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Strength in Breaking

He broke it.

When the official word came via email at 1:17 a.m. last Saturday morning I felt shocked and sick.

Just a few hours earlier, Troy Johnson (click for a pic) delivered a stellar opening night performance as Bert in our production of Mary Poppins.

Backstage heading for an entrance in his last scene of the evening… he fell.

One of those “I cannot believe that just happened” accidents that no one wants.

Thankfully, he will be fine physically… surgery next week.

But what transpired in the ensuing 24 hours was nothing short of miraculous.

When you’ve sold 9000+ tickets to nine more performances a plan “B” for Bert is non-negotiable.

In the movie version of Mary Poppins, Dick Van Dyke’s portrayal of the chalk-drawing chimney sweep, steps aside to serve up Mary as the star of the show.

But in the stage play, it is Bert who literally ties the tale together from beginning to end with his musical narrative.

The show’s a “no go” without him.

While understudies had been cast for Mary, Jane and Michael… no such luck for Bert.

And here’s where the astonishing kicks in….

A couple in the chorus, Melinda and Jim Updike have a son, Juddson, who was wrapping up his final performance as the leading man in another theater’s production across town.

As she left our Green Room on Friday night Melinda said, “I’m taking home the script, just in case.”

It’s a good thing she did.

Juddson was asked to take on the challenge of learning Bert’s part in half a day and bringing it to the stage the following evening.

He said, “Yes.”

From 8:15 a.m. -3:15 p.m. last Saturday he rehearsed with the principals and the chorus.

He left and drove across town for his closing night 5:00 p.m. performance in Anything Goes.

At 7:23 p.m. Melinda received a text from her sister who was watching Juddson’s performance,

“They’re still on stage and have another song to sing.”

Final bows complete, he dashed for the shower, met his dad Jim in the parking lot, and was whisked to our backstage for make-up, mic-up and opening curtain at 8:30 p.m.

Even as I type this… I’m in awe that it transpired as it did.

The level of collaboration it took to pull it off was mind-blowing.

  • hundreds of people contacted about rescheduling a Saturday morning performance to Sunday afternoon

  • unplanned extra rehearsal time for the cast and production team

  • church services moved to another venue so the new Bert could rehearse on the set

  • orchestra and chorus flexing with rearranged choreography

  • a man willing to risk a royal blunder by performing with very little practice time

SO many opportunities for roadblocks that could easily have dashed any hope of pulling it off.

But what the audience observed last Saturday night was nothing short of magical.

And, honestly, anyone walking in “unaware” would have been unaware that anything was amiss.

The thunderous, standing-ovation received from the crowd expressed their appreciation for what they witnessed.

And that roar was matched backstage when the entire cast applauded (many through tears) as Mary and Bert came off the stage.

To say emotions were running high would be the understatement of the year!

While the role of Bert is one Juddson has always dreamed of playing… he never expected it to happen like this.

And you can bet your chimney sweep broom Troy never imagined he’d literally live out the “break a leg” theater idiom.

Both men were thrust into roles they didn’t expect to play; one wanted, one unwanted.

What really “takes the biscuit” for me is how both assumed their new roles with grace, poise, and humility; voicing only their concern for the good of the show and simultaneously giving legs to Bert’s line, “There’s some rough weather on every voyage!”

In Act 2, Scene 10, Jane says, “Mary Poppins says anything is possible if we can only get out of our own way.”

Our cast was already tightly knit…but it has been a marvel to watch how a broken leg has taken the power of this show to an entirely different level.

And it’s definitely put “a whole new spin” on high performance collaboration!

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