, it might be time for you to expand your vocabulary.”

“I think fuck is serving me quite well, thank you very much.” Adam was in no mood for banter.

“Well, I gotta tell you, you don’t look like you’re doing so well.”

“Well, it’s been a shit day, start to finish,” Adam almost snarled.

“See now. Shit. That’s a perfectly good word. It’s good for variety.” The Bagel Boy gave Adam an irresistibly friendly grin and pulled a cigarette out of his pocket and lit it. “Do you wanna talk about it?”

“No. I don’t want to talk about it. Not now. Not ever,” Adam said through gritted teeth.

“Ok. Maybe you’d like a bagel instead.” And the boy opened the box, and held out a sesame seed bagel. Adam was just about to refuse, when he realized that he really was hungry. So what if bagels were totally full of carbs; that just didn’t seem to matter much right now.

“Sure. Yeah. Thanks.” Adam took the bagel and breathed in the deep, yeasty aroma, then took a bite and chewed it thoughtfully. It tasted good, and Adam oddly felt like eating that bagel was pulling all of his molecules back together. “Wow, so I guess it’s true. Bagels really are better in New York.”

“So they say,” Bagel Boy replied, exhaling a cloud of smoke.

“Um, do you mind if I ask…. Are you The Bagel Boy—the one that broke Hugh Jackman’s leg and started the Aragorn curse?”

“That would be me.” The boy had a certain pride of ownership in his tone.

“So, do they even let you in the theater anymore?” Adam had to ask.

“Oh no. It’s strictly off limits. I’m just on my way to another delivery and thought I’d stop and have a smoke. And you? Are you an actor?”

Adam snorted a laugh. “That’s debatable at the moment, but I am trying out for Aragorn.”

“Awesome. Then being all tortured and upset should work well for you. You know, Aragorn carries a heavy destiny.”

Holy Hell! Was everyone in the world an LOTR nerd?

“Well, nice talking, but I’ve gotta jet. Deliveries and all.” And Bagel Boy strode away down the alley.

Five minutes later, Adam was back on stage feeling more collected. At Tim’s nod, he and Cleo started the scene again. This time the words came back to Adam. He knew he wasn’t brilliant, but at least it wasn’t a full-on humiliation, and by the end, he was holding his hand softly on Cleo’s cheek, in a gesture that felt just right.

At the end of the scene, Tim and Sir Ian entered into another one of their urgent conversations. Sir Ian seemed to be getting quite agitated. Adam could just make out disconnected words and phrases like smile, work in progress, balancing elements, and—did he hear that right?—fruity habits. Finally, Tim seemed to concede a point and called Adam to come down to talk with them. Cleo left, with a small wave to Adam.

Tim was all business. “Adam. As I’m sure you’ve heard, we have at least one other serious contender for the part of Aragorn and we need to see him today and tomorrow. I think you know that today wasn’t great. But yesterday was a very good day indeed. Ian and I would like you to come back Friday morning for one final hour of audition. Then I’ll make a decision.”

“Ok. I want to thank you for this opportunity.” Adam knew this was a delicate moment. He had to express his willingness to grow, while conveying confidence in his current abilities. “I just know that I can bring Aragorn to life for you and I can already tell that there’s some good chemistry between me and the other actors. But I also need to continue growing as an actor and I want you to know that I take direction well.” Adam ignored the slight clearing of the throat from Sir Ian at that last comment. “Is there anything you’d like me to work on for Friday?”

“No. Get some rest,” Tim said. “Go enjoy New York City. Hell, see a show on Broadway. I’ll see you at 10 on Friday.” Adam shook Tim’s hand, and then Sir Ian’s, and left the building.

He spent a miserable afternoon replaying each moment of the morning over and over in his head. By 5 p.m. he’d decided that he needed a drink, and had stumbled into a corner bar, where he sat morosely nursing a vodka martini. He’d intentionally picked a dumpy little neighborhood bar, with a pool table and crowd of heavy drinkers. He played a couple of games of pick-up pool and headed back to the hotel with a slight buzz, but no sense of relief.

This is when he usually would have picked up the phone and called Brad. Brad knew how to get him through these moments, when the whole world came tumbling down, and Adam remembered that he was really just a wanna be rock-star, with a load of debt and a bad complexion. Adam could call Dani…but she’d be too sympathetic, and he might even end up comforting her. And his brother, well, Neil would listen for a bit, then tell him to stop being an emo-dumb ass, try to distract him with some story on Fox News, and, if all that failed, counsel him to go get laid.

Instead, Adam turned on the TV, switched to a gay porn movie, set it on mute, and watched other men joylessly fuck.

He almost missed the buzz of his phone telling him that he had a text message. He was so over Brad’s texts. But he looked anyways.

Message: Prep Arwen love scene and Boromir death. I’ll be at your room at 10 a.m. Ian.

What the hell? His Royal Knightness had barely spoken to Adam for the last few days, and he seemed like kind of a jerk, despite all the good press. Maybe this confirmed it—practicing a love scene alone in Adam’s hotel room? Sure, the appointment was for 10 a.m., but still…Adam had no intention of sleeping his way into this part. Friggin’ Brad would probably be over the moon about a private meeting with Gandalf. But Adam had made his decision about this kind of scenario long ago: he was too talented, not to mention just not into older men, to put up with this kind of crap.

And yet. Sir Ian McKellen was one of the greatest actors in the world.

Adam turned off the porn and began to rehearse.

 

Thursday

 

In the morning, Adam walked downstairs to the flower shop and bought a vase of anthurium, which he placed on his bedside table. Adam looked over their waxy red petals and slightly obscene yellow stamen with satisfaction. They were just what he needed in this unfamiliar place: a little West Hollywood sass in the middle of the dreary New York City winter. Adam called room service and had hot tea for two and a plate of fruit and cheese delivered.

At precisely 10 a.m. there was a sharp knock at the hotel room door. Adam was sipping ginger tea with the TV on low, trying hard to convince himself that he wasn’t a nervous wreck. He jumped at the knock, expected as it was, but made himself turn off the TV before he slowly sauntered over to the door.

Sir Ian looked positively leonine this morning, a black cashmere scarf flung artfully around his neck and wearing an elegant, calf-length winter coat. Adam greeted him with a good morning and offered to take his coat. Sir Ian nodded, turning his back to Adam who, feeling a little like a man-servant in a BBC period piece, slipped the coat from his shoulders and hung it in the closet. Sir Ian kept the scarf, which contrasted nicely with the deep maroon shirt of Egyptian cotton, black dress pants that were tailored to hang gracefully from his legs, and leather boots with a slight heel. Adam was determined not to feel underdressed in his favorite Queen t-shirt, skinny jeans and bare feet.

Since his lordship was saying nothing, Adam dove in. “Welcome to my humble abode.” Adam gave a slightly mocking half-bow. “Please make yourself comfortable. Would you like some tea?”

“Thank you, Adam, I think I shall.” Sir Ian replied, as if the half-bow were simply his due. Adam headed over to the table to pour some tea, but Sir Ian stopped him. “Oh, don’t trouble yourself with that; I’ll make my own. No one in the States has the slightest clue how to make a decent cup of tea. Why don’t you have a seat, and we’ll both have a cuppa and chat for a bit.”

Adam sat in one of the two armchairs, sipping his ginger tea, and waited. As he watched Sir Ian making tea, he was struck by how comfortable the man looked in his own skin. He moved with an easy, unselfconscious grace and seemed to savor the ritual tea making—although he frowned a little at the English breakfast tea bag, and Adam wondered if Sir Pain-in-the-ass had expected loose tea leaves and crumpets. Adam was usually good with people. In fact, he considered his ability to charm the hell out of just about anyone a key asset, something he had fallen back on in countless awkward situations. But Sir Ian looked distinctly disinclined to be charmed, so Adam didn’t even try. Adam thought briefly about his life in LA, which was a good life dammit, and found a well-spring of resentment bubbling up. Who the hell did this man think he was?

At last, Sir Ian settled himself into the other armchair, neatly crossed his legs in what Adam had to admit was kind of a sexy pose, and began to speak.

“Well, lad, no one would dispute that you can sing. You and Cleo could cut a record tomorrow and have a hit on your hands. But alas, it appears that you can’t, or perhaps won’t, act.”

What the fuck? Adam so didn’t need this. He’d been acting since he was 12 years old. “I’ve acted in plenty of productions and heard no complaints,” he said, setting his tea cup down with a clatter.

“Oh, I’m certain that you’ve been in a number of musicals, Adam. Musicals where your singing voice and stage presence were enough. You do have a certain fruity charisma.”

“Fruity charisma!” Adam nearly exploded out of his chair. “Jesus Christ! I didn’t expect to hear that from you of all people. What the hell are you playing at, anyways?”

“Oh simmer down, lad. Who better than an old theater fag to call it what it is? I am certainly not averse to a little camp and a lot of sex appeal. But it just won’t do for Aragorn.” Sir Ian looked at Adam with what appeared to be amusement. “The camp, I mean. Not the sex appeal.”

“Don’t call me lad, Sir Ian. I’m 27 friggin’ years old and no ingénue for you to dazzle with your British superiority complex. Maybe you should finish your tea and be on your way.” Adam couldn’t quite believe he was talking this way to Ian McKellen, but honestly, this was too much.

Surprisingly, Sir Ian snorted a laugh. “Well, you do have spirit, I can’t deny that. Let’s call a truce here. I’ll call you Adam, you drop the Sir, and we shall start again.” Ian gestured toward the chair. Adam paced for a few moments, unsure whether he was willing to take this thing any further. Eventually, curiosity won out, and he settled back into his seat.

“That’s better. Make yourself comfortable, drink a little of that horrible herbal concoction you call tea, and we’ll see what we can see.” Now Sir Ian, oh that’s right, we’re buds now—just Ian, sounded like he was trying to gentle a wild horse.

“I’m not thirsty. Just say what you have to say.” Adam folded his arms across his chest.

“Believe it or not, I’m here to help you,” Ian started.

Adam rudely interrupted, “I never asked for your so-called help.” Shit. Adam sounded petulant even to himself.

“Be that as it may, I’d like to give it a try. Some people do, after all, believe that I know a thing or two about acting. But certainly, Adam, the choice is yours.” Ian sipped his tea and allowed a silence to settle over the room.

Adam could play the waiting game as well. He boldly looked across the room, taking in Ian’s grey hair, clear blue eyes, and wrinkled face. Ian looked back, seeming neither worried nor uncomfortable under Adam’s stare. As far as Adam was concerned, the next move still lay with Ian.

Eventually, Ian sighed and said, “You certainly are stubborn, Adam Lambert.” Ian gave Adam a half-smile. “Well, perhaps that gives us something to work with. You haven’t said ‘no,’ so I shall take that as a yes and proceed.”

Adam inclined his head, just a little, in acknowledgement.

Ian continued, “As I said, Adam, you’ve clearly done the musical theater rounds. However, you have to understand you are in a whole different league here. This is Lord of the Rings. More people than you can imagine are watching us and waiting for us to fail. Aside from the fact that there are literally millions of dollars at stake, the fans are legion. They are picky, passionate, and often dogmatic. The script will already challenge them because, naturally, it veers from the original text; how could it not? So it is doubly important that they believe all of the characters. And most importantly, they must fall in love with Frodo and Aragorn.”

 

“They’re already in love with Elijah,” Adam said. Then added grudgingly, “And, I suppose, you.” He had thought about this before. It was both a good thing and bad; there would be a certain level of buy-in from the public at the very start, but it put even more pressure on the new actors. “You’ll both have it easy.”

Ian shook his head. “No, you’re wrong, there. The fans are in love with movie-Frodo and movie-Gandalf. How they’ll handle the transition to Elijah and I singing and dancing has yet to be seen. It’s one of the many elements fraught with risk in this production.”

Adam got all that—he really did. In fact, on the surface, the whole enterprise looked rather dubious, despite all the famous names attached. Speaking of which— “Then why the hell would Tim want to even give an unknown like me a chance? I mean, I’m certain that I can do it. And do it well. But I don’t quite get why he’s even giving me a chance.” There. He’d said it out loud. And to Ian McKellen of all people.

“Why indeed,” replied Ian, giving Adam absolutely nothing to work with. Then, in an abrupt change of gears, Ian stood and walked over to Adam. Looking down at him, he asked, “If you and I were on a tour bus, who would get the top bunk?”

Without even thinking, Adam replied. “I would!”

“Why?”

“Um, I always take the top.” Shit, how was he even having this conversation?

“Not good enough.”

“Well, not to be rude, but I think that it’d be more polite for me, as the younger man and all, to climb the ladder and, not to put too fine a point on it, take the top.”

Sir Ian shook his head.

“Wrong, boyo! Age before beauty. I’d clearly take the top.”

“Um, well maybe.…” This is so NOT how Adam had envisioned his first real conversation with Ian McKellen going.

“Next question: If Aragorn and Gandalf found themselves in a cabin with a bunk bed,” Adam couldn’t help himself; a laugh bubbled to the surface. For the first time, Ian cracked a real smile. “Well, need I finish the sentence? Who’s in the top bunk: Aragorn or Gandalf?”

Adam took a moment to think. Maybe this was some kind of test. It seemed to him that Ian wanted him to say Gandalf, but no that was ridiculous. Aragorn would definitely have the top.

“Aragorn,” Adam said firmly.

“And why?” Ian looked intently at Adam.

“He’d have to be able to leap out of bed quickly and have his sword available. Bumping his head on the top bunk is simply not an option.”

“Better. That’s a much better answer. But I’m afraid you are once again wrong. Now, here’s the test: Can you tell me why?”

Adam was quiet. He ran scenarios through in his mind. He’d been so convinced that he’d had it right…. Oh! Maybe there was another option.

“I think maybe Aragorn and Gandalf don’t sleep at the same time. One of them would always need to be on guard, wouldn’t they?”

Ian beamed at Adam. “Exactly! Now you’re starting to think like a member of the Fellowship of the Ring. That’s something to remember about Aragorn and Gandalf—they have each others’ backs. Two halves of a whole, I’d say.”

Well, this was a conversation that made more sense to Adam. He felt himself relaxing into it with a small tingle of hope. For the next half hour, he and Ian talked about Aragorn—his motivations, his story arc, his role in the whole saga. Ian also quizzed Adam about his favorite lines.

“Remember, the text is all-important,” Ian counseled. “It may not be Shakespeare, but the words still matter. They point the way. We follow.” Adam nodded. He could buy that. “So let’s get to work. Why don’t you start with your soliloquy to the men of Gondor? It’s the one piece they’ve lifted whole from the movie—and my God, negotiating that with Peter was quite the trick. But he does owe me a favor, so, there you have it. And it’s a fine thing, because it’s bloody good. But enough! The stage is yours.”

And so Adam started. “Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers, I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends, and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day.”

Ian stopped Adam. “Your voice sounds constricted. What is happening here?”

Embarrassed, Adam replied, “Tim told me to lower my voice, so that’s what I’m doing.”

“Good Lord! In this case, do not by any means listen to Tim. He was trying to fix what ailed you yesterday with mechanics. Your voice is fine! Just support it like you do when you’re singing and you’ll be on your way.”

So Adam started again. Part way through, Ian stopped him, giving him directions about how to stand and how to hold his ground. And they started again. And again. And again. Until Adam began to feel he couldn’t breathe without Ian thinking he was doing it wrong. Adam had worked with many directors, but it had felt like more of a collaboration—a give and take. It was all Adam could do not to snap each time Ian stopped him mid-sentence.

At one point, Ian almost shouted in exasperation, “For heaven’s sakes, Adam, Aragorn is not a fierce drag king vamping for the boys.”

Adam suddenly wanted very much to punch Sir Ian, the most famous faggot of stage and screen, in the face. Adam didn’t give a shit about the politics of internalized homophobia, this man was an arrogant asshole.

Ian stepped back and gave Adam a little space. “Now, don’t give me that look, Adam. It’s not that you can’t be sexy. Aragorn is powerful, even seductive. In fact, I think you have caught something even Viggo missed. Aragorn is seducing his men here, as all captain’s must before a war, but it’s nuanced. Now, from the top.”

After a few more run throughs of the speech, Ian held up his hand. “Good. You’re making some progress here. Let’s see your scene with Arwen. I’ll play your leading lady.”

Ian stood across the room from Adam and began. Adam paused briefly to note that Ian had all of Arwen’s lines memorized, then jumped in to respond. The words flowed smoothly this time, and, to Adam’s huge relief, Ian allowed him to complete the scene uninterrupted before returning to his armchair. Taking his cue from him, Adam also sat.

“So how did you think that scene went?” Ian asked.

“Not perfect. But it felt like I was getting there,” Adam replied. “Funny thing—it’s almost easier in Elvish than in English.”

“Yes. You were better in Elvish,” Ian agreed. “But I’m afraid I must be painfully blunt here. I was Arwen, and I wasn’t feeling anything from you. Your words skimmed over the surface of my heart, but never touched me. No heat. No love. Each time I reached out to you, I met a wall.”

Oh God! Adam sank back into his chair. A series of snarky, self-justifying, and, yes, he admitted it, defensive retorts ran through his mind…but they all rang hollow. He looked across at Ian, whose wise blue eyes held a question for him.

Ian got up from his chair and went to stand over Adam again. Adam’s every instinct told him to stand as well, to remind Ian that he, Adam, was a couple inches taller, his hair black to Ian’s grey, his body young and capable. Instead, he took a deep breath, looked up at Ian and softly asked, “Will you help me be better?”

Ian surprised Adam, then. He knelt before him and held out his hand. Quite naturally, without thought, Adam took it. Ian’s hand was warm, strong and weathered. He smiled warmly, the look lighting up his face. “That’s good, Adam. Good. I think we both need a break and some food. I’m going to go downstairs and make some calls. I’ll return in an hour, and we shall see what we shall see.”

***

 

Adam spent lunch reading and re-reading his script, underscoring words here and there. Then he dove into the fruit, cheese, and bread, eating with the gusto of Strider the Ranger. As he chewed, he conjured images of Rivendell, Rohan, Gondor, Lothlórienand the Shire.

When Ian knocked on the door, Adam leapt up to open it. Ian walked into the room and glanced around, his eyes lighting on the flowers. He walked over to the vase.

“I’ve always thought these flowers were peculiar. “ Ian touched a waxy petal. “So different from the blooms of my beloved England. But fierce and singular. As I see them here, for the first time I quite like them.” Then shaking himself, as if coming out of a reverie Ian said, “I think before we begin, we should have another chat. Do you mind if an old man rests his weary bones on your bed while we talk?”

If Ian had made this proposal in the morning, Adam would have sent him packing. But somehow, it was okay now.

“Sure, make yourself at home,” Adam said.

Ian took his boots off, then settled onto the bed, sitting with his back against the headboard. “Holy Queen Mother, that feels good!” Ian stretched his legs and wiggled his toes. “I hate to admit it, but I feel this New York winter in a way I never did before.” Adam looked doubtfully at Ian, finding it a little hard to believe that this lithe man was complaining about creaky joints. Ian patted the bed. “Now, let’s have our talk. Oh, and don’t worry, I have no nefarious designs on you.”

Adam bristled a little at that because really—no nefarious designs? Wasn’t that a little insulting?

Seeing Adam’s look, Ian hooted with laughter. “Adam, if you could just manage to communicate with your face as well when you’re acting as you do when you’re just being you, you’d have a Tony in your hand already!“

Adam settled onto the bed, sitting with his legs folded in front of him, yoga style. It was a favorite position of his; he’d spent many a long evening talking with friends, sitting just like this at the end of his bed.

“So what would you like to talk about?” he asked Ian curiously.

“Over my noon repast, I was thinking about you and I decided that I was going about this all wrong, letting my long held prejudices get in the way of my common sense.”

Adam raised an eyebrow. He had no idea what the hell Ian was talking about. “Prejudice about what? About Americans? About musicals? About Aragorn? About, I don’t know, gay men?”

“Oh good Lord no! My prejudice against Method Acting. That inside-out approach you Americans so love. It’s always rather irritated me—it seems a self-indulgent short cut, when studying the text for clues and understanding can get you there just as well. Certainly Shakespeare would have been profoundly amused by it.”

Adam was intrigued. “Sure, I’ve known a few method actors in Hollywood. They’re intense! Would you believe I once knew a guy who gained 40 pounds for a part in a play that probably only about 150 people ever saw?” Adam shook his head in amazement. “I met him in the gym. It took him a year to lose the weight.”

“Drastic measures, indeed,” Ian said wryly. “Don’t worry. I don’t think you’ll need to carbo-load to get to the core of Aragorn. But I do think that you’re going to need to let yourself feel like Aragorn.”

“But I’ve been trying to feel like Aragorn. Instead, I think I’m more like Morales trying to be an ice cream cone melting.” Adam sang Morales’s song from A Chorus Line:

“And I dug right down to the bottom of my soul
To see what I had inside.
Yes, I dug right down to the bottom of my soul
And I tried, I tried….

But I felt nothing.”

“Ah, yes, I rather see your point,” Ian said dryly. Then, growing serious, he asked, “But have you really? Have you, as Morales said, dug right down to the bottom of your soul?"

Adam shifted uncomfortably. Truth was, he sort of felt he lost his soul on Sunday.

“Ah, I see,” said Ian. “Well then, it’s high time you did. Or do you really want this part? It could be you don’t. That’s fine if that’s the case. It does happen sometimes, you know. A glorious part comes along at just the wrong time, and life takes you on another path.”

There Ian went, surprising Adam again. Everyone in his life had told him he had to take this opportunity…but maybe it really was the wrong time. Maybe Adam just didn’t, really couldn’t go there right now. Ian, in that unsettling way he had, settled back and waited for Adam to answer.

Lord of the Friggin’ Rings! A month ago he’d apparently been the only person in America who hadn’t even seen the damn movies! And he’d been fine, just fine.

Adam stood up and went to look out the window. Spread below him was New York City in all her glory. How often had he dreamed of waking to just this view? But it all felt empty to him right now. Really, everything did. God damn Brad! It all came back to that, didn’t it? He’d taken the joy out of everything.

Adam leaned his forehead against the cold glass and closed his eyes. And whose face should he see, but Brad’s. His beautiful, gazelle brown eyes looking at him with disappointment and, yes, compassion.

Well fuck that! Hell yes, he wanted to be Aragorn; he wanted it with every fiber of his being. Adam turned around. “Ian. I want this. I really want this.”

“Okay then! Let’s get to work.” Ian sprang from the bed, all semblance of weariness dropping from him in an instant. “Stand over there, near that wall. I’ll be Arwen; you be Aragorn. Now. Tell me that you love me.”

Adam found himself leaning against the hotel room wall, Ian just a foot in front of him. He started to say his lines.

“No!” said Ian. “Again!”

Adam stumbled through the Elvish opening, and Ian shook his head. “No!”

“I just God Damn don’t know what you want!” Adam said through gritted teeth.

“Well, let’s try this.” Ian moved closer, now only inches away from Adam. “Sing to me.”

Adam began the Arwen love song from the play. Again, Ian stopped him. “No, Adam. No. I want a song for him. A song for whoever the hell it is that broke your heart.” Ian stepped closer again, his whole body pressing up against Adam. God, the man was fucking charismatic! Adam felt his cock stirring and, for the first time in many years, it brought a blush to his face.

“Sing to me, Adam. Just sing,” Ian said in a low, urgent voice.

“Oh God.“ Adam was shaking a little. And then, somewhere from his distant past, an old Joni Mitchell song came to mind. He started, hesitant.

 

Just before our love got lost you said
"I am as constant as a northern star"
And I said "Constantly in the darkness,
Where's that at?,
If you want me I'll be in the bar"

Adam’s voice broke a little, but Ian put his hand on Adam’s cheek and said, “Come on, sweetheart. Keep singing to him. Come on.”

Adam knew he was missing verses. He’d never really memorized the song, but he went on.

I drew a map of Canada
Oh Canada
With your face sketched on it twice
Oh you're in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet

Oh I could drink a case of you darling
And still I'd be on my feet
oh I would still be on my feet

I remember that time you told me you said
"Love is touching souls"
Surely you touched mine
'Cause part of you pours out of me
In these lines from time to time
Oh, you're in my blood like holy wine

You taste so bitter and so sweet

Adam stopped for a moment, breathing heavily, feeling a little frantic and exposed. But Ian only pressed closer into him, looking him right in the eyes. “Yes,” he said. “Don’t stop now. Come on!” He placed his hand on Adam’s heart, his warm, strong body holding Adam upright against the wall. After a moment, Adam began again, at first stuttering the words, then feeling the song well up inside him, clear and true.

I met a woman
She had a mouth like yours
She knew your life
She knew your devils and your deeds
And she said
"Go to him, stay with him if you can
But be prepared to bleed"

Oh but you are in my blood
You're my holy wine
You're so bitter, bitter and so sweet

 

Oh, I could drink a case of you darling
Still I'd be on my feet

I would still be on my feet

 

“That’s it, Adam. That’s it.”

And Adam wept, still standing against the wall, now fully embraced by Ian, who simply held him until the weeping stopped. Adam drew a deep, ragged breath and Ian stepped away.

“Now, Aragorn. Tell Arwen that your love is not enough. That you and all the men of Middle Earth are destined to die. That the world she knows will fade whether Sauron is defeated or not. Tell your EvenStar that she must leave for the Grey Havens and save herself.”

And Adam looked at Ian, who was transformed before him, a creature of light and dark, and, in Elvish and in English, he spoke with all his heart to a love he knew was doomed.

For two more hours they continued. Ian was a wonder, one moment an elfin princess, the next Boromir, dying, seeking forgiveness and final succor from his liege lord, and then a laughing hobbit, grown wary as he parried words with the mysterious Strider. Through it all, Adam followed. His emotions close to the surface, he found himself only occasionally struggling to find Aragorn’s voice or faltering on the words. Ian gave him a suggestion here or there, but mostly seemed content to let Adam find his own way into the character.

At last, Ian sat again upon the bed. “You’ve made a strong start of things today. Should Tim cast you—and let’s be very clear about that, Tim has the last word on all casting decisions—your next task will be to hold Aragorn so clearly within you that the power of his presence infuses every scene. Remember, he is not a perfect man. He has his moments of self-doubt, and the weight of his destiny weighs heavily at times. But whether he is Strider, biding his time to reveal himself in full, or Aragorn, rallying the men of Gondor before the final battle, he is a leader—and a beloved one at that. Beloved because he brings hope, but also beloved because he can turn quickly to laughter and see into the heart of man, elf, or hobbit.”

Adam, almost giddy with relief that he had survived the day’s trial, replied in his best cowboy voice, “Well, that’s a mighty tall order, mister.”

Ian replied in his very own version of John Wayne, “A tall order for a tall drink of water.” He tipped his imaginary cowboy hat towards Adam and glanced at his watch. “Good Lord! It is late and I must be off now. But I’ll be there to watch your final audition tomorrow. Meanwhile, get some rest.” And then, with a sudden look of mischief, Ian added, “And for heaven’s sakes, don’t watch any gay porn. The acting is atrocious, and I’m convinced that it’s bad for one’s sleep cycle.”

Feigning shock and horror at the thought, Adam gravely raised his hand to his heart. “I do solemnly swear to remain porn-free so that my dreams may be unsullied by, ahem, atrocious acting.”

After Ian left, Adam wandered down to the hotel’s workout room where he ran on the treadmill until his legs were aching and his mind was empty of everything but the feel of putting one foot down and then another. Returning to his room, he ordered up dinner: apricot-glazed salmon, braised asparagus, wild rice, and salad. Feeling nourished in heart, body, and soul, Adam thought about calling one of his friends. He scanned through cheerful text messages from Dani and Monte, and groaned at a series of scathing, political puns from Neil. None of them really needed a reply so, for once, Adam turned off his phone. Instead, he pulled out his much-neglected journal and began to write Brad a letter that he knew he’d never send, followed by a thank you note to Ian, which he planned to mail tomorrow.

Friday

 

Adam was 45 minutes early for his final audition and stood in the wings, waiting for his turn. On stage, an actress auditioned for the part of Pippin. Adam wondered for a moment how LOTR loyalists would react to this kind of cross-gender casting, and then thought, screw it, if she’s good, she’s good! And she was—spunky and funny with a lovely, high voice that would add a nice texture to the comic songs that featured the four hobbits.

Cleo joined Adam and whispered, “Our first Pippin had a wee bit of a drinking problem. So Tim’s been auditioning for a new Pippin all week.”

“Glad to know I’m not the only one being put through my paces,” Adam replied.

“Oh, not at all. I had a chance to work with Nathan during his audition yesterday.”

“You did? How was he?”

Cleo shrugged.

“No really. I wanna know.”

“Honestly, he was good. And kind of a great guy.” Suddenly Cleo gave Adam a wicked grin. “And way more interested in all of my assets than you are!”

Adam simply nodded, “I thought he’d be good.”

“All that means,” said Cleo leaning into Adam conspiratorially, “is that you’re just gonna have to bring it today.”

“I know. I really do know that.”

Cleo looked at him with surprising intensity. “For some reason, despite my interest in Mr. Nathan Fillion’s fine, fine booty, I’m rooting for you, baby.” And to Adam’s surprise, she kissed him gently on the cheek before moving away to prepare for her next scene.

Adam touched his hand to his cheek, closed his eyes, and breathed into the moment. An image of Brad giving him one of his goofy thumbs up gestures came to mind. And, for a change, thinking of Brad didn’t hurt. It even felt, well, good, encouraging, sweet. Sweet. Yes, that’s what most people didn’t get about Brad: the deep sweetness, the seriousness of his belief in those he loved, and the fierce loyalty that lay just beneath the surface of all that attitude and froth.

A kind of peace settled over Adam, and he turned his thoughts to Middle Earth, to living with a dreadful sense of purpose, to long days of anonymous wandering, to swords that were broken and made again, and elven kisses, and small men who held the fate of the world in their hands.

“Adam, you’re up!” announced a stage hand with a clip board.

Adam walked onto the stage to meet his future.

 

Interlude
March 2009

 
Milo Magraw’s Broadway Blog
musicalsaremylife.com

“Aragorn Curse Comes to An End?”

As you read here first (Why, my little blogateers? That’s right, because Musicals Are My Life), eyebrows were raised when Tim Burton announced he'd cast virtual unknown Adam Lambert in the part of Aragorn. Rumors abounded that Tim had been turned down by numerous A-listers for the starring part in Lord of the Rings: The Rock Musical because they feared being the next victim of the (cue spooky music) Aragorn Curse.

One avid defender of Lambert is another Broadway newcomer, Cleopatra Jones, who is playing the part of Arwen.

“Those rumors are the product of petty people who don’t understand a thing about Tim Burton, our producer Ian McKellan, and what it takes to make a great musical. There were plenty of A-listers who wanted in,” she insists. “They simply weren’t as good as Adam.”

Be that as it may, it seems that yesterday Adam Lambert was nearly the next victim of the curse. I spoke with Tommy Joe Ratliff, bagel delivery boy to the stars. (btw blogateers, you’ll recall this is the fellow that Hugh Jackman tripped over. And after having met him, let me declare publicly that I wouldn’t mind falling over him, myself!) I’ve recorded his words verbatim, as I wouldn’t want you to miss a single breathless moment of this epic tale.

“I wasn’t even allowed in the theater, after breaking Hugh’s leg and all, but Taylor was late for his shift, and Sasha was gonna blow a gasket because she couldn’t find anyone else to take the bagels over to LOTR, and they're regulars and stuff…so I told her I’d go in disguise. It just happened that I’d dressed as Marilyn Manson for a party the night before, so I had this wig and all…anyhow, I put it on and got my bike and….”

Okay, maybe every word verbatim is a little much. Let’s fast forward to the good stuff.

“So there I was, just playin’ some air guitar riffs in the hallway and waiting for someone to figure out who the hell was supposed to pay me for the bagels, when I heard this incredible singing. So I snuck backstage to see. Right out in the middle of the stage, Adam, he’s the dude playin’ Aragorn, you know, was on his knees singing to a guy who was lying on his back. (I later learned that was Boromir.) Anyhow, suddenly I got this bad feeling and just had to look up, and I see this big ol’ light right above Adam, hanging by a thread. Then suddenly everything went all slo-mo on me, and I was, like, running onto the stage, and I said 'WATCH OUT MAN!' and Adam looked up, and it was the coolest thing: he just like kind of levitated on top of Boromir and then somehow got them rolling across the stage, and anyhow, this giant light fell right where they’d been and, man, they could have been, like, seriously dead.”

Seriously? Being a fearless investigative journalist and recognizing that what I had here was an honest-to-god expert on the Aragorn curse, I asked our intrepid Bagel Boy the natural follow up question. Did he think that Adam was a victim of the Aragorn Curse? Here is his intriguing analysis:

“You know, I’ve thought a lot about that curse, cuz I felt so bad about Mr. Jackman and all, but I figure Johnny Depp had it right—things like hurricanes and broken legs aren’t really anyone’s fault, and they sure as hell don’t have anything to do with Lord of the Rings. But still, if it was true, this would’ve been the third thing, right? And, look, nobody got hurt. So, third’s the charm and all that. I guess that Adam’s broken the curse.”

Nice logic, I say. And remember, you heard it here first!

 

June 6, 2009 : The Day After

 

Adam was still buzzing from the high of last night’s performance. Despite a disastrous dress rehearsal, opening night had gone without a hitch. The only challenge had been managing the play’s pacing between the surges of applause that spontaneously swept through the audience. He had to be ready in just four hours to start again, but right now he just wanted to relax and let it all sink in. Many of his friends and family had flown in for the opening but they knew he was working and had planned to entertain themselves for the first couple of days. He’d catch up on Monday and Tuesday when the theater went dark.

Adam’s phone rang. It was Dani.

“Adam, have you read the paper yet?”

“God, Dani. I’m barely waking up here.”

“Well this is worth waking up for, so listen up, mister. It's the New York Times review:

Lord of the Rings: Much Is Risked, Much is Gained”

 

Many things can be said of the eagerly awaited Lord of the Rings: A Rock Musical. It is a complicated feast for the eyes, concocted under the direction of film auteur Tim Burton, a rock musical that soars on the surprising musical collaboration of Andrew Lloyd Weber and David Bowie, a grueling but ultimately satisfying four-hour-long production which features a stellar cast of familiar faces and surprising new discoveries.

It is the last, which has left this reviewer newly optimistic about the future of the musical on Broadway. In this production, not one, but two stars are born. First in a luminous performance by Cleopatra Jones as Arwen, and then in the mesmerizing singing and emotionally-nuanced performance of Adam Lambert as Aragorn.

Adam said, “Um, Dani, could you read that again? I’m not sure I was hearing right.”

“Oh, you were hearing right. Mesmerizing and nuanced—it’s here in black and white.” There was a pause. “Adam, hey Adam, are you there? Did we get disconnected?”

“I’m here,” Adam mumbled. This was kind of overwhelming. “Is there more?”

“Lots and lots—and most of it’s really good. Hey, are you getting all choked up on me?” Adam nodded, forgetting that Dani couldn’t see him. “Do you want me to come over? I could get there pretty quick, and we could look at reviews together and drink mimosas.”

Suddenly that sounded just perfect to Adam. Who wanted to be alone on a day like this? “Yes, Dani, please, get your ass over here!” There was an immediate knock on his door. When Adam opened it, he found a grinning Dani, arms full of bags from Zabars and newspapers, and a bottle of champagne tucked under her arm.

With a shout of joy, Adam pulled her into his apartment and, for that moment at least, all was right in his world.

 

The Ellen Show

Elijah snuggled into Adam as they watched the TV monitor in the green room. They had plenty of time. Ellen, it turned out, was yet another avid Lord of the Rings groupie, so she was dedicating three entire shows to the cast and crew of the musical—and they were all being filmed that day.

Adam still marveled at how being in the show had changed his life. First, it turned out that Monte and Brad had just been the tip of the iceberg. All over the world, the most unlikely people committed to all things Middle Earth with an almost religious fervor that sometimes frightened Adam.

And then there was YouTube. When Brad had finally come out to New York to visit Adam, they’d had a long talk about the power of social media, and how Broadway was really missing the boat on engaging a whole generation. Brad had kept poking and prodding at the subject until finally he and Adam hatched a radical idea to bring musical theater kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. Adam had immediately gone to Ian with the concept.

“I think we should allow people to video the shows. I mean, not actively promote the idea, but just keep security at a minimum when they pull out their phones. They’ll post the clips on YouTube, and 'voila,' people all over the world will be seeing our show.”

Ian at first dismissed the idea. “You do understand that the way we make money is by selling tickets to real people, who sit in real seats, in a real auditorium, don’t you?” But Adam had persisted, and eventually Tim, Ian, and Andrew had conceded that if David was okay with it, they’d allow it as an experiment for a few nights.

So Adam called David Bowie (Adam still couldn’t think of him by anything but his full name), who it turned out didn’t need any convincing. “Bloody good idea,” he’d said, and that had been that.

As Brad frequently reminded Adam, it had been a bloody brilliant idea. At first just a few YouTube clips had shown up. But when LOTR fans had caught on, it had become this thing; every show, there were several people filming, and the clips were getting thousands of hits. Instead of depressing ticket sales, the clips had made LOTR a worldwide phenomenon. People were coming from as far away as New Zealand, Chile, and South Africa just to see the show they’d already grown to love online. The different actors even developed their own specialized fan bases. Adam’s had named themselves the Gornberts and were following him on Twitter and MySpace by the thousands. Adam thought being on Broadway brought a nice, manageable sort of fame with it.

Then there was Elijah. What had started as a casual stage flirtation based on a shared sense of humor and long, grueling hours of rehearsal, had gradually grown into something more. Not an all-out love affair, but a spark, a connection that often led to the two of them tumbling into bed together. It might become more, but Adam wasn’t holding his breath. Elijah really did like girls—Adam hadn’t been lying about it when he responded to that bitch Broadwaybabs’attempt to out their relationship on Twitter. On the other hand, Elijah also liked punk rock, roller derby, and flirting with men…especially Adam.

Most of the time things were easy between Elijah and Adam. In fact, the only thing they ever seemed to fight about was whether they should take their ‘sort-of a relationship but not really‘ public. Much to his own surprise, Adam was the one arguing to play it down. It seemed to him the kind of fame Elijah had was a tricky thing. Elijah's fans had feelings and a sense of ownership about him. Sure, there was a whole contingent that would leap for joy if they knew Elijah was sleeping with Adam, but there was a whole other group that would freak out. Elijah tried to be casual about it, but Adam could tell he was scared. And Adam thought that made sense: bisexuality among women was popular these days, but people still had a hard time buying it with men. And despite the years of fame Elijah had under his belt, Adam worried that Elijah hadn’t built up the kind of armor one needed when you’d spent your whole life queer-to-the-core. So, for now, they were discreet. In interviews, they celebrated the close friendship that had emerged, and Adam was open about being gay, and Elijah was just his usual, slightly-fey self with no comment on sexuality: sometimes life was just…complicated.

Elijah nudged Adam, bringing him back to the present. “You better go rescue Cleo; she looks like she’s about to crumble, and she never listens to me when she gets like that.” Indeed, across the room, Cleo was eyeing a bowl of peanut M&Ms with a look of quiet desperation.

Adam leapt up from the couch. “Cleo, don’t! Be strong, baby. Remember, we have a duet to sing—on national TV! Now is not the time to screw with your blood sugar.”

“But there are all those beautiful colors, and they’re chocolate and yummy, and I’m just so tired, and I hate being diabetic. I never used to be diabetic,” whined Cleo.

Adam grabbed her hand as she reached out for the candy. “Here, have some delicious celery and hummus.” Adam handed Cleo a stalk and then took a bite of one himself, groaning with the exaggerated pleasure of a teenage boy experiencing his first orgasm. “Really, Cleo—crispy, green, refreshing, and protein, too! Much better than M&Ms.” Cleo sighed. “You are a terrible, lying liar Adam Lambert. Just another lying man in my life.”

“True,” chimed in Elijah helpfully. “But remember, he’s pretty.”

“But not as pretty as Cleo,” Adam added gallantly as he took her hand and led her back across the room to join Elijah on the couch.

Elijah gave them both a considering look. “Actually, I’d say it’s a toss up. I wouldn’t kick either one of you out of bed.”

“In your dreams, little man!” Cleo said, some of her energy returning as she obediently ate the tidbits Adam was feeding her from the array of food laid out for guests in the green room.

“Shush,” said Elijah. “Ellen’s about to interview Tim and Ian. Do you think they’ll dance?”

All eyes turned to the TV monitor.

Ellen’s DJ was playing The Hobbit’s Theme as Ian and Tim walked onto Ellen’s set. Ellen was doing her usual self-parodying dance, and Ian and Tim, good sports to the end, both joined her. Ian moved his hips with the self-assured and sexy elegance Adam had come to take for granted from his friend and mentor, while Tim, hilariously, moved only his arms, fists clenched, the embodiment of a nerd-boy who’d never learned how to move the rest of his body.

After a flurry of hugs, the three settled in for a conversation. At first, the conversation wended its way through familiar territory, including Tim’s decision to direct a live-theater production, Ian’s decision to join as a producer as well as actor, the challenge of staging a play that was four hours long, and the eternally amusing question of how David Bowie and Andrew Lloyd Weber managed to work together.

“You also made some surprising casting decisions,” Ellen said with that trademarked twinkle in her eye.

Tim nodded. “Yeah. I thought we had to shake things up a little—and I didn’t want to miss out on casting some of the most remarkable talent in the world just because of conventions around race and gender.”

“That’s certainly worked out well, hasn’t it?” Ellen replied. “Personally, I adore Cleopatra Jones and Adam Lambert. I listen to them on my iPod all the time.” Pictures of Cleo and Adam in their Arwen and Aragorn costumes flashed up behind Ellen.

“They are wonderful, aren’t they?” Tim responded. “Cleo came to us from an open casting call, but we would never have found Adam if it hadn’t been for Ian.”

Oh really? Adam straightened up on the greenroom couch.

Ian jumped in, a big grin on his face. “Yes. I’d seen Adam in the Ten Commandments in California—a play that is rather an embarrassment to the art of musical theater, don’t you think?” Behind Ellen, a picture of Adam as Joshua flashed on the screen. “But I was so impressed by Adam. Truly, I couldn’t stop thinking about his performance. Such heart in the middle of that mess—and his voice—well, I think we all know the wonder of that voice now.”

“So what happened next?” Ellen leaned forward.

“He’d piqued my curiosity, so I looked around on YouTube to see what else he’d done and stumbled across the most astonishing performance.” Apparently this had all been planned beforehand, because suddenly, behind Ellen, a video of Adam’s performance of “A Change Is Gonna Come” at the Zodiac Theatre was playing. Ellen, Tim, and Ian turned to watch it all the way to the end when Adam stomped off stage, diva on high. The studio audience burst into a round of applause, and it was time for a commercial.

“Whoa! Adam, that was awesome!” Elijah clapped his hands.

Cleo fanned herself, “Oh baby…that was hot!”

Adam waved off the compliments. He wanted to see what Ian would say next. The interview began again.

“Ian, you were telling us about discovering Adam Lambert. How in the world did you make the leap from those performances to casting him as Aragorn?”

“As you may recall, first Hugh Jackman and then Johnny Depp were set to play Aragorn, but due to circumstances beyond our control they each had to bow out. Well, Adam came to mind, and I thought we should give him a chance to audition.”

Tim spoke up, “Frankly, I wasn’t too interested. I thought there were plenty of other strong actors out there—people who were actually known quantities, bankable even—but Ian just wouldn’t let go of the idea.“

“That’s when I signed on as producer. I realized that I really did want more voice in the production. As a producer, I was able to talk Tim into giving Adam a chance. Well, really more than a passing chance; I talked him into giving Adam a week to prove himself.”

Adam’s mind was reeling. Sure, Ian had helped him out during the audition process, but he’d never given the slightest hint of this back story.

Ellen was clearly fascinated. “So, Ian, you brought Adam out to New York. How'd he react when he knew that Sir Ian McKellan was sponsoring his audition?”

“But, Ellen, he’s only learning that today. I didn’t want to give him the false impression that he was a shoo-in for the part. Tim was very dubious about the whole proposition, so Adam was going to have to prove his mettle. When I contacted him to come out to New York, I used a fake name—Neil Mecklan—put on a Brooklyn accent, and pretended to be a publicist for the production.”

“How very secret-agent-man of you,” Ellen smiled.

Tim interjected, “Yes, I told him he was having way too much fun with the whole process. You do notice, don’t you, that Neil Mecklan has all the same letters as Ian McKellan? I swear, sometimes I think I’m working with a 12-year old.”

“I’ve always said 12-year olds deserve more credit than they get,“ Ian retorted.

“Credit where credit’s due, Ian. There were some bumpy moments during that audition week, but Adam certainly proved himself in the end. And we’re all grateful for it.” Tim gave a little gesture of acknowledgment to Ian.

“That’s such a great story!” Ellen took charge of the conversation again. “Don’t you agree, audience?” The camera panned across the audience members, who were clapping enthusiastically. Adam felt a thrill of warmth run through him as he saw his whole L.A. crew sitting front and center—Brad and Dani and Monte and Alisan and Lee and Scarlett and Cassidy and, of course, his mom and dad and Neil, too—somehow they’d all made time in their busy lives to show up for him today.

“When we return, we’ll see how Tim and Ian do in my latest game, “Place the Ring on the Hobbit.” Ellen pulled out two of her ridiculous blindfolds, and the camera panned over to a kitschy Styrofoam sculpture of Elijah as Frodo, complete with exaggeratedly big hands. Back in the green room, Elijah fell into a fit of the giggles.

Adam’s phone buzzed. He pulled it out of his pocket. No surprise, it was a text from Brad.

Message: Adam this is so unfair. I was the one who always wanted to be Cinderella!

Adam quickly texted back: Suck it!

Brad, naturally, replied: Just say when and where

Adam laughed and put the phone away.

“Was that Brad?” Elijah asked.

“Yeah. He’s jealous that I have a Fairy Godfather.”

“Oh good. I kind of like jealous-Brad.” Elijah decided this was the right moment to run his hand up Adam’s thigh.

Cleo slapped Elijah’s hand. “We’re performing in a half hour, don’t get him distracted.”

Adam, ever the peacemaker, kissed each of their hands and got up from the couch. “Cleo, let’s warm up. I have to prove my Fairy Granpapa picked the right girl to send to the ball.”

Half an hour later, Adam and Cleo walked onto the set hand-in-hand to sing their famous duet. Before they started, they both turned to Ellen, Ian, and Tim and gave a formal bow.

Then they opened their hearts and sang.

**

And in Boise, Sue called out to Rhonda, “Oh my God! Get the hell in here and listen to this!”

In Flagstaff, Joshua sat up in his wheel chair and gave a squeal of excitement, picked up his cell phone and called his best friend Ruth.

In Conway, Kim told her son Daniel to turn off the vacuum cleaner so she could hear these amazing singers on Ellen.

In Madison, Doug pulled Brian into his lap and said, “Wanna make out?”

In Sioux City, Trina turned on her DVR so she could post the clip to YouTube that night.

In Tempe, Mary Ann tweeted Jessica, “Turn on Ellen. That dude is hot!”

In Los Angeles, Michael Slezak texted his editor at Entertainment Weekly: “I’ve found our next cover boy.”

In New York City, David Letterman told his booking agent to contact Cleo and Adam.

In Kansas City, Fred Phelps called his followers and prepared to go picket Lord of the Rings.

In Elko, Mariah posted on Facebook “I’m in love with Adam Lambert,” and 63 of her closest friends responded “like.”

 

Epilogue

January 5, 2010

 

Over dessert at The Four Seasons, Brad trotted out the elephant in the dining room. “You know it’s almost a year to the day since you left L.A.”

“Really? Hadn’t thought about it much.” Adam took another sip of espresso.

“Bullshit.” Brad lowered his voice when Adam gave him an admonishing look. “It’s a whole year later, and you’re still pissed at the way I handled the whole thing.”

“Brad…it’s been such a good visit. Really good. Can’t you just let it go?”

“I will when you do, baby.” Brad swirled the Grand Marnier in his glass.

“What else is there to say, Brad? You dumped me—not once, but twice. And I finally got the message. So we’ve both gone on with our lives. We’re friends, having a nice, civilized dinner together. It’s all good, right?”

Brad leaned back and crossed his arms. “I guess I just wanted you to know that it sucked for me, too. Not a word, not a text, not a message through a friend for two whole months! Fuck. It nearly killed me.”

Adam called a waiter over. “I’d like two shots of Jameson, neat.” After the waiter left, Adam leaned forward and said, “Brad Bell, in five years I give you permission to talk to me about how much you breaking up with me fucking hurt you. But before then? Not. One. Word.”

A swift, wounded look crossed Brad’s face. Adam saw it and almost relented, but a fan stopped by to ask for an autograph, Brad rearranged his expression, and the moment passed.

Brad took Adam at his word, and they drifted back into their old familiar repartee. He told Adam about this cool new thing he’d discovered called “Bubble tweets,” and together they plotted out a series of Twitter-appropriate topics for Cheeks. They pondered the amazing phenomenon of the “Gornberts,” and Adam once again reassured Brad that he was delighted that a lot of them were now following Cheeks. Brad tried to convince Adam that a Cheeks and Negative Neil online blog really was a good idea, and Adam asked for Brad’s advice on what to wear to the Tony awards. Twice during the conversation, they noted the waiters politely confiscating cell phones from other diners who were taking photos of the two of them.

Finished at last, they stood up and prepared to leave the restaurant. As they neared the front door, the maitre’d pulled them aside and said in a hushed voice “Mr. Lambert, I just wanted to let you know that there are paparazzi waiting for you on the street. We’d be happy to see you out the back door, if you prefer.” Adam looked through the front window; he could see the waiting cameras and a small throng of bystanders pushing forward.

“Oh no,” said Brad airily. “We never use the back entrance.”

Adam gave a hysterical little laugh, then nodded his agreement and took Brad’s hand firmly in his.

Brad looked up at him and said, “Before we go out there, I want to point something out to you.”

Adam raised an eyebrow and waited.

“That Bagel Boy had it wrong when he said you escaped the curse. You haven’t really, you know.”

“And how do you come to that conclusion, cher Bell?”

Brad gestured out to the waiting crowd of paparazzi and intoned, “Behold, Adam: The Aragorn Curse.”

Adam considered that for a moment and found that, really, it made a kind of sense. It had been months since he’d been able to walk anonymously on the streets, to know exactly who he could trust and who he couldn’t, to go out to dinner or a club without people surreptitiously taking his photo or reporting about it on the internet. Well, so be it. If fame was the curse, Adam was willing to pay the price.

“Well, you know what I always say. Let’s give them something to talk about, baby.” With those words, Adam and Brad stepped onto the New York City sidewalk and into a cacophony of greetings and questions. “Hi, guys,” Adam said amiably to the paparazzi.

And with camera flashes lighting the night, Adam pulled Brad into a lingering kiss. A kiss that tasted of Grand Marnier and lemon soufflé, of Burning Man and Brad—a kiss that, no matter how many other men Adam grew to love, would always taste like one kind of home.

 

The End