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
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
“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.