It sounds like a joke: The lead actress in a play about a stand-in actress replaced by a stand-in.
Yet that was the exact situation the Broadway Theatre in Mt. Pleasant dealt with when Donna Kriss, star of the murder mystery spoof “Acting Can Be Murder,” broke her leg 10 days before the shows opens Friday.
As a result, actress Kendall Farnum took over for Kriss in the role of Dolores Gordon, an understudy in the murder mystery play “Which Butler Did It?”.
Within the first three minutes of “Murder” – no spoiler warning needed- Dolores kills the lead actress of the play-with-in-a play and usurps her role. This kicks off a murder mystery on the set of a murder mystery.
Farnum, previously cast as the play-within-a-play’s director, said she feels OK about memorizing 300 lines worth of dialogue within a small window of time.
“The lines are just – some of it I had, because I was in a number of scenes already with Donna [playing] Dolores, so some of those exchanges were [between] us, so I had the general gist of some of it anyway,” Farnum said with the show’s script in her hand.
Farnum said she has prepared for her first-ever lead role by looking at the script when she wakes up in morning, another point each afternoon, and at night to prepare for her new part.
“I try every time I look at it [to] have another section that I know what’s where,” Farnum said.
The director of the actual play, Broadway staple Cindy Kilmer, describes the show.
“It’s a farce and a spoof of murder mysteries,” Kilmer said. “The curtain opens and somebody makes a confession, but the mystery is not who killed the person, the mystery is [about] what’s become of the person’s body and whatnot.
Kilmer said she asked Kriss’ permission before beseeching Farnum via text message to take on the part the production’s plot largely revolves around at the eleventh hour.
“I said [to Kriss] I needed her blessing. She said, ‘By all means, that would be great,’ so it’s been a Herculean effort for Kendall to learn 300 lines in 10 days,” Farnum said.
Despite the friendly faces and laughter emanating throughout the theatre during rehearsal, Kilmer said mounting a show with a massive last-second casting change added more challenge to the already daunting task of directing a comedy with a large cast.
“I would say the stress levels are higher than any shows I’ve ever done before. We’ve never had a person actually not be able to do the play they’ve been training for for weeks, so this is a first. So yeah, stress levels have been running kind of high,” Kilmer said
Kilmer glances at her surroundings as she speaks, as stage hands prepare lights and set pieces and cast members dressed as maids and ghosts scurry across the stage. As the old saying goes, the show must go on.
“It’s been going really well. Kendall’s a champ,” Kilmer said.
Kilmer’s nerves deflate for a moment. “She’s doing really [well,]” Kilmer says with a laugh of relief. “I’ve been just astounded by how she’s been able to step into that part.”
Others in the 17-member cast include Gail Caleca as Isabella, an actress who discovers her husband is having an affair, assistant director Lindsey Read-Smith as the play-within-a-play’s director – the part Farnum was originally cast for – and Mount Pleasant High School foreign exchange students Mo Wagner and Alfonso Boron Martin, from Germany and Spain, respectively, in their English acting debuts.
Wagner and Martin got involved with the show through Kriss, their host while they stay in the U.S.
“Here I need to play an American accent, and it’s hard for me. Nervous, you know?” Martin said.
Martin smiles as he turns to Kilmer.
“I imagine you said they needed a sexy guy, and Donna said, ‘I know who!’ Martin jokes as the nearby cast erupts into laughter.
Considering the play’s subject matter, the irony of how Farnum was cast is not lost on the cast, as Kilmer’s husband Bruce, a frequent flier in shows his wife directs, often appearing in some role or another, points to the new leading lady in a mock accusatory fashion.
“She broke the lead’s leg so she could get the part,” Bruce jokes to Farnum. “At least you didn’t murder her.”
Farnum shakes her head.
“I was nowhere near,” Farnum said. “My husband’s put on Facebook to my kids, ‘Okay, this is just a little suspicious….”
“Acting Can Be Murder,” will be held at the Broadway Theatre, 216 E. Broadway St., Mt. Pleasant, on March 6, 7, 13, 14 at 7 p.m. and March 8, 15 at 2 p.m. Tickets available at Ric’s and Aces of Diamonds for $8 or at www.friendsofthebroadway.com for 8.50.