The Day I Lead a Broadway Show (without a rehearsal)
It was just past 11:30pm when I got the text saying: You’re on for Cinderella tomorrow at the matinee.
There was part of me on a deep deep deep soul level that knew this was going to happen. But to see it play out was truly shocking. Multiple times I had the thought: ‘I know I’m the second cover. No one is expecting me to go on or be needed. I’m not getting any rehearsal for Cin because WHAT on EARTH are the chances? Buuuuut…. I just feel like IF I AM needed, it will be an emergency. If for nothing else, I'll just do my lil homework so I can sleep at night knowing that if the world was coming to an end and they needed me to hop in the show for Cinderella, I COULD do it. Would it be the paraphrase of a lifetime? MAYBE. But they will not be cancelling the show on my behalf.’
The night before I went on or even knew I was going on for Cinderella, I was playing the Little Mermaid, covering for my coworker who was out with COVISHA. I HATED playing the Little Mermaid, which makes me laugh now because it might be the easiest track out of all the ones I learned. But at the time, it stressed me out the MOST. I was in the stairwell during Act 2, literally CRYING. Like Tears-down-my-face crying because I was at (what I like to call) CAPACITY. Meaning, I have no more room to fit anything else in. I can’t help anyone put their oxygen mask on because I’m suffocating. I had well over 100 unread text messages. At least 20 important emails that I hadn’t responded to. A whole husband who I try to make sure gets laid 1 or 2 times every day. And a brain PACKED to the brim of information. I’m in the stairwell. Crying to the other swing, Diana saying, “I feel overwhelmed right now. I can do it. I will do it. But I need a break. I NEED a break. I’m scheduled for Snow tomorrow and I hope I can do it. Where is MY cover if I can’t do it????? Diana what do I do?” *Cue the Star Dresser RUNNING toward the stage with an ice pack*
Diana and I both froze. Silent. Watching him run to the deck. Josh, the star dresser works EXCLUSIVELY with Briga, our Cinderella. I didn’t need to have a single detail to know that Briga got hurt. That Briga was hurting. At that moment, when I felt completely helpless myself, I realized, instead of going on for Snow White the next day (a track that I find challenging but at least I know it and enjoy it)….there’s a POSSIBILITY I would be going on for Cinderella instead. I had never ever ever thought: ‘la dee da dee da I’m the first cover for Cinderella!!! How wonderful!!!!!’ Nope. That thought never crossed my freaking mind. I never lived in that space. I lived in the: YOURE-THERE-JUST-IN-CASE-BUT-THEY-DON’T-WANT-TO-USE-YOU space. Like, I was honored when it was added to my list of roles to cover. But like, I knew I was the black sheep. LITERALLY, lol.
I went on stage (as the Little Mermaid). I got my voice back. I sang Stronger. I did it. We bowed. I was able to catch my breath. I felt some relief. I exited the stage. And I caught my beautiful coworker in blue from the corner of my eye limping to her star dressing room. I stopped dead in my tracks while the whole cast walked around me and made their way up the stairs. But I just continued to stand there like an idiot. My jaw slightly ajar. Slightly in disbelief of what I was looking at. Thinking/Remembering/Knowing: Briga never misses. She has never missed a day. Never a rehearsal. Never a show. She always pulls through. She had perfect attendance in our DC run. She has perfect attendance on Broadway. There is no way on EARTH that the week the first cover is excommunicated from the building for the FULL week, is when Briga would also need a break. WHAT ARE THOSE CHANCES. I did not feel joy. I did not feel anger. I just felt disbelief. Like-no way. There is NO WAY. There is just. NO. WAY.
Stage management stood near me. Silently assessing me assess the situation. And after a moment, I finally said slowly: Do I need to be worried.
She didn’t say a word. She just…looked at me. We just looked at each other. We just…looked at each other.
Later that night, it was just passed 11:30pm when I got the text saying: You’re on for Cinderella tomorrow at the matinee.
Andrew was next to me on the couch when I silently read the message. He knew something was up. He said: WHAT.
I turn my head to look at him.
He’s searching my eyes for answers.
I take his hand. My mouth is just open with no words coming out. Until finally I say with the widest eyes: I’m on.
His response was the quietest: Holy. SHIT.
And in THAT moment, I felt I had two options.
1) React and feel my feelings.
2) Get to work.
Being that time was of the essence and that it was now officially happening, I OBVIOUSLY had to get to work. This is happening. Whether I’m ready or NOT. In 14 hours, I’m the girl. I will either be ready or I won’t. Either I walk into the building OR I “go to Walgreens” and never come back.
I performed the entire show in my living room with Andrew who played literally every part. I wrote out a list of what I needed from stage management. And it felt aligned when they sent me a Hit List of what they wanted to run with me and it looked very similar to my list. It felt like: OK. We are all on the same page here. When I finished performing the show for my husband in the living room, he looked at me and said, ‘Babe... you just DID THAT. You’re ready.’
Did I sleep?.... eh.
Did I get to the theater bright at early? Yes.
I did a full warm up. I had a voice!!!! That’s a good start. Lol
I put my hair in wig prep and got my makeup on. I was moved into the Star dressing room. Which felt CRAZY. Like what an HONOR. But also, I don’t want to mess up ANY of Briga’s things. Like, Salisha: DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING. LOL!
Did I have wigs? Did I have costumes? Did I have SHOES? I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know. They could put me in her costumes if they wanted to (which they did) but I was going to need my own shoes. And would my slippers be bedazzled??? It felt like such a frivolous but IMPORTANT detail for this character. Turns out, yes. I did have my own shoes which wardrobe had been bedazzling since 5AM.
Every department was working their asses off. I had wigs. I had costumes. I had bedazzled shoes. Everyone came in early to run certain things. The entire building was on FIRE, banding together to make this CRAZY scenario happen. The ushers were stuffing the playbills. We ran the quick changes with costumes. I got to put on THE iconic blue dress which was WAY heavier than expected with the battery packs (the dress lights up!). I got to practice the magic with Justin Guarini. I got to break the slipper in the glitter vortex. It was 1:55pm and we were still ON STAGE. My cast circled around me in a huddle. They gave me love. We did breathwork together. We grounded ourselves. The audience was probably wondering what was going on. I was grateful for that short moment. Finally we clear the stage and let them in.
It was 2:15pm. We still hadn’t started yet.
The blue gown lives on deck (on Stage right) in a booth because it’s too big to take back and forth to the dressing room. I’m in the changing booth putting it on for the start of the show and Aisha Jackson pays me a visit. She’s giving me love. She’s getting a few pics of me, and thank the lord: we are singing our duet together. Something we have NEVER done. I was used to going on for her and used to singing her harmonies. I was so glad we could sing through it once. I remember warning her: Girl, between our D.C. production and previews for Broadway, I have 45 versions of this show in my head. Buckle up.
And with confidence and love, she said, “Okay girl! I got you! Let’s do it!”
The show began around 2:17pm. Which was late but considering the circumstances.. the other option was having no show at all.
When I made my first entrance, I was standing center stage on the elevated runway, and I could feel EVERYONE holding their breath. And I remember thinking: You are not Briga. You are not Lauren. You are not white. Salish…give yourself permission to just be you. The only way you can pull this off—is if you are you. Today, Cinderella is Black. And an alto. Let the church say amen.
I began. Words came out. AND on pitch! This is a good start. Then I looked down and saw sweet Bella, the little girl…and THAT is what softened my whole heart. Her looking up at me from across the stage pulled my soul back into my body.
I knew the stakes couldn’t be higher. That I had willingly said YES to leading a Broadway show without a run-thru and without a put-in. That EVERY scene, we would find out together: Do I REALLY know it. Obviously I have to know the lines and the choreo, but like: Does the bucket go on the right or the left? I have to hold the book in the right hand so Jennifer can take it. I have 13 seconds for this costume change. 20 seconds for that costume change. There is ONE opportunity for a bathroom break in Act I. Do I close the door or leave it open before the mice and bird scene.
I just remember thinking that most of the audience does not know this is a crazy scenario. They’re expecting a good show. And Cinderella is on stage the whole time. There is no room to get self conscious or to freak out. There really isn’t even time to think about what my lines are in the next scene. I have to deal with THIS scene. No, I have to deal with THIS moment. I have to be in THIS moment only. And so it was a moving train. And I had to appear confident. And think ahead while still being present. I remember everyone making subtle adjustments to keep the flow. Princess and the Pea (Morgan Whitley) ever so subtly took the bag off of my shoulder while I was reading “Private Parts by Howard Stern.” Justin Guarini, with the flick of his wrist effortlessly put me where he wanted me when we were in a scene together. Aisha Jackson was prepared to do version 89.4 of the Brightest Morning Star scene when she clocked that I added in an extra line from previews.
I’ve said this a million times and I truly and deeply mean it: the cast and crew of Once Upon a One More Time was the most supportive and loving cast on Broadway. We took care of each other. And that day, everyone took care of me. And the Brightest Morning Star scene felt so special. When I looked over at Aisha who had tears in her eyes when we finished the song, I just felt like: Thank you God.
Who the hell wants to be a swing? Not me. LOL. But I took this job to UNDERSTUDY HER. That is why I said yes. And to get to share the stage with her as Cinderella was a moment I had never envisioned and didn’t even realize was a dream to have until it was happening. Back in the day when I was at Disney, there was no Black Cinderella. And there definitely wasn’t a Black Snow White. And for our show that truly uplifted a diverse cast on Broadway, it just felt like an honor. It felt like, *lightbulb* Oh yeah. All of these fairytales are made up. Why can’t this princess look like me? Why not? Can I pull off Black Carole King in Beautiful?... haha I mean maybe but PROBABLY not. Can I pull off Black Cinderella? Yes.
And I did.
I did it.
With a LOT of help and support from my TRIBE, I DID IT. WE FREAKING DID IT. Together.
And by the end of the show, when we made it to the final scene, after we had all trauma-bonded for the last 2 and half hours, lol, there were tears all over the stage because we MADE IT TO THE F%*@ING END. We were all exhausted and relieved and in disbelief of what we just did.
And it was a nightmare and a dream come true all wrapped into one glorious, crazy, outrageous how-did-this-happen scenario that I wouldn’t wish upon ANYBODY. And if I had to do it all over again under those circumstances, it would be a HELL NO from me, but life is funny because we have to live it forward and THEN we get hindsight. But I did it and I am so proud of my cast and our whole stage management team and crew for making it happen.
And you heard it here first folks: I am proud of myself. Because never in a million years did I think I could ever do something like that. And now I know I can. And I did.
And when you think you’re at Capacity, and that you’re at the end of your rope, a funny thing happens if you push yourself just a little bit further. It’s messy, it hurts, it sucks, it’s substantially uncomfortable. But that is where change happens. Growth happens. Expansion happens. I will never be the same. The old Salisha can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Because she’s dead. I am eternally grateful for the summer of 2023. I wish I had a shirt that said: ‘I Survived Once Upon a One More Time.’ Because—what a wild ride. And I wouldn’t change it for the world. I am so sad that we closed on Broadway after 123 performances, 68 of which I was in. But I will forever CHERISH the souls that I shared the stage with. That I got to see in the building every day. We had something very special. I don’t know if I’ll ever truly be able to wrap my mind around what just happened, and I will mourn the loss for a while. But thank you God. THANK YOU GOD. That’s a wrap. Vlog coming soon.