About the author:
When Broadway.com asked Anika Larsen to write an essay about her experience playing songwriter Cynthia Weil in the new Carole King bio musical Beautiful, we expected a lighthearted piece from one of NYC's most winning musical comedy performers. After all, as Larsen cheekily notes on her personal website, she's the only actress who can boast of having appeared in the original casts of both Xanadu and Zanna, Don't! What we got, however, was a lot better: Larsen's honest and very personal story of landing her current role at a pivotal moment, and the medical crisis that almost took the opportunity away. Read on, then get tickets to see Anika Larsen where she belongs, at Broadway's Stephen Sondheim Theatre, where Beautiful opens on January 12.
The day before I got cast in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, I had decided to quit the business. After 17 years of the relentless hustle, I simply couldn’t bear it anymore.
So when I got the call to play Cynthia Weil, a role I knew would be a sassy joyride, it seemed too good to be true. And indeed, the first three days of rehearsal were charmed. No one wanted to go home at the end of them. The cast, crew, and creative and producing teams were the loveliest, most talented, bright, shining people. The show was in terrific shape, helmed by folks determined to keep making it better through true collaboration. And I was extra grateful, because before this high I had been so low.
Then, day four of rehearsals, I started getting stomach pains. I kept them to myself because I assumed they were gas-related. By the middle of the night I was in the ER being told my colon had twisted on itself and was obstructed, and they would need to remove part of it as soon as possible or it would burst and I would die. Say what, now?!
I thought of Beautiful—how much rehearsal would I miss? Anxiously I asked how long it would take to recover. The doctor said up to eight weeks, and I thought, “I guess it was too good to be true.”
But when I woke up after the surgery, my first thought was, “Oh, hell to the no, I am not losing this part!” Soon, all the doctors and nurses in the surgical ICU knew they had to help save my Broadway show. They sprang me earlier than they wanted to, so that six days after they took out eight inches of my colon (and my appendix as a sweet bonus), I was back in rehearsal with a belly full of staples and a binder around my waist holding my abs in.
My heart feels full to brimming just writing about this now, but the wonderful people of Beautiful rallied around me and made it possible for me to heal on the job. The producers got a car service to take me to and from rehearsal. Even though I said I could work full days, the creative and stage management teams called me two hours late or released me two hours early every day.
My partner in crime, Jarrod Spector [who plays Cynthia's husband, Barry Mann], made sure there was a chair next to me at all times so I could sit as soon as we were done working a scene. Everyone bore with me as I couldn’t produce much sound without real use of my abs, and they tried not to be funny around me because they knew it hurt to laugh (they were not real successful). Everyone checked in with me constantly to see how I was doing, and told me every day how much better I looked than yesterday. The love and support I felt from this group of people, most of whom had only known me for four days before this happened, was overwhelming.
Now, in our home at the Sondheim Theatre, I feel dizzy with good fortune. We are having a gorgeous time. I spend a sizeable chunk of each day there laughing freely, onstage and off. And if I had to go through some awful times this past year to be able to fully revel in this experience, I think it might have been worth it.
As they wheeled me off to the operating room for my surgery, my mom and dad started crying, and my dad put his arm around my mom, which I haven’t seen since they split up 20 years ago. I started to cry, too, which I knew I could not do, because if the floodgates opened, they would not re-close, and I needed to somehow keep it together. In my stressed-out, sleep-deprived, morphine-influenced state I thought, “Don’t cry. Say something funny. These might be your last words. Be funny, Larsen.” So I dorkily blurted out, “Hey, Mom, Dad, when I come out the other side, I’ll have a semi-colon!” One sleepless night in the ICU I figured out that spelling my name “An;ka” is pretty dope.
I shared this story with a Beautiful stage manager, and now my name is written like that on my dressing room door. I mean, really. My gratitude cannot be measured. My cup runneth over.