Perhaps a little too well. I had the first legitimate costume malfunction….Way before Janet and Justin made it a “mainstream” thing to do. I’m no sell out, I am the originator.
When we were 19 (I think…it’s all a bit hazy…read on, you’ll understand why), my best friend and I were in a production of The King and I. This was before she was famous. We were just kids. Anyway, she was Topsy and I was Simon of Legree. We didn’t do anything until the big ballet of The Small House Uncle Thomas. I choreographed the whole ballet (I think, at least it feels like I did). Topsy had pigtails and was the funny one. Her movement was mostly done in a wide second position stance, like a sumo wrestler, with alot of head wobbles to make her pig tails bounce. My best friend, who is not a dancer, did this particular move with such precision that it was as if she were born to be Topsy (she still does this move with hysterical accuracy). I was the bad guy, I had a sword and a mask that I couldn’t see out of, and alot of lifts. I was being lifted by two huge, local, body builders who had no clue how to lift anything except a dumbbell (wait for dumbbell joke…it’s coming).
Anyway, the show opened and we had a pretty good crowd. Backstage was hopping with two body builders and the promise of doing the show ON TOUR!! I am ready for my entrance, which consisted of me being carried out by the two body builders, tossed into the air, and landing in a second position with my sword in the ready position to attack…. I proceed on with my dance and then I am eventually carried off, as I am dead. Sounds like a good outline of the way it was supposed to go. Backstage, good thoughts, visions of how it will all come together, total trust in the body builders, and no thought about the mask I was wearing and not having any peripheral vision. I am carried out, I AM Simon of Legree, the music swells, the body builders toss me into the air….. and….. accidently throw my legs out from under me. From a height of about 8 feet above the stage, I drop like, well, a dumbbell (there it is… ha ha) and hit the stage with a crashing thud, on my ass. My plastic sword breaks into pieces and goes flying into the front row. A little old lady was hit by the shrapnel, had a flash back to WWII and ran screaming for the bomb shelter which was still open in the basement of the theater. After her scream subsided, you could have heard a pin drop. There was total silence from the audience of 200.The music stopped, the director, who was in the audience, starts to run towards the stage, and Topsy, backstage, is in a fit of hysterical laughter.I am sitting on the stage where I landed, spread eagle on my back, with just the handle of my sword hoisted in the air. I got up, nod to the orchestra, all of whom were frozen with silent looks of horror on their faces. I nod again, and they still are not playing, I clear my throat…if this wasn’t awkward before, now it is. Finally, the musical director regains her composure and begins the music. I do my dance faster than any dance has ever been done in the history of dance, because I am embarrassed and I have totally lost my composure, not that anyone could see because I have a mask on, oh yeah and my ass is killing me! The musical director was having trouble keeping up with me as she was damn sure I wasn’t about to keep time with her. And I exit stage left, not dead, not carried. I get backstage and Topsy is literally rolling around on the ground, tears streaming, hands stuffed into her mouth so as not to make more noise. I stuck my sword handle at her butt and tell her to quit laughing. This, ofcourse, makes her laugh harder. I had a few others ask if I was ok, which I was, but for the most part, everyone backstage was in giggles. It was pretty funny.
That might make for a good story, but wait! There’s more!! So, we did take the show “on tour”, a few towns up, about 3 hours from home. How fun!! Now, here’s the twist. Topsy had a wedding to go to. So, I had to do her part as there was no understudy for such a tiny part and I had to do my part too. That meant one of those lightning fast costume changes backstage. Her costume consisted of a long scarf that wrapped around her upper body. She had plenty of time to wrap and pin it so that she could move and not be exposed. I had to do my part, then her part, then my part again. My costume was a zip up the back jacket type thing. And the mask. So, night of the show, I go do my part, run backstage, I am stripped and I have her costume underneath. I had people switching my pants and mask and shoes. I make my entrance as Topsy to do her dance and I see one of the chorus girls giving me The Eye. The Eye is when someone is trying to tell you something is amiss with your appearance, such as a buggar hanging out of your nose, or spinach in your teeth, or your right boob is fully exposed, you know, The Eye. I notice her giving me The Eye, but I am concentrating on this dance that I barely know. Doing my oh- so- important- job of furthering the story, the reason for me doing this dance. She is still giving me The Eye and I begin to feel a slight breese…I look at the other girls on stage and they too are giving me The Eye. I look down but I can’t see anything because of the mask. I finish my dance and run off stage for my last lightning fast change and one of the dressers has tears streaming down her face, laughing (I am nothing if not a great source of unintentional entertainment for others) and before she slips me into my jacket she repositions the scarf that was not positioned correctly, re-covering my exposed right boob (or lack of boob as the case may have been. I was a 19 year old dancer… built like a 12 year old boy). Yes, that’s right, I single handedly made The King and I into soft core, live action porn. I think my only response was “Are you kidding me???” Then, as she was zipping me into my Simon of Legree costume, the zipper broke which left my entire back exposed. So, the audience was going to see Topsy’s costume hanging out of the back of my Simon costume. That meant that there was no way to disguise that it was me fully exposed out there. The audience was going to connect that Topsy was Simon was the choreographer was me. On the upside, maybe I would finally get my big break into movies!!
So Janet had to pay fines and make apologies and excuses. Me? I was congratulated on yet another entertaining run of a show. Topsy went on to eventually star as Anna in The King and I. I have gone on to tell this story to countless legions of dance students to illustrate my point of remaining calm when a costume malfunction happens. Words of wisdom: never allow amateur body builders to lift you, no matter how cute they are and if sitting in the front row, and I am dancing, bring a camera and a shield.
P.S. My best friend had to cover for me during this run as I had some prior engagement to attend. She had to do both her part and my part. She didn’t expose any body parts or land on her ass…but to see her do her interpretation of my dance was so funny that to this day, 18 years later, I ask her to do it at cocktail parties and random social events…sword and all. Western people funny 🙂