A trip to the Big Apple would be an absolute waste if you didn’t take the time to visit the place of which theatre fanatics’ dreams are made: Broadway! The roster of shows that are offered to the public throughout the year is nothing short of amazing. Whether they’re long-running musicals like Phantom of the Opera or The Lion King or straight plays like The Heiress or The River, a play showing on Broadway is almost always guaranteed to be spectacular, critically if not commercially. The more successful it is, the longer it runs.
However, one of the downsides of live performances is that making a mistake is difficult to cover up, whether the faux pas is by the performer or a backstage glitch. That’s why theater performers are in for a much bigger challenge than film actors because at least in film, you can always do a re-take. In plays, it takes all your creative skill to cover up your mistake with some on-the-spot acting. That’s why stage actors are vastly considered more talented than movie or TV actors, who are spoiled by the convenience of cameras that can stop rolling at any given moment should a crisis arise. And stage actors who move on to film or TV are usually the ones who reap in the most acclaim thanks to their stage training.
But that’s just talking about performance errors. What about glitches that are beyond your control and worse, those that cause injury? This article lists down some of the worst accidents on Broadway live performances.
14. Wicked (Idina Menzel incident)
Anyone and everyone who’s a theatre fan knows the tale of Elphaba and her BFF Galinda, who were played in the original Wicked run by Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth respectively. The show has gone on to become one of the most successful in musical theatre history. But it did have its share of disasters. In Menzel’s penultimate performance as Elphaba in January 8, 2005, she fell through a trap door and broke a lower rib during the iconic scene where the Wicked Witch of the West melts. She was unable to perform in her final show the following day, though she did make a special appearance in her street clothes and performed her final song.
13. Wicked (Shoshana Bean incident)
Idina Menzel’s replacement Shoshana Bean also fell victim to a glitch while performing the role, though she wasn’t injured. When the show’s most popular song, Defying Gravity was being performed, Elphaba was supposed to “fly.” The illusion of flying is done by placing the actress on a cherry picker that lifts her up several feet into the air. The cherry picker didn’t rise, so the ensemble had to compensate by lying down on the ground and pointing to a still-on-the-ground Elphaba to convey the illusion that she was supposed to be flying. Wickedly creative, these theatre actors!
If you’re wondering at the odd name of Seussical, you’d be surprised (and pleased?) to know that it’s a musical featuring the books of Dr. Seuss, particularly the Horton books and Miss Gertrude McFuzz. Music director Seth Rudetsky recounts a blooper moment during one of the performances, saying he was playing the piano and halfway through the first act, he noticed the other musicians looking over his head to what was apparently a water bug hanging directly above his arm. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he wasn’t absolutely terrified of bugs. He freaked out when the performers on the stage above him began a dance number because the stage started shaking and the bug was precariously close to landing on his bare arm. Luckily, the bug crawled away, but Rudestky said he suffered from post-traumatic stress for a while after the incident.
11. Her First Roman
Back in the 1960s, future Tony Award winner Priscilla Lopez was part of the musical, Her First Roman, which told the story of Cleopatra and Caesar. As a chorus girl, she had to wear a wig but since her hair was short, the wig flapped loose. To make sure it stayed firmly on her head, Lopez stuffed the under of her cap with underwear, socks, and other small articles of clothing. Apparently, she was able to sway her fellow chorus gals to do the same, but when a bra started peeking out of one of the chorus girls’ caps in the middle of the performance, Lopez tried so hard to suppress her laughter that she peed on herself right onstage! And since the stage was sloping downwards, the urine flowed straight down into the orchestra pit and onto the heads of the musicians!
10. Les Miserables (Pattie Lupone as Fantine)
Back when Les Miserables was first staged in London, the producers insisted that when the leads had only a couple of songs in their repertoire, they ought to join the chorus to add to the number of bodies onstage. But Pattie Lupone, who was tapped to play Fantine, would have none of it, seeing herself as too big a star to be in the chorus. She was able to get away with it for Act One, taking to hiding out backstage, but her ruse was discovered during the second act and she was forced to join the ensemble. In an act of defiance, she dressed as a boy. And every actress who has played Fantine has upheld the tradition ever since Miss Lupone haughtily started it!
9. Les Miserables (Andrea McArdle as Fantine)
Andrea McArdle was one of the actresses who played Fantine on Broadway and she enjoyed upholding the Fantine tradition started by Pattie Lupone of playing a boy in Act Two. McArdle loved the baggy pants she was required to wear because of their deep pockets, which gave her a chance to sneak in a pack of M&Ms that she could munch on backstage. During one performance, she wanted to show off to a bunch of her friends in the audience so during the barricade scene where her ensemble character was supposed to die, she flung herself backwards in an overly dramatic death, forgetting about the M&Ms in her pocket. As a result, the stage became awash with colorful chocolate pieces that eventually fell into the orchestra pit!
8. Kiss of the Spiderwoman
For the musical Kiss of the Spiderwoman, Seth Rudetsky recounted one performance wherein he was playing the keyboard as an understudy. He said he was so nervous because as he wasn’t the main keyboardist and simply an understudy, he felt ill-prepared, especially with big names such as Hal Prince as the show’s director and Chita Rivera as the star of the show. Suddenly, he was told by the conductor that there was something amiss with the keyboard, saying each note he struck had a strange vibrato sound. No one could figure out what was wrong with it, but then Rudetsky realized that he was the one causing the strange sound—his leg was apparently shaking non-stop on the volume pedal out of sheer nervousness!
In the original run of Evita, which featured Patti LuPone in the titular role, Nancy Opel was the understudy, eagerly awaiting her opportunity to play the part. When her chance finally came, she jumped at it excitedly. However, having no prior experience to performing the role outside rehearsals, Opel wasn’t familiar with the stage layout. She didn’t know about the bundle of wires that ran across the stage, so after she finished singing the iconic Don’t Cry For Me Argentina wearing a dress with a wide hoop skirt, she tripped over the wires and fell flat on her back. The hoop skirt prevented her from getting up, instead causing her to rock from side to side while the show transitioned to the next song number.
6. Sweet Smell of Success
This incident is more of a behind-the-scenes one, but no less mortifying. Tony Award winner Kelli O’Hara wanted to audition for Sweet Smell of Success on Broadway, but was only available during lunch hour. Unfortunately, everyone was out on their lunch break, save for one person who volunteered to play the piano for her while she practiced her audition number. She irritably snapped at the pianist that he was playing too slowly for her liking, only to find out later that the person she vented her ire on was none other than Marvin Hamlisch, the musical’s revered composer! It’s a good thing O’Hara eventually got the role.
5. Phantom of the Opera, first incident
With a set as elaborate as the one in Phantom of the Opera, something’s bound to have gone wrong at least once in the production’s thousands of performances. One incident relayed by an audience member happened during the scene transitioning to the famous Prima Donna number. According to the fan, the audience heard a crack just as the notes to the song were starting. It turned out, one of the candelabras broke and the show had to go on an emergency intermission for 15 minutes.
4. Phantom of the Opera, second incident
Another incident in another Phantom performance had the main chandelier refusing to rise from the stage and up above the heads of the audience, which led the show to go into intermission for a good 10 minutes. This is a big no-no in terms of performance disasters because that chandelier rise during the overture is supposed to be one of the most iconic and heart-stopping moments of the entire musical!
3. The Little Mermaid
After the immense success of The Lion King, Disney further forayed into theatre by staging another one of its timeless classics, The Little Mermaid. The show was fairly successful in its own right. But back in 2008, one of its actors, Adrian Bailey, was severely injured prior to the May 10th matinee show. Bailey fell through a trap door and had to be treated for fractured wrists and ribs, a shattered pelvis, and a broken back, among other injuries. As a result, Bailey filed a lawsuit against Disney and the production design company that created the sets, claiming negligence of the defendants and a lack of warnings and safety devices in the stage area.
2. Spiderman, Turn Off the Dark
As if the musical Spiderman, Tun Off the Dark wasn’t controversial enough with its exorbitant budget, it also had to be subject to some controversy in safety. Because of the daring stunts that many of the performers are required to do, many fell victim to mishaps. Daniel Curry, who played a swing, was injured when a piece of equipment pinned his leg while backstage, halting the show for the night. Before Curry, a number of other cast members fell victim to injury, such as Natalie Mendoza, who had to leave the production due to her accident; T.V. Carpio, who was sidelined after his onstage accident; Joshua Kobak, who sued the production for his supposed show-related injuries; and Christopher Tierney, who fell from an onstage platform in the middle of the show. Needless to say, stronger safety measures have since been implemented, though to the ones injured, the damage has already been done.
1. Xanadu (James Carpinello broke leg in three places)
The very campy, but very successful movie musical Xanadu inspired a stage version, though sadly, it wasn’t free of accidents. James Carpinello played the lead of the story, Sonny Malone, on Broadway, but during rehearsals, the actor severely injured his foot and leg while on roller skates. Carpinello allegedly broke his leg in three different places and pulled out of the production permanently and so close to opening night, never getting to shine in the role he had worked so hard to perfect. Instead, his understudy had to take over for good.