High Flying Adored: Tony Winner Michael Cerveris Discusses Missing First Performance in Eight Years

By Andrew Gans
26 Jun 2012

Michael Cerveris and Elena Roger
photo by Richard Termine

It was at that point when it started to sink in that he just might miss his first performance in eight years, so Cerveris e-mailed his stage manager, explaining, "Look, I'm still planning and hoping to be there, but I think I should let you know to let [understudy] Bradley [Dean] know that I might not be there."

Turns out, there were four other men unable to perform in the musical that night due to "vacations or injuries, so it sent everybody into a state of panic, I think, because everybody assumed that I was never going to miss…because I just don't," Cerveris said. "And, I kept hoping and hoping and hoping that somehow, something was going to happen, and I was going to make it, and eventually I had to let go of that illusion as I sat longer and longer in Dulles. In the end, we finally took off again at around nine o'clock, I think, from DC, so I had the very surreal feeling of watching the clock go past eight o'clock and thinking, 'Wow. The show is going on without me.'"

That he was unable to make the June 25 performance "feels terrible," Cerveris admitted. "I do everything I possibly can to perform. That was the work ethic that I was instilled with from the time of school onwards...if you can do it, it doesn't matter how you're feeling: You go on. Obviously, people get sick, but I manage to always fight through it and sing through colds. I've had bronchitis, I've had stomach flus… This show alone, I tore my adductor muscle in three places, and my leg swelled up to six inches larger than it was supposed to be. And, I broke my hand at the Actors Fund charity softball game at Yankee Stadium a few weeks ago, but I've found ways to go through the performance anyway. With the support of stage management and the cast, I just always go on if I can. So it's really kind of painful to not be able to be there. Everybody is very supportive, and my understudy, Bradley Dean, I'm sure was terrific."

"My poor understudies," Cerveris added with a laugh, "are usually the most bored people in show business because they kind of understand, when they take the job, that they're probably not ever going on."

For the record, it was a case of food poisoning just prior to the opening of the award-winning revival of Assassins that caused Cerveris to miss a performance eight years ago. "We opened on a Thursday and despite having been in the hospital getting fluids all through the day, [I went on]," he explained. "I sang through the weekend, and it just got worse and worse, so I had to take a couple shows off that first week."

"I guess it matters so much to me," he said, "because I feel like it's such an honor and real privilege to have any chance to perform, so I feel a deep responsibility to the show and my colleagues and the audience — because you never know what people have sacrificed and paid to be there. That and I guess I believe that it's just important to show up for life."