High Flying Adored: Tony Winner Michael Cerveris Discusses Missing First Performance in Eight Years
By Andrew Gans
Neither rain nor sleet nor snow nor a broken hand, torn muscle, bronchitis or the stomach flu could keep Tony Award winner Michael Cerveris, who received a fifth Tony nomination for his performance as Perón in the current Broadway revival of Evita, from missing a performance on Broadway (or off) in the last eight years.
In fact, the singing actor boasted a perfect attendance record in productions of Sweeney Todd, LoveMusik, Cymbeline, In the Next Room, Hedda Gabbler, King Lear and Road Show.
That impressive achievement was thwarted June 25 when the critically acclaimed performer missed the evening performance of the Tony-nominated revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Evita at the Marquis Theatre.
Cerveris was in New Orleans laying down vocals for a new solo recording and had plans to fly back to New York in time for Monday's performance. "I guess there was a big rainstorm in New York yesterday morning, and that shut down airports at various points," the actor told Playbill.com June 26. "It was a combination of that, and I guess Delta Airlines is not the most reliable one. I know there was a Jet Blue flight that took off right before we left that I couldn't seem to get on. When I found that our flight was delayed, I started immediately trying to find another airline and another way to get there [but I was unable to]. We took off two-and-a-half hours late, but I still thought that we might be able to [make it back in time]. I still would have made it at that point, and then somewhere around Virginia, I started feeling the plane doing that circling thing.
"I guess that was around three o'clock, and I still thought, 'Okay, well, there's still plenty of time to get there. It's going to be fine.' It was a flight that had wireless service on it, so I got on my iPad, and they have a flight tracker, so I was able to dial up our flight and just watch on the little map. Our plane just kept making circles over Virginia. And, eventually I started thinking, 'God, I wonder how long we're going to be doing this, and I wonder how much fuel they have!' And, sure enough, they came on the system and said, 'We're going to have to divert to DC because we can't get into LaGuardia now. They've shut it down again, and we don't have enough fuel to stay up here.' So then we had to land at Dulles-Washington."
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."
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