As rehearsals continued, there was increasing tension between our leading man and the directors over what constituted acceptable progress in learning lines and lyrics. This came to a head a week before opening, with the result that Bob walked away from the role. There was a contingency plan, that our technical director, would step in if we didn't have a Harold Hill ready to go, but it turned out that he was not going to be available for the final weekend of shows, so it was time for plan C.
I received a phone number on my pager, tagged "urgent" on Friday afternoon. I called the number, and Nicole explained the situation to me and asked me if I would take on the role of Harold. That was a tough decision. If there were two weeks of rehearsals, I felt pretty confident that I could do it. But six days? Nicole told me that she and the others involved in the decision had noticed that I'd picked up everybody's lines and dances1, and she was confident that I could do it, and she assured me that I would have all the support they could give me.
I was reminded, first, of the (untrue) saying that the Chinese character for "crisis" is a combination of those for "opportunity" and "danger". And similarly, of Charlie Brown's hero-or-goat dilemma. But what could I say? There were more than 50 people who had put weeks of work into a show that could not go on if I didn't step up.
I took off of work that afternoon and headed to the theater. Our dance captain, Lauren Stallings, and my costar, Deborah O'Donnell Tushnet, walked me through Harold's choreography, which was mercifully limited, because (I was informed) Bob had insisted on cutting any routines that weren't absolutely essential.
Saturday and Sunday were two full days of working lines. I woke up at 4:30 each morning because I was too anxious about how much I had to learn to sleep. It was surreal to realize that I'd be playing this role in a few days. I knew I had to get the bulk of the lines in my head on the weekend, because during the week I'd be back at work.
My method of learning lines is to record the dialogue of the scenes I'm in, and put it on a CD. My Charlie and Marcellus CDs were each about 7 minutes total time. (I gave them to the new Charlie and Marcellus.) The Harold Hill CD was about 38 minutes.
Sunday night we had a runthrough of the whole show. I did it off-book, albeit with a lot of prompting. I began to think that this might not be a disaster after all.
Monday and Tuesday rehearsals were again straight runs of the show. At the end of each rehearsal, Nicole would give "notes" to various cast members, telling them what needed to be fixed. I didn't get any notes, not because I was perfect, but because Nicole figured I already had enough to think about. On Tuesday, I think, I finally got some notes.
1Not entirely true: I do pick up a lot of lines, but it's not the same as knowing all of them. The catchy lines stick, and the less catchy ones I don't know at all. As for dances, no. I'm below average at choreography. But one time I was offstage trying to do the steps that they were learning onstage, just so my brain would get into choreography-learning mode. For some reason, this impressed Nicole. Back.