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Anthony Edwards made his Broadway musical debut in Girl From the North Country Friday night, in a performance that makes him the latest addition to the Great White Way’s ever-growing list of unsung heroes this pandemic season.
Edwards, who is known for his roles as Dr. Mark Greene in ER and Goose in Top Gun, made his Broadway musical debut while stepping in as Dr. Walker, the role played by star Robert Joy, who had to miss the performance after contracting COVID-19. Walker serves as the narrator and physician to the story of the Laines, a family who owns a rundown guesthouse in Duluth, Minnesota, and whose lives are changed by two visitors who appear during a storm in the winter of 1934 — around the height of the Great Depression.
The Emmy and SAG-winning actor received the call from his wife and Tony-nominated Girl From the North Country star Mare Winningham (Elizabeth Laine) to appear in the musical sometime between 1:30 and 2 p.m. on Friday, he said in a behind-the-scenes video. “I was up in Connecticut taking the storm windows off warehouse and Mare called me and said, ‘Hey, guess what? We’ve lost another and they’re gonna have to cancel the show because Bob Joy’s out,” he recalled. “But Connor [asked] would you like to come and read the book?'”
After making the two-hour drive into the city, Edwards took the stage following an introduction by lead producer Tristan Baker, who after making a pre-show announcement thanking the production’s swings and understudies, asked if “there was a doctor in the house” before revealing the news of Edwards surprise appearance.
The actor took the stage after just a single hour of rehearsal, calling the last-minute maneuver both “insane” and a “once in a lifetime” experience, that by the end of the night earned him a standing ovation.
“I know audiences are so loving and forgiving. I’ve seen someone go on with a book before and I just thought, I love the show. I love everything about it. And if like 800 people — 1000 people — are gonna be able to see it tonight as opposed to canceling it, I’m like, let’s go,” he said.
Winningham said she was both “impressed” and “proud,” before jokingly sharing that at one point while driving in to the city, Edwards wondered aloud, “What have we done?”
“When I called him, I said, ‘They’re thinking that you could do this,’ and there was a pause and I said, ‘It’s not a joke,'” she recalled. “There was another pause and he said, ‘OK.'”
Following his own surprise appearance, which saw Edwards acting both with the book and off-book during various scenes, the actor took a moment to acknowledge and celebrate both how understudies and swings “jump around” when main cast members are out.
Swings and understudies have always been key to Broadway productions’ ability to continue on with the show, but particularly important during the pandemic season which has seen shows dealing extensively with missed performances due to COVID and quarantine procedures.
Girl From the North Country is written and directed by Conor McPherson, who tells the story through 20 reimagined Bob Dylan songs. The musical received seven Tony Award Nominations in 2022, including best new musical and best book of a musical.
The cast features Winningham, alongside Todd Almond, Colin Bates, Jeannette Bayardelle, Craig Bierko, Jennifer Blood, Matthew Frederick Harris, Caitlin Houlahan, Robert Joy, Luba Mason, Ben Mayne, Matt McGrath, Tom Nelis, Jay O. Sanders, John Schiappa, Austin Scott, Housso Semon, Kimber Elayne Sprawl, Rachel Stern, Ben Toomer, Chiara Trentalange, Bob Walton, Aidan Wharton and Chelsea Lee Williams.
Scenic and costume design is by Rae Smith, with orchestrations, arrangements and music supervision by Simon Hale, lighting design by Mark Henderson, sound design by Simon Baker, movement direction by Lucy Hind and music direction by Marco Paguia.
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