Los Angeles Chapter  California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists

Los Angeles Chapter — CAMFT

Guest Article

01/31/2024 7:30 PM | Mike Johnsen (Administrator)

Chellie Campbell,
Financial Stress
Reduction Expert

Sing Your Song for All You’re Worth!

"It’s your story. Feel free to hit them
with a plot twist whenever you want

 Karen Chen,
American Figure Skater

I love the theatre. Since I danced in my first musical, “The Boyfriend,” in high school, I’ve loved performing and going to see others perform, too.

The excitement as you wait for the crowd to gather, to settle down, for the overture to play, the curtain to rise and then you get singing, dancing and stories galore!

But sometimes the announcement comes over the loudspeaker: “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re sorry to announce that XYZ celebrity will not be performing tonight. Instead, the role will be played by XYZ chorus
member . . .” The energy shifts in an instant and disappointed audience members groan.

But they don’t know what I know: that some of the most magical nights in the theatre happen when the understudy goes on!

That’s how Shirley MacLaine was discovered. She was just 21 and a chorus girl in the Broadway hit “The Pajama Game” when Carol Haney who played the saucy, funny dancing role of Gladys, broke her leg. As her understudy, Shirley went on in her stead for the next several weeks. One of those nights, film producer Hal Wallis happened to be in the audience, saw her, shipped her off to Hollywood, and the rest was movie magic.

Years ago, I got the chance to play Shirley MacLaine’s part of Gladys in “The Pajama Game” at a local 99-seat Equity-waiver playhouse called the Megaw Theatre in Northridge, California. 

It was my kind of part! I never wanted to play the romantic leads, I liked the second-lead girls – pert and funny, who weren’t onstage all the time but showed up with some comic relief and dancing. You kind of smile when they come on because you know it’s going to be an interlude with lots of fun going on!

One rehearsal night, about three days before opening night, occurred on April 1st, so I concocted an April Fool’s joke for our director Elaine. 

She was talking with a group of actors with her back to me. With a mournful face, I tapped on her shoulder.

“Elaine, I’m so sorry. I don’t know how to tell you this,” I gulped.

Everyone hushed, and a worried frown creased her brow. “What is it?” she asked?

“I just got a paid gig in New Orleans for a commercial. It shoots on Saturday and I have to leave tomorrow. I’m not going to be able to do the show opening weekend.”

She stopped breathing. In distress, I saw her wheels turning as she tried to figure out how to handle this dilemma.

I felt so badly, I couldn’t leave her hanging for very long. “April Fool!” I shouted.

Her eyes got big as saucers, her face turned red, and screaming a wordless, “Arrrrghhh!!” she reached out to grab me.

I turned and ran. She chased me around the entire theatre twice before both of us and all the other actors, musicians, and production personnel collapsed in gales of laughter. It was too funny!

But then the same situation happened two weeks later and it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke. 

We were getting ready for the Friday night show when our lead actor playing Syd told Elaine he got a part in a movie that was shooting in Washington State and he had to leave Saturday morning. 

By some twist of fate his understudy was sick and wasn’t going to be able to fill in for him. We were sold out for all the weekend performances! Would we have to cancel the show?

Elaine and her partner, producer Sydney Morrison, mulled over their choices. They decided to go for broke. They called Sam, a member of the chorus who was understudying a different part, into their office.

“Guess what?” Elaine announced happily. “You’re going to get to go on as an understudy!”

“Oh, that’s wonderful!” Sam exclaimed. “When?”

“Tomorrow night!”

As he started to say, “Great!” Elaine went on, “But you’re not going on as Hymie. You’re going on as Syd.”

“What?! I don’t know that part,” he said. “How am I going to be ready?”

“We’re all going to help you,” she answered. “The whole cast is going to rehearse it with you all day Saturday. Syd’s main prop is a clipboard, so we’ll put the script on it so you’ll have your lines. It will be an exciting day in the theatre and we’re going to pull it off!”

He sat there looking totally stunned, then he said a weak and tremulous, “Okay . . .”

The next morning, we all showed up at the theatre at 9:00 am and went through every scene with him, figuring out ways to help. We grabbed sandwiches and fruit for dinner and suddenly, it was curtain time.

Elaine decided to inform the audience of what had happened. She described the events, apologized that our star couldn’t perform that night, but said we had a wonderful understudy and we had been rehearsing all day to give them a great performance. She graciously offered a refund to anyone who didn’t want to stay and said she would give them tickets to another performance.

Not one person took her up on her offer. They all smiled and clapped in the spirit of “The show must go on!” You could feel the delighted anticipation of everyone in the room. This was real theatre and real life where unplanned accidents and unforeseen miracles could happen!

The overture started playing and all the actors whispered the traditional, “Break a leg!” to Sam and each other. Then we began.

It all went brilliantly, until late in the play. After an hour and a half of stress and adrenaline, Sam’s mind was blown.

I had a scene with him then, walked on stage and delivered my line. I looked in his eyes and he just shook his head with a hopeless look. So I just said, “Well, I’ll bet you’re thinking” and then said his line myself. 

He looked relieved, so I tried my next line. He shrugged, so I said, “Now, I know what you’re going to say . . .” and gave his next line, too.

I did the whole scene like that! It was too funny really, and all the cast was hanging from the rafters screaming hysterically. The audience loved it, too, because they were in on the joke.

Oh, the cheers they gave us when we did our curtain call. They were yelling and stamping their feet, and when Sam came out to take his bow as the star, they all stood as one person for a rousing standing ovation! What a win for us all, audience, actors, musicians, and crew.

That night is one of my most cherished memories in the theatre. I’m sitting here grinning to myself over it as I write this. 

To you I say – this is the magical stuff of life, where you make it up on the fly with a cast of characters you love and cherish.

Gather some dolphins and go create some memories!

And if things go awry, and you have to jump in the game without knowing your lines, get ready for some fun and excitement!

Chellie Campbell, Financial Stress Reduction Expertis the author of bestselling books The Wealthy Spirit, Zero to Zillionaire, and From Worry to Wealthy: A Woman’s Guide to Financial Success Without the Stress. She has been treating Money Disorders like Spending Bulimia and Income Anorexia in her Financial Stress Reduction® Workshops for over 25 years and is still speaking, writing, and teaching workshops—now as Zoom classes and The Wealthy Spirit Group on Facebookwith participants from all over the world. Website: www.chellie.com.

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