NEW YORK — A round, vintage speaker sounds the warning call in a backstage dressing room at the Eugene O’Neill Theater. “This is your half-hour call — half an hour till top of Act One,” a tinny voice announces. And then a pause. “Welcome back!”
For the casts of New York’s Broadway shows, the end of Local One’s stagehand strike was more than just a return to work — it was like starting all over again, with opening-night jitters and everything. “We’ve done the show hundreds of times, but we all woke up today with this anxious feeling,” said Skylar Astin of “Spring Awakening.” “People were pacing the halls, doing their lines like it was the first night of previews.”
Shows like “Spring Awakening” and “Grease” gave their actors brush-up rehearsals to practice songs and blocking (“There were a few times where I was like, ’Wait, what’s my line?’ ” said Laura Osnes, who plays Sandy in “Grease”). Some actors refreshed their memories in less-typical ways. Nicole Snelson, who plays murder suspect/ exercise queen Brooke Windham in “Legally Blonde,” took advantage of MTV’s taping of the show to refresh her memory. “I watched the MTV version to see what my lines were!” she laughed. “That thing is really handy,” agreed her co-star Laura Bell Bundy , who plays Elle Woods.
On top of run-throughs, some actors, such as Lance Bass, who guest-stars as Corny Collins in “Hairspray,” spent Thursday afternoon hitting the stage for a refresher course.
“I was a little nervous coming back,” Bass said. “I had to visit my vocal coach about an hour ago to make sure my voice was in shape. I didn’t know if my voice would be like it was, but luckily, it’s actually better than it was before, so maybe my voice needed that rest!”
Though some welcomed the enforced break, seeing it as a vacation, others worried that it got them out of what they called “performance mode.”
“Vocally, it’s important to sing every day,” said Annaleigh Ashford, who stars as Glinda in “Wicked.” “It’s a muscle, and you have to keep it in shape. So it’s usually harder to come back and freestyle.” Ashford said that doing eight shows a week on Broadway, an actor’s day revolves around getting prepared for 8 p.m. show time. “So you wind down at 4 p.m., you warm up at 7:30,” she said.
“It’s really weird to not do a show, or to not do a show for 19 days,” Bundy said. “Your lifestyle is just different. So it’s just an adjustment. ’Oh, I have to watch my voice again. I can’t talk as much.’ ”
Being out of practice vocally wasn’t the only fear, especially for those with elaborate dance routines.
“I’m a little scared about a part where I have to jump rope in the show,” Snelson said. “The ropes might be flying over the audience’s heads.”
“It takes you out of your sense of comfort, which is exciting,” said John Gallagher Jr. of “Spring Awakening.” “That’s an amazing thing for a performer. I don’t want to say you get jaded, but when you do the same thing over and over again, and it gets to muscle Memory … you get to the point [where] you start checking out, just going through the motions. So when something like this happens, it’s kind of a blessing in disguise.
“The show must go on,” Gallagher continued, “even if you haven’t done it for two weeks, and you’re afraid of forgetting your lines in front of 1,100 people!”