Actress Sara Jean Ford, who is currently starring on Broadway as Christine Daaé in The Phantom of the Opera, was at jury duty when she received a 2:30 PM message from her manager saying there was an emergency at Night Music.
A perfect Broadway casting storm had taken place: Leigh Ann Larkin, who plays Petra, and Ramona Mallory, who plays Anne Egerman, were both out sick and would not be able to go on for the evening performance. In addition, the company swing, who would normally step into the role of Petra, had taken a personal day. This meant that the current Mrs. Anderssen, Jessica Grové, would go on as Anne (her first time in the role).
Ford had previously been part of the Night Music cast this past summer, when she played the role of Mrs. Anderssen and understudied the roles of Anne and Petra. For the record, she had never gone on as Petra, the sultry maid of the Egerman household. "I was only with the show for a month and a half, counting rehearsal," Ford told Playbill.com the day after her big night.
"I didn't know what I could do because of Phantom," Ford explained. "I told my manager, 'I could do it tonight if Phantom lets me out.'" During a jury break Ford got the call from Phantom stage management saying they wanted to help out and that the Christine alternate, Marni Raab, would go on at the Majestic.
|photo by Joan Marcus|
"I went back into the jury room after I found out I was officially doing it and was muttering lyrics to 'The Miller's Son' to myself like a crazy person," Ford laughed. By 5 PM Ford was out of jury duty and on her way to the Walter Kerr Theatre for a 7 PM curtain.
Ford traded her Christine wig of brown ringlets for Petra's blonde braids and had just enough time to go through minor blocking with stage management, a few musical moments with music director Rob Bowman and a last minute waltz rehearsal with the full cast. A few words of advice from Broadway veteran Elaine Stritch also came in handy. "She was just breathing with me and telling me to breathe and calm down, which I appreciate from Elaine. She's a genius," Ford said.
"The blocking was the easy part. It's that song that comes at the very end of the show, looming there, staring me in the face, waiting for me," Ford said of "The Miller's Son," Sondheim's driving and lyrically-rich song about savoring life's more sensuous moments.
After spending the last few months singing high D's as Phantom's resident soprano, Ford found herself center stage delivering "The Miller's Son," a favorite among Broadway belters. "It's difficult. It's a stretch. I did it in the written key. It's rough down there," Ford joked of the song that sits in the alto vocal range. (For the record, this writer just happened to have purchased a ticket for last evening's performance and saw Ford go on. She delivered a robust interpretation of the song and commanded the role as though she'd been doing it for months.) During the Night Music curtain call, Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch, who play Desiree and Madame Armfeldt, respectively, commended Ford and fellow understudy Grové for their performances that evening. Stritch told the audience, "This is why I love live theatre. She traveled a couple blocks uptown from another show to be here tonight."
It was a special night for both Ford and Grové. "We finally got to go on together after knowing each other for so long," Ford said. "You could feel the energy in the building. Everyone was really on point and ready to help out at the drop of a hat. It's a great place to work and I was so happy to go back."
Ford will be performing at the Nov. 24 matinee and evening performance of A Little Night Music and will return to Phantom for the evening performance on Thanksgiving Day. The holiday timing didn't go unnoticed. "I'm thankful for having two jobs at once!" Ford remarked.