ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: How Anika Larsen's Xanadu Debut Almost Became a Zanna, DON'T!

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30 Jun 2014

Anika Larsen

Regardless, she was very nervous when she first went on for Kerry. The character spends most of the show on rollerskates and Anika felt that if she fell, the audience would then be nervous for her throughout the show and would not feel comfortable laughing. So, when she was standing underneath the stage waiting for her entrance, she was getting increasingly more terrified. Her fellow actors made entrances on the elevator before her and after most of them left, she was waiting for her cue and began to think through what would happen if she simply got off the elevator and left the theatre. The stage door wasn't very far, and it would only take her about 45 seconds to exit to 44th Street, but she realized that there was no way the Broadway community wouldn't know about it. She wondered how much it would affect her career if everyone knew that she was the girl who fled Xanadu while in full costume. This whole thought process happened within seconds and the next thing she knew, she was onstage. Of course, she has no memory of how the show went (panic blackout) but she knows for sure she didn't fall. Here's my Playbill "Obsessed" with her where she sings some sassy Xanadu.

I saw Anika in Xanadu (three times!) but I first met her when she was starring Off-Broadway in Zanna, Don't. First, take in the fact that she was in both shows. Now, let me recommend that original cast album. It's so good! I love the script, songs, cast and it was so well-directed by Devanand Janki. I'm incredibly excited that tonight (June 30) is a reunion of the original cast at 54 Below! There are two shows and you can get tix at 54below.com. And here's a little video highlight from last Thursday's "Chatterbox" with some Zanna, Don't cast members. 

I asked Anika about Beautiful and she told us a harrowing tale of forgetting lyrics. It was during previews and happened during her first entrance. She plays Cynthia Weil and she shows up at the famed Brill Building to show off her amazing skills by singing "Happy Days Are Here Again" with self-penned lyrics. Jessie Mueller, who plays Carole King, started playing the accompaniment and Anika launched into the first verse. Suddenly, when she got to the second verse... nothing. She couldn't remember the lyrics. What to do? She thought maybe if she started it again, she'd remember. So, she turned towards Jessie and said with Cynthia Weil-confidence, "Let's start again from the top!" Anika began again and tried to think of the second verse lyrics while she was singing the first verse lyrics which is basically impossible. So as she approached the second verse she had no idea what was going to happen. Would she literally ask Jessie to start the song again? Would that keep happening again and again? Would the show be so long that night that would have to change the name to Beautiful: The Epic Carole King Musical in the Style of Nicholas Nickleby? Suddenly, the second verse was about to begin and her mind was blank. Then, at the exact moment that she was supposed to start singing, the correct lyrics flew out of her mouth. Yay muscle memory! The number ended and Anika was shocked that the audience applauded as enthusiastically as they always did. Huh? Didn't they hear her ask to start over? Didn't they know she forgot the second verse? Then she realized, because she stayed in character, the audience thought it was part of the show. Brava!

Of course, I know a horrific version of this story: A conductor I know was doing a Broadway show and an actress onstage forgot some lyrics. She pulled an Anika and said, "Let's start this again from the beginning," but nothing happened. The number kept going. Uh-oh. She then repeated it and, again, the orchestra kept plowing forward. Why? Well, he though she had been kind of headache to work with throughout the run of the show so when she stated she wanted to start the song again, he pretended not to hear! Twice! Eventually, she started to sing again near the end of the show (because she realized she had no choice) and, unlike Anika, I assume the audience, indeed, did notice her mistake. Back to Anika: Her lyric blankness hasn't happened since, but she does run the lyrics before the show every night.

Well, this week I'm in town for a few days and then I hightail it back to Provincetown for three shows with Cheyenne Jackson! Info is here PtownartHouse.com. Come see us and peace out!

(Seth Rudetsky is the afternoon Broadway host on SiriusXM. He has played piano for over 15 Broadway shows, was Grammy-nominated for his concert CD of Hair and Emmy-nominated for being a comedy writer on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." He has written two novels, "Broadway Nights" and "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan," which are also available at Audible.com. He recently launched SethTV.com, where you can contact him and view all of his videos and his sassy new reality show.)

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