The Show Went On
If you were inclined to believe such things, you might think Monday night’s performance of "A Tale of Blackbeard" was under a curse. Yet illness, injuries, absences, set design setbacks, and a visit from EMS didn’t stop the show from going on. You could say it was doomed. Or, you might say that all’s well that ends well, and flexibility is a beautiful thing.
The show’s creator and accompanist Julie Howard falls into the latter camp, saying she was “thrilled to see the cast rise to the occasion.”
Many adversities threaten to shut down the sold-out show last night, which was the twelfth performance of the musical this summer.
It was already going to be different. The cast was short two village girls who were being replaced by one complete newcomer (Jennifer Kidwell.) David Tweedie was filling in for Bill Jones as Oliver Farthingham, the watchman of the Village of Ocracoke. Bill’s absence was planned (he’s on vacation in St. Maarten); until last week, we thought Kenny Ballance would reprise the role he played twenty years ago, but Kenny recently had an emergency appendectomy, so David got the call to join the cast. At least he had a full week’s notice to get ready for the Farthingham role.
Emmet Temple had three hours.
It was 5pm when Emmet got a desperate call from stage manager Molly Lovejoy. She told him that Matt Tolson, who plays the lead role of the notorious Capt. Edward Teach (better known as Blackbeard), had called in sick. Poor Matt had a fever and “looked like death.” He couldn’t do the show. Would Emmet? He started learning the lines and songs at about 5:30.
Emmet usually plays William Howard, a role he took over from Wade Holloman earlier this summer. Wade came to Ocracoke on Sunday for a two-day surprise visit, and – surprise! – he was back in the show!
Then Bill Cole showed up with a hurt back, and worries that he wouldn’t be able to do justice to his role as Ezekiel Jones, who cavorts across the stage. And Maren Donlon, who plays little Katherine Farthingham, arrived with a sore throat and earache.
Tensions were running high backstage as some cast members thought it would be better to cancel the performance rather than give the audience a less-than-stellar show.
That sentiment only got worse when the set broke. Part of a stage wall cracked as it was being lowered into place, and fell onto pirate Daniel Isbrecht’s leg. It was terrifying to see the set come down, and though Daniel rallied to play his part (after icing down his ankle), everyone knew it could’ve been much, much worse.
While the eager audience waited patiently outside (with lightning and thunder rolling in), crew was dispatched to get a new set piece. Even with it screwed in place, however, the cast was spooked by the accident and reluctant to use it. It just didn’t feel safe. There were murmurs of mutiny. Could it get any worse?
Yes. When Molly announced the show would run without the scene changes (leaving the set mostly to the audience’s imaginations), one castmember chose to walk out and leave the performance.
But, as they say, The Show Must Go On!
And it did, until a few minutes into the first scene, when an audience member had a medical emergency that required paramedic assistance. The show was halted for about twenty minutes while the EMS squad responded.
Once the show was underway again, for good this time (only 45 minutes late!), the audience couldn’t have been better. They were supportive and cheerful throughout – they deserved a good show and they got one. Emmet’s Edward Teach was a bit of a lack-beard, but he sang the songs and said most of the lines and arrhhgged the arrhhggs and fought with swords more or less on cue. David got the most laughs of the night pompously strutting across the stage. Daniel’s ankle held out for his pirate adventures, and Bill Cole’s back pain was totally lost on the audience, who loved Ezekiel’s songs about women and food. Maren sang like an angel for her best friend in the front row, and Wade came back to the role of William Howard like he’d never left and carried on even when a chair broke underneath him. (Actually, that may have gotten the most laughs of the night. Oops.) The rest of the cast rolled with the punches and let Julie’s amazing story and songs carry them through.
And the audience rolled right along with them.
“It was an adventure for us,” said Lou Ann Homan, who was seeing the show for the third time this summer. “It was theater in its rarest, rawest form which brought the cast, crew, and audience into unity.”
The vibe backstage was downright self-congratulatory as scene after scene came off without a hitch.
Village girl Joan O’Neal was impressed with the new cast members.
“People who’ve never done these roles stepped into them and did a fabulous job,” she said.
“I’m so happy the audience is having a good time,” said DeAnna Locke (who plays boardinghouse cook Marjorie O’Neal). “It’s a privilege to work with such flexible people who realized the importance of continuing with the show. What a blast!”
“The resilience and creative energy of the cast and crew is unmatched,” said Wade, who’s been around a few casts and crews in his day.
“I’ve had worse nights. Wait – no, I haven’t,” joked Molly during intermission, when she came backstage to praise her cast.
As president of Ocracoke Alive and a temporary castmember, David was looking on the bright side of the evening. “I’m running home after the show,” he said, “because my wife thinks I look hot in stockings and a tri-cornered hat.”
More seriously, he said, “We needed to do this for Matt, even if Emmet couldn’t grow a beard fast enough.”
The show’s co-director Desiree Ricker said, “When I go to heaven, I’m going to thank Jesus for Mary-Chandler,” referring to Mary-Chandler Storrs, who took over the lines at the last minute for a missing castmate and delivered them perfectly.
Samantha Styron, who plays the romantic lead, was unruffled throughout the pre-show commotion. “I was confident that everything was going to work out, and I’m glad that it did,” she said. Her performance was a flawless as always.
Not everyone was so sure the right decision was made.
“I don’t think the show should’ve happened after the stage came down. It was an ominous scene,” said pirate Derek Gilliam, who gave it his all nonetheless.
“It’s wonderful to have a cast that can disagree with you, but you can still depend on them,” said Molly in response. “All I was trying to do was let people see the show they’ve waited all summer to see. And they loved it! I don’t regret it at all.”
As the day dawned on Tuesday, the Show That Went On was the talk of the town.
For those that weren’t there, the best quote of the night is from Waylon Underwood, who plays the handsome pirate Richard Evans.
“My mom is going to be so pissed that this is the show she missed,” he said.
Full disclosure: I'm in the show, and Emmet is my kid. I may be a little biased, but it was a night the cast will never forget.