by Christine Cornish Smith
I’ve come to believe that when you firmly declare something, the universe will test you in that declaration. So when someone asked me if I would go on as Lois soon and I answered, “Oh, I won’t go on for a while, if ever!”… you better believe I got the call the very next day that I was on for both shows.
All I know is that with the help of the amazing Stephanie Styles, the supportive and loving cast and crew, and some hot tea with a side of Ricola - I made it through going on as Lois Lane/Bianca just a few days after opening Kiss Me, Kate and with no rehearsal or put in.
*Insert shocked face emoji here*
I am lucky enough to be understudying one special and generous lady. Our Lois Lane, Stephanie Styles, gave me an extra heads up early Wednesday morning. I had an inkling the night before, but officially knew by about 9 a.m. Wednesday morning. Talk about a wake up call! I didn’t even need coffee. I was suddenly awake AF, y’all. This is my third Broadway show, but my first time understudying a principal role, so I relied heavily on the advice and stories from the Broadway vets that I have worked with. I remember my two dear friends from My Fair Lady, Matt Wall and Cameron Adams, told me to know the lines and songs like the back of my hand, because no matter what happens with the blocking or choreo, if I know where I am in the script, I will be okay. So, with that advice, I felt prepared in that regard walking into the theater on Wednesday.
The catch is, Lois has a series of lifts, stunts, and tricks with props… all of which I had never touched or run with any of the boys. So I was in full makeup and pin curls by 10:30 a.m. pacing around like a crazy person until people starting filtering into the theater so I could start running through the things I had never done before. Since I am on eight times a week in my own ensemble dancing track, there are a lot of things I had never seen Stephanie do. Stage management and cast members were so supportive and arrived early to run things with me, while I tried my best to remain calm and simply focus on each task at hand, one thing at a time. It was hard to not get in my head, as Stephanie is a petite and slender dream, so all the lifts and stunts were built onto her small frame! 5’9” Amazon lady over here: let’s just say it added another element of comedy with my frog legs squeezing through the ladder, upside down, at the end of “Always True To You.”
After running the important things for safety, we were already at half hour for the show! The first show was an out of body experience. I was making weird mistakes, such as… Running up to the pay phone, immediately picking up the phone and shouting "Hello-is-Bill-Calhoun-there?” Without, you know, putting in a quarter or dialing a number at all. Or in the song, “Tom Dick or Harry,” getting so into it that I belted out “Tom, Dick, or Darry!” (Who is Darry?) I also quite enjoyed falling to the floor downstage in “Always True,” but realizing that I was on the wrong number, looking to my right and seeing a pool of light in the distance. So, naturally, I crawled into the spotlight while singing, because… I needed to find my light.
Before I knew it, we were at the curtain call. Then it was time (for me) to review what just happened and get geared up for the evening show. I reviewed my script and got a few notes regarding blocking and choreography so that I could apply them to the show in a few hours. My parents happened to be in town and came to the evening show, along with some wonderful friends. The second show was definitely less frantic and I was able to take in what was actually happening with a little more presence. I had moments that felt so surreal and dreamlike, that I had to really remember to remain focused so I wouldn’t get emotional! The fact that I used to listen to Kelli O’Hara sing The Light in the Piazza on my CD player in high school, completely idolizing her, and now she is my castmate giving me blocking just seconds before running onstage and executing that blocking in front of hundreds of people on Broadway.
The thing that struck me the most: how everyone really came together and worked as a team. The day really reminded me about the community aspect of theater. How no performance can occur without all the elements coming together. There are so many parts to the whole and it is beautiful. The fact that Stephanie Styles is sick and at the ENT sending me silent videos of footwork to help me out in the morning, and then flowers show up from her at half hour wishing me luck (Talk about a class act!). Pam, our Assistant Stage Manager, was walking me through backstage traffic that I had never seen before mid-show while she was calling out other cues. Jeff, our Production Stage Manager, showed up early with his two-year-old in order to give me the tracking sheet and an updated script since we just froze the show a week prior. It was all so inspiring to see teamwork functioning at its best and I felt truly in awe at the generosity of the artists around me. It was a day I will never forget, but I also still am not convinced that it happened!