In the video above: See the scene where actor Gil Brady was injured now that he is narrating from the side from a wheelchair as castmate Mark Alpert takes his place on the wire. Video provided by ‘Barnum’ director Scott RC Levy.
Step right up and you’ll hear a tall but true tale you’ve got to read to believe
P.T. Barnum was a celebrated American circus showman remembered for perpetrating outrageous hoaxes on a willing public. But we swear the following fractured tale of derring-do is fully free of flimflam and fibbery.
On May 23, New York actor Gil Brady fractured his fibula just below the knee during the final dress rehearsal for the circus musical Barnum for the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Theatre Company at Colorado College. Now, in theatre they often say, “The show must go on.” But when the star breaks a leg, that usually means the show will go on with some heroic understudy stepping triumphantly into the lead role with very little preparation.
But in this case, there is no understudy. So how could the show go on at all? “Frankly the idea of canceling the show was never an option,” said Director Scott RC Levy. So here it meant that Brady, who plays Barnum in the Broadway circus musical that preceded the hit film “The Greatest Showman” by about 35 years, would play the title character while sitting in a period wheelchair as game choreographer Nathan Halvorson dances the role as a kind of “shadow” version of Barnum. Talk about a show-stopper. And show-re-starter.
“I came out here to play Barnum,” Brady said. “It’s a dream role. If you can do the show, then you do the show.”
Barnum is an unusual musical that combines elements of traditional musical theater with the spectacle of the circus. It centers on the master showman looking back at his nearly 50 years touring jugglers, trapeze artists and clowns around the world. Brady was hurt while executing a nifty bit of acrobatics and allegory. Near the end of the first act, Barnum is torn between his long-suffering wife, Chairy (Jennifer DeDominici) and his attraction for the renowned Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind (Elizabeth Doyle). In a very Fosse-like moment, Levy had Brady singing “Out There” while walking a literal tightrope about 3 feet above the ground with Chairy at one end of the rope and Lind at the other. As Barnum and the Swedish songbird are about to embark on a national tour, the wife literally hands her husband over to the “other woman” with their marriage hanging by a precarious thread. Or shall we say tightrope?
(Story continues below the photo.)
Eventually Brady steps down from the wire, but when he did just that at the final dress rehearsal, he suffered a hairline fracture in what he said can only be described as a fluke.
“Our rope is only 3 feet off of the ground and we have mats underneath it,” added Levy. Brady was being personally coached by Colorado Springs legend Jim Jackson, co-founder of the Millibo Art Theatre and himself a circus performer since 1976. Brady took a month of circus classes in New York before rehearsals even began in Colorado Springs. “In month-plus that I have been watching Gil walk the tightrope, he was perfect,” Levy said. “This was not an accidental fall; it was a planned fall. We took every precaution. It was just one of those things that happened.”
For Brady, leaving the show after his injury never even occurred to him. “That’s not how I was raised in the theatre,” Brady said. “We worked so hard. “I didn’t see any other option.”
There was an invited audience at the final dress rehearsal, and at first none of them – and few of Brady’s fellow actors – knew anything was wrong because Brady went right on with the scene until the intermission. He was then sent to the emergency room, and when Levy and Jackson were finally able to join him there at 1 a.m., Levy said, “Gil was sitting waiting for the X-ray results with an ice pack and his leg up as he was studying the script. It was very clear that he was 100 percent wanting to make it work.”
The creative team spent the better part of the next day contemplating Plans B through H, eventually settling on the wheelchair idea. “It works because this is a memory play,” Levy said. “It’s Barnum recalling all of the events in his life. And so to have Gil essentially narrating his story and watching the events of his life play out with another version of him in the scene actually enhances the production in a way that our original version didn’t have.”
For the high-wire scene, Levy turned to Mark Alpert, a New York ensemble member with circus experience, to take Brady’s place on the rope. (See the video above.) As Brady is watching that and other scenes unfold now, he said, “There are definitely times when I am sitting there thinking, ‘You know, this moment feels better than it ever did before.’ ”
Brady’s accident didn’t just happen to him, of course. It affected every other member of the creative team, beyond the choreographer and Brady’s castmates. It meant new costumes had to be built for Halvorson. Lighting cues and blocking had to change. The stage manager had an entirely new show to call cues for.
“Barnum is the story of circus life, and at the heart of circus life is family,” said cast member Betty Hart. “That’s what happened here. We came together as a family to pull together at a really challenging time.”
Everyone in the company “just stood in their heads and rose to the occasion,” Brady added. “That’s just one of the things that is so wonderful about this theatre company and this group of people. Nobody batted an eye. Everybody said, ‘OK let’s dig deep and let’s make this work. From the crew to the cast to the creative team, everybody really came through, and I am so grateful.”
John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.
Barnum: Ticket information
- Presented by Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Theatre Company at Colorado College
- Book by Mark Bramble, lyrics by Michael Stewart, music by Cy Coleman
- Directed by Scott RC Levy
- Performances: Through June 16 at 30 W. Dale St., Colorado Springs
- Tickets: 719-634-5581 or fac.coloradocollege.edu
- P.T. Barnum: Gil Brady
- Chairy Barnum: Jennifer DeDominici
- Ringmaster/Bailey: Nick Ortiz
- Jenny Lind/Ensemble: Elizabeth Doyle
- Joice Heth/Blues Singer/Ensemble: Betty Hart
- Tom Thumb/Ensemble: Mark Snyder
- Amy Beecher/Ensemble: Tracy Taylor
- Chester Lyman/Ensemble: Thomas Voss
- Amos Scudder/Humber Morrisey/Ensemble: Mark Autry
- Mr. Sherwood Stratton/Wilton/Ensemble: Nels Jacobson
- Julius Goldschmidt/Ensemble: Abby Noble
- Concertmaster/Ensemble: Jessye King
- Edgar Templeton/Ensemble: Mark Alpert
- Circus Ensemble: Kyle Cox, Emily Wegert, Mandy Cervera and David Hale
- Scenic Design: Christopher L. Sheley
- Lighting Design: Holly Anne Rawls
- Costume Design: Lex Liang
- Circus Director: Jim Jackson
- Musical Director: Jerry McCauley
- Choreographer: Nathan Halvorson
- Stage Manager: Timothy J. Muldrew