Annaleigh Ashford As soon as Survived a Fireplace on Stage and Felt the True Spirit of Theater


Locations, please for ELLE’s new column Showstoppers, the place theater’s largest stars mirror upon the second of their profession the place the well-known phrase “the present should go on” grew to become somewhat too actual. When issues don’t go in response to plan onstage, right here’s how the professionals react—and what they take away from it.

For our first installment, Tony-winner Annaleigh Ashford, who presently stars as Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Avenue, for which she simply gained the Drama League Award for Distinguished Efficiency, remembers when a curtain caught hearth on stage throughout a efficiency of her Tony-winning function, Essie, within the 2014 revival of You Can’t Take It With You. Right here, in her personal phrases, she recollects the minor fireworks accident and the way improv and fast pondering can typically save the day.

You Can’t Take It With You is crafted to have a phenomenal ensemble that works collectively to make each little bit of comedy work. It’s a real ensemble piece. I saved saying there’s no “I” within the phrase actor, and there’s no “I” within the phrase theater. It’s a bunch sport. So, there are kittens within the first act, and me and Kristine Nielsen, [who played Penelope Sycamore] needed to as soon as navigate a rogue kitten going to make a break for the viewers. We had been in a position to cease the kitten earlier than it went into the viewers, however that was only one enjoyable second in that present that actually stands out to me.


preview for Watch Our Newest Videos

I’ve additionally executed some massive exhibits with a whole lot of technical items for issues that fly, like Elphaba and Glinda [from Wicked]. Kinky Boots had a whole lot of excessive heels getting caught in all kinds of humorous issues. However, nothing compares to the fireworks in You Can’t Take It With You. There have been fireworks within the again that went off. One evening when the set was revolving again round upstage, one of many fireworks obtained caught on a curtain and caught on hearth. A hearth within the theater is the worst factor you possibly can ever see. So, I began screaming, and I imply screaming, “Fireplace! There’s a fireplace!”

There was a fireplace on the stage! No person actually thought it was as massive of a deal as I did. However, typically the identical factor occurs when somebody drops a prop or spills one thing on stage. There’s all the time one particular person to come back in and clear it up. We’re all watching and caring for each other. We’ve all obtained one another’s backs. It’s neighborhood.

So, nonetheless, whereas the stage was shifting, Reg Rogers [who played Boris Kolenkhov], simply walked over and grabbed somewhat towel that was on the facet of the stage and simply put it out and shortly mentioned, “There’s no hearth! Stop yelling hearth. That’s the worst factor you are able to do is yell hearth within the theater!”

Ashford on opening evening of You Can’t Take It With You in 2014.

Walter McBride//Getty Pictures

We labored as a neighborhood on stage to place out the fireplace. We actually put out a fireplace. The viewers didn’t know. See, that’s the factor. A whole lot of issues that occur on stage that really feel like a fireplace to us the viewers has no concept about. More often than not, in that second, we’re not in a position to clear up the issue, however we will navigate and “sure, and…”. It’s such an amazing metaphor for the whole thing of the theatrical expertise for each the individuals on stage and the individuals within the viewers. We’re all simply able to see what occurs.

When issues go incorrect, it reminds you of how a lot goes proper. We’re strolling on steadiness beams for 3 hours each evening. We get so used to a steadiness beam, and it will get wider and larger, however it’s all the time a steadiness. That second was an amazing instance that you simply’re by no means working alone, you’re all the time working collectively to deal with each other.

After I performed Glinda, the pinnacle carpenter would all the time come and faucet your toes earlier than you flew up. It was this kind of candy connection between the crew and actors. A second the place the crew mentioned, “We’ve obtained your again. We’ll deal with you.”

There’s one thing so non secular in regards to the theater. There’s all kinds of pleasant ghosts and spirits giving us love and defend. I discover it to be such an act of God, and I really feel like we’re all the time being watched over by those that come earlier than.

annaleigh and josh

Josh Groban, Annaleigh Ashford and the corporate of Sweeney Todd

Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman


“We’ve had a whole lot of issues with blood and the [barber’s] chair. Typically, it’s like Elphaba [in Wicked] flying. Often, Elphaba doesn’t fly. The forged and the crew all know what to do. After I performed Glinda in Chicago, the fireplace alarm went off throughout the opening quantity. I simply mentioned, ‘There’s a storm a-brewin’!’ and to the Ozians I mentioned, ‘Come to me my little mates,’ so everybody might get out of the best way and are available upstage. Stuff occurs on a regular basis, and more often than not, the viewers doesn’t discover. There’s all the time a backup plan, and our aim is all the time to get the present executed. In the event you do must cease the present, it’s an acknowledgement to the viewers that sure, this occurred.

One time in Sweeney Todd, I fell off the counter and did a somersault. My aim then was to point out the viewers that I used to be okay so that they knew I used to be okay. All of us wanted to chortle, breathe, and transfer on. You need the viewers to know you’re okay and for them to be okay, after which you possibly can transfer on and hold telling the story.”

This interview has been edited and condensed for readability.

Annaleigh Ashford presently stars as Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Avenue on the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. Tickets could be bought right here.

Headshot of Samuel Maude

Samuel is the Assistant to the Editor-in-Chief at ELLE Journal. His pursuits embrace music, theater, books, video video games, and something to do with Taylor Swift. He famously broke each his arms on the similar time in fourth grade.