Places, please for ELLE’s new column Showstoppers, where theater’s biggest stars reflect upon the moment in their career where the famous phrase “the show must go on” became a little too real. When things don’t go according to plan onstage, here’s how the pros react—and what they take away from it.
This month, Shoshana Bean, who stars in Hell’s Kitchen at the Public Theater, a new musical with music and lyrics by Alicia Keys, recalls Idina Menzel’s final weekend as Elphaba in Wicked, where she fell through a trapdoor and Bean had to go on in a moment’s notice. Here, in her own words, she recalls how the team pivoted and how sometimes, you just have to do your job.
I just know and have always known that the artist’s spirit is so resilient. It’s sort of inbred in us to be resilient because of the nature of the business and how inconsistent and how hard it can be and how much it can break your heart. So, I think because of that, we just are resilient by nature. It’s undeniable to me and never in question, it’s just what we do. From Idina [Menzel] falling [on her closing weekend of Wicked] to coming back from a pandemic and being able to [do Mr. Saturday Night] in the first season back from a shutdown, it was crazy.
[When I came on after Idina fell,] that was my job. I was the standby. I thought it was crazy that I was getting painted green in seven minutes and being thrown on just to basically pop out of the floor and take a bow. I thought it was crazy, and at that moment, I was looking around at a stage full of people who were terrified. They were crying, they were shaking. They just watched her be carried out on the stretcher. No one knew if she was okay. They didn’t know what happened. At that point, I’d been three months in the cast, and four months as a standby, which is a very isolating separate thing.
I was about to take over [as Elphaba], formally. I was treading very lightly and being very tender with that fact, because I know what it feels like to lose your leader and have someone else come in and be like, okay, now we got to bond with this person and figure out our rhythm. It’s a very strange thing to have a new teammate. So, I was very aware of all of that. All I could do, I guess for survival, was be like, I am just a cog in a wheel. I saw these people having this moment and I was like, I don’t get to indulge in that. I have to be the strong one in this moment. As a leader, as a lead, that’s technically my job. I remember I did that during that Saturday matinee, and went on just for the end.
Then, after, I went down to the crew, to the main head carpenter’s office, and the guys were playing poker, and they’re like, “You know you’re going on for the evening show, right?” I was like, no, I’m not. It’s her last weekend. She is coming back. She’s not going to not do her last weekend. And then, that’s what it was. I was like, oh my God, these people are going to hate me. They’re going to boo me. People flew in from around the world. They want to see Idina.
I was beyond pleasantly surprised. The audiences could not have been more lovely. People told me it was because I went on and cared. I did my job. I didn’t do anything extra than be strong and do my job and put my ego aside, because it wasn’t about me until Tuesday night, when I formally took over. It was also for her, Idina. Sometimes, you’re stronger than you know can be because it’s about somebody else. I wanted her to feel like, we got you. I got you. I know everyone wanted it to be you. It’s me. I’m sorry, but I got you. So, our job was to make sure the show will go on.
“I think I’ve waited my whole career to be able to bring my two worlds together, the world of pop music, singer-songwriter, and the world of theater. I’ve waited to be able to sing songs in this way in a theatrical setting. I remember the world sort of shifting on its axis when Songs in A Minor came out, [Alicia’s] first album. I mean, there just had never been anything like it. It was so big and heavy and ballsy and then it had these beautiful melodies and it was so musical on top of that. For me, since Mary J. Blige first came out, there really hadn’t been anything like that.
“Up until this moment, there were three people left on my bucket list to work with. I’ve worked with Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, the greatest artists that I grew up listening to, and there really are only a few left and she was on that list. So, it’s a big moment for me in that way. Everything else sort seems like icing on the cake compared to that.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Shoshana Bean currently stars as Jersey in Hell’s Kitchen at the Public Theater. Tickets can be purchased here. Her solo holiday show at the Apollo Theater is on December 4. Tickets can be purchased here.
Samuel is the Assistant to the Editor-in-Chief at ELLE Magazine. His interests include music, theater, books, video games, and anything to do with Taylor Swift. He famously broke both his arms at the same time in fourth grade.