The Time I Ruined A Musical

My senior year of high school, I wanted to play the title character of Cinderella in the spring musical but got cast as a tap-dancing chef. Then, in the first semester of my freshman year of college, I was given the chance to play her in Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece and my all time favorite musical, Into The Woods, a production which I promptly destroyed. Here is the heartwarming tale.

When I was 12, my Nana bought me, my cousin, and my sister the DVD recording of the original Broadway production of Into The Woods. “Obsession” is a massive understatement in describing our relationship with this musical. We knew every word and sang it everywhere we went because at the time I didn’t understand that most people find it weird when you spontaneously break out into a rap about garden vegetables. I still have trouble grasping that fact.

Some years later, I arrived at Siena College where my sister was a sophomore. One day during my first few weeks on campus, she called me and said in a very serious tone, “Catherine. They are holding auditions for Into The Woods. You have to audition.”

To which I responded, “Yes. Yes I do.” I then hung up the phone without saying goodbye because that is what people in stories/dramatic television shows do.

I got the part (which you know), and rehearsals went fine, aside from the fact that I had absolutely no idea what the hell I was doing. But I was having a great time and was a lead in my favorite musical. The first weekend of the show went wonderfully. We all had a blast and I was loving life.

Then we had a break. A deadly three days off in between the first and second weekends of the run. After working so hard for weeks, a sudden halt was (apparently) all the signal my body needed to completely erupt into chaos.

I awoke on that Wednesday morning feeling worse than I ever had in my life. My head felt like it weighed a thousand pounds and I just had a general feeling of death. I outstretched a limp hand to grasp my cell phone and immediately called my mother to come get me, since I lived locally. My roommate gave me a highly concerned look and maybe tried to speak to me but I do not think I could process language at the time. She quickly scurried off to class so she could avoid contracting my obvious plague.

My mother took me to an urgent care clinic, where I spent four and a half hours waiting to be seen. This time was mostly spent stress crying over my psychology textbook while I attempted to study in the crowded waiting room. I was finally called into the doctor’s office where I had an examination and immediately started crying again after he informed me that I had strep throat. The doctor worriedly asked me if I was alright and I managed to croak out some kind of response as I dramatically wept into a handful of tissues.

The next day was Thursday, a show night. I spent the day “recuperating” at home, engaged in constant email correspondence with the stage manager to keep her updated on the status of my sickness. My voice was starting to go and time was ticking until I needed to be at the theater. Growing anxious, I tried everything in the book to revive myself and voice. I wish I was lying to you when I say that at one point I resorted to boiling an entire bag of menthol cough drops in a metal pot and breathing in the steam with a towel over my head. (Which by the way, yielded no results.)

I made it to the show and despite still feeling pretty crappy and my voice being a little shaky, everything went okay.

Friday was a different story. My best friend, Ashley, who also happened to be an assistant stage manager, kindly brought me cups of hot water with lemon and honey because I’m a ridiculous person who refuses to drink tea, or as I like to call it, “toilet water.” I still felt pretty awful, but I was there, and wearing the giant dress, so I was going to do the thing.

Places were called and the cast gathered behind the curtain to wait for the opening music. My throat had begun to feel progressively worse and I was getting a little nervous about my voice holding out. I decided to quietly sing a line or two to test it out.

Nothing.

Nothing came out of my mouth.

I turned to Ashley, panic stricken.

“I have no voice,” I half mouthed, half squawked.

Her eyes widened and she looked at me the same way as I imagine a rock-climber would look at their partner if they slowly realized that in order to survive they had to cut them loose and watch them fall to their death.

I struggled through the opening of the show, an 11 minute non-stop musical marathon in which my character was heavily involved.  By the end of Act I, I had so little vocal ability that I was forced to talk through the numbers. This resulted in an incredibly bizarre and highly awkward rap rendition of “On the Steps of the Palace.”

I spent intermission freaking out while Ashley essentially spoon-fed me mouthfuls of straight honey, and Act 2 proceeded just as swimmingly.

By the next day, I had completely lost my voice. Like, not a single peep could be mustered from my vocal chords. Let the record show that this had never, ever happened to me, and still remains as the only occurrence. Great timing, immune system. High five.

I want to take a moment here to point out how much I felt like a complete and utter jerk. There I was, a lowly freshman, throwing a giant wrench in the entire production. Hell, I was throwing the whole freaking toolbox in there. I knew that I couldn’t control getting sick, but I still felt horrible.

Two other cast members also happened to be sick and were fading just as fast as I was. An emergency rehearsal was called before the show to figure out what we were going to do. We ended up cutting massive chunks out of the script, revising some bits here and there, and stringing it all together into what became known amongst the theatre kids as “Into The Woods: the Swine Flu Version” (this was 2009, the year of the swine). We gave people their money back. The show made no sense. I didn’t speak a word throughout the entire thing. I just followed Little Red and the Baker around the entire time, face-acting the hell out of everything and probably failing miserably. I couldn’t even croak out the closing line of the show, when Cinderella steps out and sings, “I wish!” one last time. It was awkward. It was terrible. It was, without a doubt, one of those “someday we’ll look back on this and laugh” situations.  And we did. We definitely did.

It took me awhile to realize that this was the universe’s sick and twisted way of telling me that I should not try to play the ingenue. When life casts you as the tap-dancing chef, you take that role and run with it.

Hey, if the shoe fits.

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