From the moment I saw my first theatrical production at eight years old, which was at the Broadway show Oklahoma in The Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, I knew I wanted to be “Ado Annie.” Lucky for me, I finally got to do that part when I was fifty years old, where I had to be the oldest “Ado Annie” in the history of the American Theater!
There’s nothing like a live production to give you an adrenaline rush. You never know what’s going to happen and something always does. Yes, of course, someone might forget their lines and you have to cover for them to get the script back on track. But that’s nothing compared to some of the things I have experienced.
Once during Pippin, the side door was locked where the Leading Player (who was my husband, Chuck) was to enter, and I was left on stage making up lines until someone on the crew realized what was going on and went to unlock the door.
Or how about Mame, when I was sitting on a wooden cutout of a moon singing about the man on the moon, but as I got off of it to continue singing front and center, my costume got stuck on the corner of the moon and whipped back up and hit me in the face. Did I bleed? You bet I did. Blood was gushing everywhere, but I kept singing and using my sleeve to wipe the blood away, as my little nephew in the show pulled off his tie and handed it to me to absorb the blood. Talk about thinking fast. After the show, audience members said the blood looked so real! They thought it was part of the comedy.
A freaky thing happened in the dressing room during Bye Bye Birdie. A lovely and talented Waccamaw High School student named Sarah played the “Ann Margaret” role. However, throughout rehearsals, she was never in the dressing room with me at the same time. Either I was on stage or Sarah was on stage. So, when I rushed into the dressing room to change my costume on opening night, she was there saying, “Help me. My earring is stuck in my pantyhose!” I know you are thinking the same thing I was thinking, how could this happen? But it was then that I could see she had a pierced belly button and the waistband got stuck to her naval ring as she was trying to get her stockings off and her bobby socks on. I grabbed scissors from my make-up case and with one swift cut, she was free to finish getting dressed while some poor soul on stage was adlibbing lines until she appeared.
Barnum was obviously about the life of PT Barnum the circus guru, a part that Chuck played perfectly. He had to learn to walk on stilts so that when he was on stage with the supposedly mini Tom Thumb, he looked tall and Tom looked small. As Chuck appeared stage right singing his heart out, one of his stilts started to waver and he gracefully held onto the curtains until the scene ended with two roustabouts helping him down as the stage faded to black. Again, the audience roared with laughter and thought it was part of the show but it was not. Yet, it added great comic relief.
It’s not often you get to do a show twice, and play the same characters, fifteen years apart. Well, that’s what Chuck and I did in Guys And Dolls, playing the forever-engaged Nathan and Adelaide. One night, a cast member showed up stoned out of his mind. In the opening number, he was screwing up the words of the song and acting obnoxious and we all knew there was trouble in River City. (Okay, that line is from The Music Man, but it seemed to fit.) Afterward, the director came backstage and grabbed the culprit and told him to go home and never come back. Meanwhile, the entire cast had to figure out how to cover the guy’s part for the rest of the performance. Stressful for sure but great teamwork as the show must go on!
In Hello Dolly, I had my most embarrassing moment, when the skirt of my two-piece bridal gown came tumbling down as I twirled around during the final song. And the lyric I sang was “Wow, wow, wow fellas. Look at the old girl now, fellas,” as Chuck who played “Horace” held my skirt up. Thank goodness I had a body suit on.
But speaking of bodysuits, my very favorite show was I Do! I Do! My real husband, Chuck, played my stage husband. And because there were only two cast members, we were both always on stage throughout the entire production, even singing while changing clothes behind a decorative screen. But make no mistake; the crew helped us behind those screens throughout the show. We could not have done it without them. Nevertheless, during the ten-minute intermission, I rushed to the bathroom, pulled up my dress, and forgot to unsnap the crotch of my body suit. What a mess, but fortunately, there was a blow dryer in the Green Room which came in very handy! Our young high school crew said they would never forget that sight!
This show sold out eight nights and won the South Carolina Theater Association competition in 2000, with a request from theater management to repeat the show two months later. It was an absolute joy as we aged from twenty to eighty on stage night after night, portraying “Michael” and “Agnes” as they marry, celebrated their honeymoon, had children, handled some rough times, and finally moved to a retirement home. It was the most emotional and poignant show ever.
There’s nothing like LIVE Theater. You bond and become family with the cast and crew, and if you have done a great job with your performance, the audience becomes part of the family in the process too. Collaboration, cooperation, TEAMWORK personified.
And just in case you are wondering, so far, I have never forgotten to unsnap my bodysuit ever again!