Anything goes in live theater. And that includes injuries, illnesses and all sorts of physical mishaps that come with performing in high-energy, high-impact productions eight times a week.
This week, anything apparently did go when two of the lead performers of the Roundabout Theatre's touring production of “Anything Goes” were forced to withdraw from Wednesday evening’s performance at the Ahmanson Theatre.
Rachel York, who stars as nightclub performer Reno Sweeney, came down with a stomach virus the day before and was replaced by understudy Mackenzie Warren. But the mishap that befell Erich Bergen, who plays the toe-tapping Billy Crocker, came suddenly and proved to be a literal showstopper.
People close to the production said the Wednesday performance was going smoothly until about 15 minutes in, when Bergen sustained a leg injury that left him unable to make one of his entrances. The show was halted, and the curtain came down.
The audience at the Ahmanson was informed via loudspeaker that there would be a pause in the show, according to one attendee, Harvey Kern. The announcer later said that the show would resume in 10 minutes. Aaron Umsted filled in the role of Billy for the rest of the performance.
Bergen slipped onstage and made “unfortunate contact with a steel beam on the set,” he said in a statement. “The doctor says it's an injured tendon, nothing terribly serious.”
Umsted is one of two understudies who covers for the role of Billy Crocker. The other, Jeremy Benton, performed the role on Thursday evening.
Umsted, normally a member of the show's ensemble, said he had 10 minutes to change costume and microphones on Wednesday before the show resumed.
“I don't know if it was a dream or a nightmare. Maybe the former,” said the 26-year-old actor in an interview.
Bergen said he “will be back onstage shortly.” It remains unclear exactly when that will be; a company manager for the tour could not be reached for comment.
York returned to the show on Thursday.
Warren, the actress who filled in for York, said the unplanned absence of two lead actors on the same night “was like the ‘Twilight Zone.’” Coincidentally, she and Umsted were drama classmates at the University of Oklahoma.
Rehearsals for understudies take place on a regular basis for large stage productions such as “Anything Goes.”
Warren said understudy rehearsals took place two to three times per week at the beginning of the “Anything Goes” tour and now take place about every other week.
Understudies are trained to take over a role at a moment's notice when a principal cast member is unable to perform. Most understudies also cover multiple roles in a single production. Umsted covers for the parts of Lord Evelyn Oakleigh and Luke, in addition to Billy.
“I do each role in my hotel room at least once a week, so that there's no panic or freaking out,” said Umsted. “It’s about repetition and drilling it into your body and mind.”
The stomach virus that struck York has also affected other cast members of the touring musical, according to people close to the production.
“Anything Goes,” which features music by Cole Porter, is scheduled to run at the Ahmanson through Jan. 6. The tour continues through August to such cities as San Francisco, Las Vegas, Chicago, Washington and Toronto.
As for Wednesday’s performance, audience member Kern reports that Umsted did not disappoint: “He was rewarded with thunderous applause at the end of the show.”