Ann Harada’s 5 Most Memorable Nights Onstage

Diva Talk   Ann Harada’s 5 Most Memorable Nights Onstage
 
Avenue Q’s original Christmas Eve recalls performances in Les Misérables, Seussical, and more.
Emojiland_Off-Broadway_Cast Shots_2019_Ann Harada_HR.jpg
Ann Harada Jeremy Daniel

Broadway favorite Ann Harada recently returned to the New York stage in Keith Harrison and Laura Schein's new musical comedy Emojiland. Harada, who played Pile of Poo, was part of a company that also included Lesli Margherita as Princess, Josh Lamon as Prince, Max Crumm as Man in Business Suit Levitating, Jacob Dickey as Smiling Face with Sunglasses, Dwelvan David as Guardsman, Heather Makalani as Kissy Face, Tanisha Moore as Woman Dancing, Jordan Fife Hunt as Man Dancing, George Abud as Nerd Face, Laura Schein as Smiling Face with Smiling Eyes, and Felicia Boswell and Natalie Weiss as the loving couple Police Officer and Construction Worker.

Harada, who has also been seen on Broadway in Les Misérables, 9 to 5, and Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella, is best known for creating the role of Christmas Eve in the Tony-winning Best Musical Avenue Q. In addition to her comedic gifts, the actor also possesses a rangy, powerful belt that she controls with tremendous precision.

Ann Harada in <i>Avenue Q</i>
Ann Harada in Avenue Q Carol Rosegg

We recently asked Harada to pen a list of her most memorable nights in the theatre. “They aren’t all happy nights,” she said a few weeks before the temporary closure of Broadway, “but they do stick in my head. Almost all my stories have the same back story: The Show Must Go On.”

Seussical—an understudy emergency!
One night at Seussical, our Gertrude McFuzz, played by Janine LaManna, was having vocal trouble. Her understudy, Jenny Hill, was also ill. I jokingly informed our stage manager, Bonnie Panson, that if necessary, I could go on in the role because I had done all the workshops and knew the material. The next day, Bonnie called my bluff and told me I was on for Gertrude and to report to the theatre ASAP for music rehearsal. Remember I was not the understudy and had never rehearsed that track. When I got to the theatre, I saw the costume department had gotten me a little blue skating dress from Capezio and were painting some shoes for me. The show was obviously going to go on whether I was ready or not. Darren Lee, the dance captain, came in early to sort of block me through the show, but because we did so many numbers as a group, I didn’t really know where she stood in a lot of those numbers.

That night I went on wearing a skating dress, my Whoville wig that had been restyled to be more Gertrude-like, new painted shoes, and a terrified expression. I was “shoved with love” into my place in the opening number. I entered a page early in “Biggest Blame Fool” and chose to awkwardly turn around and walk off stage rather than hang around waiting for my line. I spent that show in a daze, but I said all the lines and sang all the songs. We didn’t have to cancel any shows. I still think of that night as a testament to what people can do under pressure, not being secure, but trying anyway. P.S.: They made me Janine’s second cover.

Ann Harada and Gary Beach in <i>Les Mis</i>
Ann Harada and Gary Beach in Les Mis Photo by Joan Marcus

Les Misérables—total cluelessness
I replaced Jenny Galloway as Madame Thénardier in the 2006 revival. I had never replaced in a musical before, and didn’t really know that much of my work wasn’t going to be done in the rehearsal studio. I learned my material, but didn’t know much else of the show (unlike Seussical). The first week I was on, our Thénardier, the late, great Gary Beach, missed his entrance for “Master of the House.” None of us knew what to do. Part of the problem of doing a very well-known show is that it is painfully obvious to the audience when something goes awry. I feel certain we could have pulled a random guy from the audience and he could have started the song—nevertheless we were paralyzed. There was a lot of ad-libbing about “Where’s old Thénardier?” as Maestro Kevin Stites just kept the orchestra playing. I chastised myself for not knowing his part of the song as well as mine... but I was barely hanging onto my own part at that point. I kept looking off into the wing hoping to see Gary, but all I got was stage management making “I don’t know” hand gestures. At this point, I was positive Gary had died in his dressing room. Finally he staggered on, pulling on his costume. The story was that he shared a dresser with Max von Essen, who had suffered a wardrobe malfunction, so the dresser dealt with Max and was late getting to Gary, who never had the intercom on and so couldn’t hear he had missed his entrance, relying on the dresser for his cue. We later figured out we had been out there floundering for 32 bars, which doesn’t seem like very long, but I assure you it is an eternity. If I ever do a duet again, I will learn both parts.

God of Carnage—I’ll say

James Ludwig, Ann Harada, Betsy Aidem and Christopher Curry
James Ludwig, Ann Harada, Betsy Aidem and Christopher Curry Photo by T. Charles Erickson

I got to do this marvelous show out at George Street Playhouse. If you know the play, there’s a very famous scene where one of the ladies throws up spectacularly over a bunch of furniture and table full of expensive art books. One day, our cast went out between shows for Ethiopian food, which I love, but at places for the evening show, I was apparently looking a bit green around the gills. However, we had no understudies, and The Show Must Go On. As the opening scene played out, I realized I was suffering from food poisoning and that I had to throw up. But I couldn’t leave the stage. I decided that I was going to tough it out until the scene where I was supposed to throw up, knowing that one of the other actors would then fetch me a prop plastic basin. Finally the scene came. I did my big fake throw up scene, spewing all over the set, Betsy Aidem came over with the basin, I stuck my head in it and vomited for real in front of my cast and the audience. And then, of course, The Show Went On.

Minnelli on Minnelli—fantasies come true
I was hired to be Liza Minnelli’s stand-in for the tech of Minnelli on Minnelli. This job was supposed to be me standing on the stage holding her costume so the lights could be focused on me, not on her, so she could see what it looked like from the house. Once they realized I could actually do stuff, it evolved into me pretending to be her, doing her numbers in front of her. Now, no one had taught me anything, this was all off watching the show and writing things in my book like, “She stands on 4.” I got to sit on the stage of the Palace Theatre and sing her arrangement of “I Got Rhythm” with all the lights and the band. Since it was a show about her father, I also got to sing “The Trolley Song” in front of a clip of Judy Garland. Think about this, people. I got to sing “The Trolley Song” with Judy for Liza. Gay Goals.

M. Butterfly—The Show Must Go On, worst case scenario
This is the most awful thing that ever happened to me during a show. Our stage manager, Barry Kearsley, missed calling a cue one night during a show. After he didn’t respond to anyone on headset, another stage manager, who happened to be his wife, went to check on him. He had suffered a heart attack. The way the set was constructed, it was impossible to get backstage right from stage left (no deck crossover, you had to go downstairs first). Also, the act curtain was just a painted scarf, it didn’t cover the whole stage. So when the paramedics came, even though the curtain was in, you could see them carrying their gear on from stage left and then carrying him off left from stage right, only partially blocked by the curtain. The paramedics leave with Barry (and his wife Janet). The Show Goes On. Soon we got a call from the hospital. This was back in the day before everybody had a phone, so we got all our calls at the stage door. He had passed away. We fell apart. At this point in the show, the only two people onstage were the leads, so they didn’t know what happened until they saw us sobbing during the curtain call. I remember so clearly taking the bus home and crying so hard that other passengers were offering me tissues and water and I don’t know what all, but I was very touched by the kindness of New Yorkers that night.

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