by Colin Bradbury
There’s nothing better than hearing a speechless Jack O’Brien yell “Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!” at the sight of you dashing across the lobby of the Omni Hotel in Pittsburgh. That was on Wednesday. Two days earlier, I awoke to an unexpected email from my agent asking if I would be interested in joining the National Tour of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for a little while to cover an injury. By Saturday, I was making my debut in a new role.
Let me backtrack. In 2016, I took part in two Developmental Labs of Charlie to rework the show from its London engagement. The following year I originated my first ensemble track in the Broadway production, and I am so grateful to have been a part of the process. However, I never thought I would do the show again after we closed in New York. I developed a serious neck injury from the puppeteering and aggravated a previous injury to my lower back, so my body was ready to move on.
What’s that they say though? “Time heals all wounds.” It certainly can.
When I got the call, they asked “Can you be here tomorrow?” I had to think about if I could uproot my life so quickly and leave my husband and two dogs with such short notice. However, after rescheduling and canceling some appointments I was on a plane and back on the road in less than 48 hours. I was brought out as a temporary swing primarily to cover one ensemble track when that actor is on for the leading role of the injured one. They were looking for someone who knew the show and could jump in quickly. Though it was not the role I originally played, the others who played or covered it were not available, so here I am.
In this business, we constantly battle two factors when offered a job: availability and interest. Sometimes you’re available for the job but you’re not always interested. I needed to quickly evaluate if this was something my body would allow me to do again, and ultimately the answer was “yes.” With the help of some amazing physical therapists and trainers I’m feeling stronger and more knowledgeable than ever. Also, with my past swing and dance captain experience I knew this would be an exciting way to revisit a familiar production.
I was fortunate to observe two days of rehearsal with the entire creative team who were implementing some changes they’d recently discovered while setting the Australian company. The tour has a completely new scenic and video design as well as some new music, choreography, and rewrites. I think they’ve done a great job re-envisioning the show for the road and watching it again felt like riding a bike with new wheels and pedals. Therefore, despite already knowing the show intimately, I still had new things to learn. I had a private rehearsal with the dance captain and stage manager, quick costume and wig fittings, watched the show a couple of times and trailed backstage, then I was playing Grandpa George only three days after joining the tour.
Not only was this a fast process for me, every department had to take time out of their already busy touring schedules to arrange for a new cast member: company management, stage management, dance captains, wardrobe and hair. They had to book last minute travel and housing, have costumes and wigs shipped, fitted and altered, rehearsals scheduled, and thousands of program inserts printed. This all happened within three days, at the same time the creatives were implementing changes into the production. It was a whirlwind week for everyone to get me quickly and seamlessly into the show.
I try to take every experience as a learning one and I’m grateful to be able to return to Charlie with the knowledge I have now. At the end of the day we’re doing theater and are here to entertain and spread a little joy. This show is doing just that and for me it’s been very rewarding to join the touring company. This business is full of stress and anxiety about what might or might not be around the corner, and this experience has been a reminder to just enjoy the ride. You don’t always know where it’s going to lead and often times it doesn’t end where you might think, but those unexpected journeys can often be the sweetest.