Posted by Bruce Miller
Few things are more disappointing in the world of theatre attendance than sitting down for a show you’ve been looking forward to, and discovering that little slip of paper in your playbill, or hearing that dreaded announcement over the loud speaker – “For tonight’s performance, the role of (insert the name of a pivotal role here), usually played by (insert the name of the actor you’ve been waiting six weeks to see here), will be played by (insert the name of an actor you’ve never heard of here).”
There’s a very funny section in Scrambled Feet, the hit Off Broadway satirical revue from 1979, that goes like this: “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. At tonight’s performance of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the part of Martha, usually played by Kathryn Hepburn, will be performed tonight by our lovely stage manager, Carla Agump. The part of Nick, usually played by Al Pacino, will be performed tonight by Shlomo Pincus. The part of Honey, usually played by Madelyn Kahn, will be deleted from the script for this evening’s performance. And the part of George, normally played by George C. Scott, will be performed tonight by our talented lighting designer, Yoshitero Nakamura. Enjoy the show!”
There I sat at Hanover Tavern last Saturday evening, knowing what I was about to hear, but still not quite prepared for the enormity of it when it finally came. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Barksdale Theatre’s production of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple. At tonight’s performance, the role of Roy normally played by Steve Moore will be played by Joe Pabst. The role of Cecily Pigeon normally played by Jennifer Meharg will be played by Vickie McLeod. And the role of Felix Unger, normally played by Scott Wichmann, will be played this evening by Richard Koch.”
Now I’m not meaning to equate Richard Koch with “an actor you’ve never heard of” or “our talented lighting designer, Yoshitero Nakamura.” Richard, Vickie and Joe are all stars in their own right. Nonetheless, hearing that there will be three replacements, one of them a lead, in a cast of only seven, sounds daunting. It gives one pause.
But then the show started. Joe Pabst was up first, filling in for Steve who needed to be with his family in Danville. And Joe was great! The poker scene just pinged right along. If anything, it was tighter and funnier than when I last saw it five weeks ago. Then Richard had his big entrance as Felix Unger. He started out slow, as the character is meant to, but after only ten minutes, he had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand.
By the time Vickie entered, no one even remembered that there were understudies performing in that evening's show. Vickie, just like Richard and Joe, was perfection, and the entire show was an absolute delight. I missed the original cast, of course. They also are terrific. But I can’t tell you how proud I was of the three temporary replacements.
It says a lot about the depth of talent that exists in Richmond that three new actors can step into a show without missing a beat. They brought their own charms and talents to the roles, found new and exciting moments, and honored the original production just enough so that no one in the rest of the cast was thrown at all. It was a joy to watch. I was glad I came home early from vacation just to catch this performance.
On behalf of all the audience members who laughed themselves silly, thanks to Richard, Vickie, Joe, and everyone else involved. As Scott, Jen and Steve all return to the show this week, they can rest assured that their standby's did them proud!