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The other day, I was looking through some pictures on BroadwayWorld.com, and the Message Board list caught my eye. Tried as I might, I couldn't resist clicking on one of the topics: "Have you ever been at a show where someone had to leave mid-show?" I couldn't tell if it meant audience members getting up and leaving, or if it meant performers leaving mid-show. I have experienced both, and though I hoped it meant the latter (I love live theatre stories like that - you don't get that at the movies); I knew if it was the former, I'd probably get a few laughs (bitchy stories of hating a show everyone else adores, tales of rude behavior, reactions of the house staff, etc. are always a good read...). As it turns out, the original poster meant performers, not audience members, but the thread was full of both kinds of stories. I was thoroughly entertained.
So I thought that today, I'd write about my experiences with that. On my own blog, I can write what I want, and not be crucified for having an original opinion or be dismissed for "being too new to posting." How elitist! But I digress.
I was sure someone would mention the more famous ones - Idina Menzel falling through a trap door at Wicked and, I think, Eden Espinoza finishing the show. Or the "big fall" at Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, which stopped the show completely. They were there. But I have to admit I was SHOCKED to find out that it happens so much at Wicked that fans have a name for it - "the witch switch!"
As for myself, I've seen some pretty interesting switcheroos. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen a performance of Cats where the entire cast that started the show was the same one at the curtain call. Dance injuries were plentiful for the felines. The third time I saw it on Broadway (don't judge me), 3 performers changed at intermission - and I don't mean a chain reaction caused by one actor leaving - 3 separate roles!
The most famous Broadway injury of all was played out thousands of times in A Chorus Line, when Paul, who just poured out his heart and soul, re-injures his knee, and has to be carted off to the hospital. When they line up one last time, and Morales leaves a space where Paul was, I bet that hit home for many a dancer. But in the dozens of times I've seen that show, quite a few had some mid-show switches. I remember one in particular. The actor playing Mike was really going full blast with "That I Can Do" when he started to do his slide across the stage and ended up getting caught on something and doing a very awkward split. He literally screamed in pain and the entire cast and audience gasped as one. Zach ran up on the stage, and they improvised a scene to get Mike back in place and to assess the damage. The trouper finished his bit, stood there in line for what must have felt an eternity, and finally got to leave the stage during "Hello, Twelve." At the end of that number, when they all go back to the line, we in the audience, finally realized that a "new" Mike was on the line, and Mike (old and new) got a spontaneous round of applause!
But my favorite experience with such a switch happened at Avenue Q. Not that I wish any performers ill, but I hope that if /when it happens to other performers, the transition can be a smooth and professional as what happened one day at the Golden Theatre. There I was, in the 3rd row, watching intently. I was really enjoying Barrett Foa as Princeton and Rod - he's a terrific singer and his voices were a riot. But being that close, as you probably know, allows you to sometimes see details you don't necessarily want to see. I noticed that Mr. Foa's t-shirt was gaining some pretty serious wet patches of sweat. "No big deal," I remember thinking, "they do A LOT of running around." But then, as the act continued, more and more of his shirt was darkening, and I saw that he was getting pretty pale - and he's pretty fair-skinned to begin with. It was really obvious that he wasn't feeling all that good, though I can not stress enough that his performance was top-notch, and I'm pretty sure not many people around me even noticed.
Well, we get to the scene right before "Mix Tape," and Foa, as Princeton, comes into Kate Monster's place. He gets to the line about needing to use the bathroom and exits. When Princeton came back out of "the bathroom," it wasn't with the soon-to-be NCIS:LA star. It was with Howie Michael Smith, who was just as excellent. They never missed a beat. And they never announced the change verbally, though I'm sure there was a sign posted outside in the lobby. I know for sure that the majority of the audience didn't realize two actors played the same role that day since the people around me up close to the stage were oblivious to the change. Not ONE person mentioned it at intermission! Sure it was pretty slick and definitely painless (except for poor Barrett Foa) for the audience. But I have to applaud the entire company... they were the very definition of professional.
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