39. Curtain up!
First night was one of the most crazy and wonderful nights ever.
Everyone was pumped up with adrenalin and the whole performance just sparkled. The four leads were flawless and nothing went seriously wrong.
They were playing to a packed house, which was great, as well as an audience that was hugely appreciative. They laughed, clapped and cheered so strongly that it carried the show along.
To Marcy the whole night was golden. The darkness of the auditorium. The dazzling bright lights on the stage: how the actors dared go out there was anyone’s guess. She had so much admiration for their nerve.
She loved greeting people when they came off stage after a big scene, buoyed up with all the emotion. Helping them change costumes, get the right props, touching up their make up. Marcy had turned out to have a bit of a talent for greasepaint after Betty had showed her a few tricks.
There was actually an encore. They hadn’t rehearsed this as it had been somewhat overlooked, what with the usual last minute panic and the nightmares at the dress rehearsal.
"Whole cast: Guys and Dolls Reprise again," Len called from the wings. "After the first verse and chorus we’ll have an interlude. Revel and Betty - do your Hot Box tap duet - then back for a final chorus."
The tap dance had been an absolute show stopper so Marcy thought it was a great idea to repeat it. And it was. The audience were even crying out for a second encore but by then everyone was exhausted and needed to wrap things up and get home.
Afterwards everyone was hugging everyone else, happy and relieved that it had been such a success. Mrs Helberg was even sharing out bunches of flowers that had been delivered to her dressing room, or rather the one all the female cast shared as it was only a small theatre.
"The best show this little theatre has seen in years," Thaddeus said. "A real roof raiser, even if I do say so myself."
Mrs Helberg was absolutely thrilled with the success. "And we mustn’t forget all those vital people behind the scenes," she said, smiling kindly at Marcy and the other stage hands. "Tonight wouldn’t have been possible with all of you."
There wasn’t a huge celebration that night as everyone had to get home and save their energy for the week ahead. But Len and Alan had been planning an absolute blast for the Closing Night party, which after tonight would be very well deserved.
Even if the rest of the week was a catastrophe, it would be okay. Because they knew they could do it, and they’d had one perfect night.
Then a couple of days later: disaster actually struck.
Guys and Dolls was playing for a whole week, including a special matinée performance one afternoon. The audience for this included a lot of people from retirement homes who were given free tickets as a community gesture.
"It’s one of the best audiences," Betty had said. "They’re always so appreciative, and they love the Golden Oldies."
But then a relative of Mrs Helberg’s died suddenly, and the funeral was the same afternoon as the matinée. Neither event could be rescheduled, for obvious reasons, and Mrs Helberg’s priority had to be the funeral service.
The bad news was revealed just after the cast arrived at the theatre to get ready for that evening’s performances.
"What the hell are we going to do?" Martin asked.
There was a vague understudy plan in place where Betty would understudy for Revel as Adelaide and Revel for Mrs Helberg as Sarah. In practice though, no one was expecting such a thing to happen. Shifting two major roles and losing the lead Hot Box dancer would cause huge disruption to all the routines, and there was no time to rehearse.
Thaddeus suggested putting Betty in the lead role as Sarah and making do when it came to the dancing scenes. It might even be possible for Betty to double up in a scene that didn’t involve Sarah.
"I do have an idea," Revel said. She turned to Marcy: "You’re going to hate me, but honestly this is the best thing for the show."
Marcy felt a sinking fear in the pit of her stomach.
Revel addressed Len again. "Marcy knows all the lines backwards. Put her on as Sarah. It’s only for the matinée, even if a few prompts are needed the audience will be kind, from what Betty says."
"Oh they will indeed," Betty said. "They’ll applaud all the more knowing an understudy is trying her best." She smiled brightly at Marcy.
"But I can’t sing," Marcy said. "Not properly, I mean."
"That’s okay. We can use the cast recording of Sarah’s songs," Revel said. "It will look fine, trust me. And it’s just for one performance."
Everyone started to exclaim at what a great idea it was, and how it would really save the day, and Marcy felt completely stressed and miserable. Like she was being pushed into a corner. She caught Gray’s eye and saw sympathy there.
"It’s all right, you’ll be fine," he told her. "We can all run through the lines with you."
Thaddeus offered the same, as his character had several scenes with Sarah. As did Revel.
Everyone was now looking at Marcy, anxious for her to accept. It was the thought of letting them all down, and making Gray think that she lacked courage, that got her over the line.
"Okay, I’ll try. But you’d all better make sure the New York Times reviewer doesn’t show up that day."
Marcy got so much overwhelming relief and gratitude after agreeing to stand in for Mrs Helberg that she started to get even more stressed about how much hope they were investing in her. How could she stand up in front of all those people? She would be sure to mess up and let everyone down.
Revel took her to one side later on. "I am sorry. But it was the only way. Everything else they were suggesting would have been disastrous, and this way it really won’t be that bad. You look the part, at least. Most of the old dears in the audience will find the sight of you and Gray so sweet together that they wouldn’t notice if you suddenly switched to Macbeth half way through."
Her and Gray. Doing a love scene. This hadn’t even crossed Marcy’s mind yet.
Betty also had a quiet word. "A couple of pins and the costumes will be peachy. Just don’t tell Cora how much I’ve had to take them in from her size!"
Mrs Helberg was also very thankful to Marcy. "That’s real team spirit, my dear. I’m very grateful to you." The relation that had died was elderly and had been ill for a while, so it was considered a "happy release" and Mrs Helberg wasn’t overwhelmed with grief. But she also couldn’t miss such a solemn event.
At least Sarah didn’t have to do too much dancing. With Mrs Helberg in the role this had been scaled back, another reason why it made better sense for Revel not to switch roles.
"Thanks for stepping up," Gray said to Marcy later, just before he had to go on stage for his first scene. "You really have spirit."
He smiled at her and there was a look in his eyes that was more than just friends.
Marcy felt a warm glow. Suddenly it all seemed worthwhile.