Every musical production comes with its share of challenges, but even the most experienced Broadway North performers and stagehands weren’t prepared for this one.
The local theatre company was less than a month away from their opening night performance of Mary Poppins when they were forced to make some major changes on the fly.
On Nov. 10, they found themselves down one music director and one Mary Poppins, when local musician Mike Langlois was rushed to hospital with his wife Karen at his side. Karen was set to direct the the music and play the leading role as the iconic English nanny.
“My initial reaction was, how can we help? What can we do to help?’’’ said Janelle Matice, a close family friend. “It’s such a dire situation that you hope none of your friends would ever have to go through. You just want to be able to help them and make it easier for them.”
The early prognosis wasn’t good. Doctors discovered a hole in Mike’s heart, which had reversed the blood flow and put 10 times the recommended pressure on his lungs. On November 21, Karen posted on their GoFundMe page that Mike’s double lung transplant was a success.
For the Langlois’, the musical was out of the question. For the remaining cast and crew, they’re hoping to honour the Langlois’ with a performance they would be proud of.
“The Langlois’ are very important to this community. Both of them,” director Roxanne Dicke said. “Even though it’s been more intense and we’ve had to add extra rehearsals, they’d be, I think, proud of and (feel) very cared for.”
Replacing any of those roles will be a challenge, but the biggest one is finding a new lead on short notice. Typically, theatre companies like Broadway North employ understudies in case something happens to the main cast members. The company has been forced to occasionally turn to them in the past, but there was another problem. Mary Poppins was one of the few roles without an understudy.
In stepped Olivia Numedahl, a local high school student who has the unenviable task of learning a new part that would normally require three months of preparation. She has less than three weeks.
“First, I was super worried for Mike because we didn’t know what was happening,” Numedahl said during a break in rehearsals on Saturday. “I was first told that I would just be taking over for one weekend. I thought, ‘okay, that’s fine. I can just learn the songs and just go from there.’ Then they said, ‘no Karen’s not going to come back. We need you to take over for good.’ I thought, ‘okay, I’ll start practicing.’”
“Olivia has been phenomenal in stepping forward and stepping up,” Dicke added. “Thankfully she was in a lot of similar scenes because she was playing the mom (Winifred Banks).”
However, filling in one hole just created another. With Numedahl gone, Dicke shuffled the cast around, moving Nyah Kelly, into Numedahl’s old role. That wasn’t their only challenge. With Karen gone, the company also lost their music direction. In stepped Matice to help out her long-time friend.
Fortunately, this task proved to be a bit easier.
“Karen had worked with them, so they’re practically perfect, to use a line from the play,” she said. “Coming on at the very last minute is super easy for me because they are so well prepared and they are doing an excellent job.”
However, even with those roles filled, there is an air of uncertainty over the production. While all the actors and stage hands know their roles and are working hard to put on the best show possible, it’s sometimes difficult to focus given the urgency of the Langlois’ plight.
As theatre lovers, cast and crew members are used to hearing stories about how the show must go on. They’re hoping this one will be worthy of the couple who had to leave it behind, and they’re hoping Prince Albert residents will come out to support them in their efforts.
“I know Karen would be extremely proud of the kids,” Matice said. “She would see the things she’s taught them, they’ve remembered and refined to a polished performance where we can put it on for the city and be so proud.”
“My first thought was, ‘we can do it. We have to do it,’” Dicke added. “I’ve stayed in touch with Karen to remind her they they would be a source of inspiration for us.”
The Broadway North production of Mary Popppins opens on Friday, Nov. 30 at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre. Show time is 7:30 p.m. The play also runs on Dec. 1, Dec. 7, and Dec. 8.
Those interested in donating to support the Langlois family can visit their Go Fund Me page at https://ca.gofundme.com/support-for-mike-amp-karen-langlois. As of press time, supporters have contributed $23,987 in only 13 days.