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Actor steps in to fill major role in ‘Elvis’

“The show must go on,” is one of the most well known statements in show business,  but for the latest Halifax County Little Theatre production it has been a difficult one to maintain. Fortunately, a seasoned veteran of the local stage was able to supply a level of talent and commitment that is rarely seen in community theatre. 

With less than a week before opening night, the cast of “Elvis has Left the Building” lost a major player when Greg Donner had to be hospitalized for several days. Director Becky Donner was deeply concerned for the illness of a family member yet at the same time needed to find a replacement for a major role.

Fortunately, Mike Haskett, a frequent leading man in local musicals, stepped forward to offer his services as a stand-in at rehearsals or performances if necessary. He quickly discovered that he would be on stage on opening night with only four days of preparation. 

Director Donner and the cast have been amazed at his ability to learn a major role in such a short period of time. Haskett himself admits that the experience has been full of difficulties that were beyond what he believed were there. 

He said, “Every waking hour except at work has been dedicated to learning the part.” 

Following Sunday’s performance, which was well received by a large crowd, he was happy to say, “I have finally reached the point that I am able to enjoy myself on stage.” 

Obviously it shows based on the laughs of the crowd and the rousing ovations both during and after the performance.

One aspect of the late entry that was frustrating was the feeling that everyone else knew what was going on, but he didn’t. The plus side of course was that his fellow cast members were able to provide a great deal of guidance to help him learn the part. The short time for preparation was filled with intense rehearsals and many additional hours of study at home.

Haskett has appeared mostly in musicals in the past, and local patrons will remember his roles in “A Christmas Carol,” as Ebenezer Scrooge, and “Children of Eden.” He was also a member of the cast of the comic musical, “Forever Plaid.” 

Haskett prefers to be singing, but the “Elvis has Left the Building” audiences have loved his depiction of Elvis Presley’s famous manager, Colonel Tom Parker. The role is the central feature of the play as Elvis is missing, and the Colonel has a serious personal need to find him or face the wrath of a major Las Vegas gangster. 

Assisting the director and cast in overcoming the difficulties is a cadre of backstage personnel who have stepped up to make sure Haskett and the on stage performers have everything they need. 

With any cast change there are last minute adjustments to costumes. Vicky Thomasson and Sandy Slayton, who worked to find authentic 70s attire for the cast, have worked to be sure the adjustments to the Colonel’s attire were ready for opening night. 

Prop masters Sharon Brogden and Kirk Compton had already established the needed items for stage use but were extra vigilant in making sure that Haskett knew where and when each one needed to be used.

Finally, the director’s assistants, producer Melissa Peacock and Stage Manager Cyndi Overby, have been at every rehearsal to prompt and assist in remembering movement and dialogue.  

Lighting director Chris Elliott and soundboard operator Tim Chappell follow the script closely each performance to make sure they meet the lighting and sound needs of the show. The end result is a superb performance by a last minute replacement and audiences who leave the theatre with smiles on their faces. In this case the show has not merely gone on; it has become a comic tour de force. 

No Elvis fan or comedy lover should miss this show. Get a group together and prepare to laugh.