Tom Titus The show, as they say,...

Tom Titus

The show, as they say, must go on, even if the leading actress

becomes too sick to perform.

That was the situation at the Laguna Playhouse last week when


Misty Cotton, who headlines the playhouse’s musical “The Spitfire

Grill,” fell ill and could not continue in the part.

Within 24 hours, the playhouse had flown actress Kathryn Blake

from New York to replace Cotton for the balance of the run, which


ends Sunday.

Blake had performed the role of Percy Talbot, the ex-convict who

finds a new, rewarding life as a waitress in a Michigan restaurant,

last summer in Florida -- and was nominated for a South Florida

Critics Assn. award. She was recommended as a quick replacement by

James Valcq, composer/librettist of “The Spitfire Grill.”

Last Wednesday’s performance had been canceled because of Cotton’s

illness, with all but a handful of theatergoers accommodated at other


performances. It was one of the prospects that a professional theater

company fears most, said Richard Stein, the Laguna Playhouse

executive director.

“Like most of the nation’s nonprofit resident theaters, because of

the prohibitive cost -- literally hundreds of thousands of dollars --

we don’t employ understudies, and our contract with Actors Equity

does not require us to do so,” Stein remarked. “As a result, we face

the prospect of canceling performances when situations like this



Nevertheless, Stein pointed out, “we’ve been very fortunate, as

(last Wednesday’s) was the first canceled performance at the Laguna

Playhouse since December 1995, during the run of ‘Under the


There have been two other occasions since that time when quick

replacements of ailing actors saved the playhouse from canceling

performances. Laguna Playhouse artistic director Andrew Barnicle

stood in for one performance of Stein’s 1996 production of “A Child’s

Christmas in Wales.” And Gary Imhoff, who appeared in “I Love You,

You’re Perfect, Now Change,” came back for a few performances of the

summer 1998 reprise of that show.

Although Blake was familiar with the role, having played it a few

months ago, the stage, the scenery, the blocking and entrances and

exits were all new to her. After arriving at 4 p.m. Nov. 21 from the

airport, Blake rehearsed with the other cast members, director Nick

DeGruccio, music director Tom Griffin and production stage manager

Nancy Staiger -- and took the stage at 8:15 p.m.

Blake has toured with the 20th anniversary production of “Evita,”

performed in the world premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Whistle

Down the Wind” and played Christine in the San Francisco company of

Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera.”

In New York, she performed in the Hal Prince workshop “The Ballad

of Little Jo” and starred in “An Evening With the Gershwins.”

“The Spitfire Grill” will be staged at 8 p.m. tonight, at 2 and 8

p.m. Saturday and will close with performances at 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday

at the playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. Call (949)

497-2787 for ticket information.

* TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Coastline Pilot.