Broadway Stars Recall Bloopers on the Great White Way

A persnickety prop might throw some actors off their game, but these pros know how to handle any trouble that comes their way

Joan Marcus

The Tony Awards, coming on June 10, recognize Broadway's finest moments, the best performances, score and costumes of the season, to name just a few categories. But all is not always rosy on the Great White Way. We asked stars of Tony-nominated shows such as “Once,” “Clybourne Park” and “Newsies” to recall the on stage-gaffes that caught them off guard.

Steve Kazee, Tony-nominated this year as star of the romantic musical “Once,” previously rode a fire-spitting broom as Tim the Enchanter, one of multiple parts he played in “Monty Python’s Spamalot.” Kazee recalls one evening with the temperamental prop.

“I’d be up in the wings, 30 feet off-stage, waiting for my cue to fly out. One night, my cue comes, so I pressed the button on the broom. It starts sparking, but I don't go anywhere. They try to lower me down, but I’m just stuck in the air and no one can see me. So, we began the biggest unscripted improv in ‘Spamalot’ history. Michael McGrath was onstage playing Patsy. He kept yelling, ‘What are you doing?’ And I’d shout out, ‘Just finishing up some pie.’ Then he’d ask, ‘Well ... is there enough for everyone?’ This continued for 10 minutes, until they finally got me lowered down to the ground. Then, I waddled out onto the stage holding the broken broom ...”

“Newsies” star Kara Lindsay, who plays an aspiring newspaper reporter, had her own confrontation with a broom this year, shortly after the Harvey Fierstein-scripted musical opened at the Nederlander.

“In the song ‘King of New York,’ I’m trying to prove I can keep up with the boys. Brendon (Stimson, one of the Delancey Brothers) throws a broom in the air, and I’m supposed to catch it and then toss it back. Except, one night I didn’t quite catch it. I slapped it into the audience and it bounced off our conductor’s head. I full on screamed, but the audience applauded. I’m thinking: ‘Listen, I’m killing the conductor. Don’t applaud.’”

With pre-curtain announcements warning audiences to turn off their cell phones, you’d think one would never interrupt a show again. So how do actors experience these nightly interjections? If you’re Jeff Goldblum, you just go with it, as he proved opposite Justin Long this spring during a performance of “Seminar.”

“It’s the climax of the play, where I’m reading this story I’ve been beating up (Justin Long) about. A cell phone goes off right near him, in the first couple of rows, and it’s playing this very loud version of the Mexican Hat Dance. When the thing goes off, Justin looks down and checks the pocket of his blue jeans. We do a couple of moments of exchange, like ‘Hey. Is that your phone?’ I shrugged, as if to say ‘It better not be.’ He kept pretending to look for it, until it finally stopped, and I just kept shrugging. After the show, Jerry O’Connell said, ‘I’m going to plant a phone there and have my wife call it every night so you guys can do that again.’”

In 2006, “Clybourne Park” star Annie Parisse appeared in “The Internationalist” at The Vineyard Theatre. The comedy included as a set piece a darkly painted window, suspended by ropes from overheard. For one particular scene, the window would swoosh in overhead at the same time Parisse was making her entrance.

“During tech rehearsals, everyone was very careful about measuring the height of the window with me walking underneath it, to make sure there was no chance it would hit me in the head. So of course, during one of our first performances, it did just that. I was fine. More surprised than anything. But I wasn’t quiet about it. I said, ‘Oh my God.’ Nearest thing we could figure is that the rope stretched a bit after the first few weeks.”

A star of “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” is Priscilla herself, the thusly christened pink bus that transports the musical’s three human leads through the Australian Outback. Tony Sheldon, a 2011 Tony nominee as Bernadette, recalls one difficult evening during previews in Sydney.

“We were having a lot of trouble with the bus, and it happened just after our prime minister at the time had said that he wasn’t interested in granting any rights to gay people, politically. About two nights later, we were on stage doing a scene, myself and the actor playing ‘Tick,’ when the bus started moving toward the audience. The stage manager screamed ‘Get out of the way!’ So, they had to bring down the fire curtain and stop the show. We decided to go sit out on the stage to keep the audience company. We told them that the prime minister had asked us to come and be photographed with him in costume, but we had refused, saying: ‘We’ll do something for you when you do something for us.’ The audience screamed and cheered for us. That never would’ve happened if the bus hadn’t broken down.”

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