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The Iceman Cometh understudy Tom McElroy on going on with no rehearsal

By Kris Vire Sat Apr 23 2011



















As The Iceman Cometh started previews Saturday night at the Goodman Theatre, it did so without one of its stars. "Great 1st preview last night," director Robert Falls tweeted yesterday. "Dennehy sick and US Tom McElroy stepped in w/ no rehearsal, no advance notice and was brilliant. I LOVE ACTORS!"


The Goodman said Brian Dennehy was exhausted and dehydrated after the production's long process of tech rehearsal; he took Saturday and Sunday off to rest and is expected to be back in the show at tomorrow night's performance.


McElroy, who's recently been seen as both Capulet and Montague in Romeo and Juliet (at First Folio and Chicago Shakespeare Theater, respectively) as well as in TimeLine Theatre's The Farnsworth Invention and Writers' Theatre's Old Glory, covers Dennehy's role of Larry Slade and three others. I called him today to ask just what "no rehearsal" meant.


Bob tweeted that you went on with no rehearsals. How true is that?


I think that when he says no rehearsals, he means that understudy rehearsals, where the understudies rehearse onstage and all that sort of stuff, that's not going to happen until after opening. So yeah, no rehearsal; doing a lot of running of lines in the green room while things are being worked, and you sit in the house and watch everybody work onstage as they're doing the tech.


[On Saturday] afternoon before the performance, Spicy [production stage manager Joe Drummond] said okay, they'd like you in the house. I went up there, and they said you're gonna go on. So, I got up on the stage, and we did about four or five portions of acts—one of them had a little change in blocking that they'd done during the day that I hadn't seen. I ran a couple of scenes with Nathan [Lane, who plays Hickey], a couple of scenes with Patrick [Andrews, who plays Parritt]. And then dinner came [laughs], and I ran my lines again with my good, good friends in the understudies, D'Wayne [Taylor] and Cody [Proctor], [who] sat in the dressing room with me and drilled me on some things all the way through. Then they threw the costume on me and [laughs] we went on. So yeah, a little crazy.


So what time was it on Saturday when you got the word you'd be going on?


I think we had about—about 90 minutes, two hours before dinner, so that'd make it about three and a half, four hours before curtain.


You hear a lot of understudies talk about the experience of going on as kind of a blur. Was that how you'd describe it?


My experience in so many ways is actually crystal clear to me. I don't think I will ever forget Saturday in my life. From the moment they said there's a possibility you may need to be ready to go on tonight. Sitting onstage, that was so surreal. There were moments of incredible joy, stark raving terror, everything in-between.


I can remember sitting at the table at one point, at the top of the second act. When we did the work in the afternoon, the set wasn't dressed; we pulled a couple of tables in and just kind of did it down on the front of the stage and put some semblance together of what it was. So it wasn't like you were actually in the dressed set at all. And I sat there [in the performance], and I'm thinking, I have never been on this set. I have never been in this chair, I have never had this tablecloth in front of me, I have never had these people around me. And I'm gonna do this.


I will say that there was no more prayer going on during a performance in Chicago than there was on Saturday. ’Cause I was praying onstage. Sally, my wife, had texted everybody we knew that prays and said, Pray for Tom, he's going on tonight and he's had no rehearsal. The whole thing really is—wildest rollercoaster I'd ever rode.


And I absolutely could not have done it without—what a phenomenal group of people, from Bob to Spicy and [stage manager] Alden [Vasquez] and all of the cast—Nathan, my goodness, what a gracious, wonderful guy who just—it had to have been terrifying for him to have an understudy on at first preview, and I would never have guessed it. We just worked very well together. All of the love and support from those guys and girls made me feel very comfortable.

Tom McElroy

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