Mistakes That Almost Ruined Major Theatrical Performances
Have you ever been to a live theater event when something goes completely wrong? It’s not unusual for even the most successful show to have some disastrous performances. Accidents happen. When adrenaline is running high, accidents can have serious implications for not only the performers involved but the whole show itself.
One of the best skills a professional actor has is their ability to think on their feet and react to situations that are out of the ordinary. This leads to moments that can feel harrowing while you’re on stage, but often feel fun and spontaneous for the audience. Here are some of the biggest theatrical disasters of all time.
Shoshana Bean in Wicked
Wicked is a musical based on a book about the life of the Wicked Witch of the West. The story follows the friendship between two girls who eventually become the Wicked Witch and Good Witch.
One of the best numbers is “Defying Gravity” at the end of Act 1. It’s supposed to be a show-stopping number where a hidden lift takes the actress playing Elphaba into the air to make it looks like she’s flying.
One day, the lift stopped working. In order to get the same effect, the cast lied down on the stage, so it still looked like 5’2” actress Shoshana Bean was towering over them.
Christopher Tierney in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
One of the most well-known theatrical disasters in recent memory was Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, a musical directed by theatrical innovator Julie Taymor. The script was rewritten before it even opened, with one writer fired when the show was in previews. The aerial tricks that were integral to the plot were the show’s biggest issue. Even into previews, the show was beset with accidents.
The most shocking accident happened on December 20, 2011, when Christopher Tierney, the actor playing Spider-Man, fell 30 feet off a ledge when his harness snapped. He broke three vertebrae and four ribs.
Priscilla Lopez in Her First Roman
One of the most hilarious incidents on a Broadway stage happed in the 1960s musical Her First Roman.
Actress Priscilla Lopez, who made a name for herself in A Chorus Line years later, had a small part in the chorus of Her First Roman. One day, she noticed that somehow one of the other chorus dancers had a bra poking out of her wig cap. At the time, dancers would stuff anything they could find into their wig caps to help make it easier to put their wigs on.
Lopez tried not to laugh in front of the audience, so she suppressed it. This led to her peeing her pants onstage. The stage was on a sharp incline, so there was nothing she could do but watch her pee slowly trickle down into the orchestra pit.
Nancy Opel in Evita
In Evita, the most well-known number is “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”. It’s sung by the actress playing Evita while standing on an ornate balcony set piece.
Once during the run of the show, understudy Nancy Opel was playing Evita. She wasn’t used to the set or her costume yet. So, when Opel exited after that number, she tripped on a bundle of cables and fell flat on her face. At that point, Opel realized that she couldn’t get up because the hoop skirt she was wearing was too large and stiff. She rolled back and forth like a turtle until someone was able to help her up.
Andrea McArdle in Les Misérables
Les Misérables is one of the most storied Broadway shows of all time. It’s been running for so long that almost everyone in the industry has a personal connection to it.
One of the most famous stories in the mythology of Les Misérables is the day that Andrea McArdle, who was playing a boy in the famous barricade scene, decided to die dramatically. However, McArdle forgot that she had a big, open bag of M&Ms in her pocket. The M&Ms burst out onto the stage and slowly started rolling into the orchestra pit — landing with small pings!
Adrian Bailey in The Little Mermaid
Not all incidents in professional theater are funny. Some mishaps — especially when they involve newer technologies and complex set pieces — can be dangerous.
In Disney’s The Little Mermaid in 2008, ensemble member Adrian Bailey fell 20 feet through a trap door that was accidentally left open. He broke his pelvis, ribs, and both wrists from the fall.
Bailey sued Disney, the company that produced the show, and the company that made the automation technology for the set. Bailey’s injuries were so severe that it’s unlikely he’ll ever work in theater again.
Kim Ismay in Mamma Mia!
Mamma Mia! is one of the longest-running musicals on London’s West End. It’s so popular that it inspired two movies.
In the London production, actress Kim Ismay was playing Tanya in one of the energetic musical numbers. As part of the number, she would twirl a prop hairdryer around by its cord. One day, the cord snapped and the body of the hairdryer flew into the crowd, hitting an audience member in the face. While the audience member was uninjured, the house staff bought her a glass of champagne to make up for it.
Lindsay Lohan in Speed-the-Plow
In order to help rehabilitate her image, actress Lindsay Lohan decided to join the cast of Speed-the-Plow on the West End. The show is a famously farcical portrayal of the Hollywood by well-known playwright David Mamet.
Lohan’s involvement was touted as her return to acting after years of drug addiction and bad behavior. Most people wanted her to succeed. Unfortunately, the first audience really struggled to find positive things to say about Lohan’s performance. Lohan barely knew any of her lines. Even worse, she was so mechanical that a speech meant to be passionate only garnered giggles from the crowd.
Diana Wynyard in Macbeth
Shakespeare’s Macbeth is thought by some people to be cursed. Many actors refuse to say the name when they’re in a theater, instead referring to it as “The Scottish Play”. These superstitions are due to the disproportionate number of accidents that have occurred during the show’s long production history.
One of the most remarkable was in 1948 when actress Diana Wynyard fell off the stage during the famous sleepwalking scene. She fell almost 15 feet into the open orchestra pit. Thankfully, Wynyard sustained only minor injuries and was able to continue the show.
Kristin Chenoweth in Wicked
There’s been a fair share of onstage mistakes on the long-running show Wicked. These mistakes have resulted in both serious and comical consequences.
During the initial run, original cast member Kristin Chenoweth tossed her hair a bit too hard when singing “Popular” that she ended up herniating two discs in her neck. Chenoweth was given painkillers so she could continue to perform. However, the following night Chenoweth accidentally took too many. Instead of being pain-free, she was totally high and could be heard audibly slurring her words.
Adam Salter in The Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings was intended to be an epic musical that took all of Tolkien’s books and crammed them into one evening of entertainment. The result was a bloated, slow production that failed to impress critics or audience members.
It was also beset with technical difficulties because of the show’s ambitious scope. In one show, actor Adam Salter got his leg caught in some machinery. The show grounded to a halt while he screamed for help.
Krysta Rodrigues in Spring Awakening
A recent Broadway production of Spring Awakening used song, spoken words, and sign language to tell the story. In one performance, actress Krysta Rodrigues’s body mic went out while she was in the middle of a song. She picked up a handheld mic but realized as she did that she would be unable to sign with it in her hand. She didn’t want to exclude the show’s deaf audience, so she tucked the mic under her chin and continued the song.