It was absolutely the best time I ever had with Lord of the Dance, was
the rehearsals. It was the best experience, definitely the most fun time I've
ever had. All these new people in there . . . it was brilliant! Living in Dublin,
I had this nice apartment. When I went out to Riverdance, it's very hard
to join a group of people that have already made their friends. Even though you
don't willingly do it, everyone always talks about, "Do you remember when we did
this in rehearsals?" and I wasn't a part of that. I thought, "I'm going to be
a part of THAT in Lord of the Dance!" I feel sorry for people that have
to join. Even Lord of the Dance. Three years later we were still saying,
"Remember this time when we were in rehearsals or when we went out this night
and remember what happened there…" That was just the way. So rehearsals were the
My exams started the end of May. I had four exams per subject,
five subjects: Maths, further Maths, Physics, Chemistry and General Studies, spread
out for about a month, two one week, three the next week, four the next week.
We started rehearsal on April 22nd and we were in rehearsal for twelve hours a
day. When I had an exam, I'd take that morning off. I'd have an exam from 9 to
12, then rehearsals from 12 to 8. Or I'd go into rehearsals from 9 to 1, then
I'd have an exam from 2 to 5, then go back to rehearsals for the last couple of
hours. So it was unbelievable, it was kind of a hectic time, but it was brilliant.
Even when the audition first was held, they had said, "Who isn't available
to start immediately?" and I said, "Well, I've got exams and I'd rather wait until
July." But then Michael said, "Well…I'd really like you to be in it from the start,
'cause I'll need an understudy." He didn't say "You're going to be my understudy,"
what he said was, "I'll need an understudy and I think you might be in line for
that." So that kind of convinced me to, you know… OK, transfer my exams and do
Halfway through rehearsals, Michael just pointed to me one day and
said, "Right, you're my understudy." Pointed at Daire and said, "You're the bad
guy." Then he pointed to one other lad and said, "I want you to learn the bad
guy," and then to two other people and said "I want you two to be understudies
to the bad guy." Basically, I had to make sure that I knew everything that he
did, just had to watch him all the time. That was fine, I tried to pick up as
much as I could. I knew Warlords already because that's what we did on
the Des O'Connor show. So I was in a lot of stress up towards the exams, and that
was kind of an extra pressure, but I think I work best under pressure anyway.
I seem to anyway.
My last exam was on June 27th at 3 o'clock. We had dress
rehearsal at 6, and opening night of the show was the next night … fantastic!
Brilliant time. We did a week in Dublin. We did a week in Liverpool next and then
a week in Manchester the week after that.
And on the second night in Manchester,
I was standing in the wings. I always watched from the side anyway, because I
knew if Michael did anything different, I had to know it. So I was standing there
watching the opening number of the show, Cry of the Celts, and something's
wrong. After he does his first turn he heads towards my direction, you can see
it on his face even - he's frowning and limping around on the stage and he really
wasn't dancing at all. Everyone behind me could see it as well. They were all
saying, "What's wrong with him?" I said, "I don't know." "It's you - YOU'RE going
to HAVE to do it!"
"No - there's NO way. Don't even say that. There's no
way I'm going to have to do it!" I'd done, I'd think, one dress rehearsal just
before we opened, where Michael wanted to watch the whole show, and I'd filled
in his parts. But I didn't really know it. I knew what I was doing, but I'd never
really had much practice. And plus the Duel between him and Daire, was
just finished only about a week before the show opened. And I was doing the execution.
There's a really fast change into the finale while they're doing the Duel
- get the costume off, get the cloak on and get ready to carry a torch for the
Victory March. There was no way I could watch the Duel because I
had to take off a mask, top and trousers; put on trousers, shirt, waistcoat, gown,
get a torch and be up there in less than a minute! So I had never even seen the
Duel. I had just been listening to it backstage while I was getting changed,
"I think this is what this sounds like it should be…" So I had my own interpretation
of it. Which was probably nothing like how Michael did it, it just sounded the
same. I just picked it up from the sounds.
He finished the opening number.
We went on and did the opening chorus. Everybody started looking at each other
as we were coming off. There was panic backstage. Michael went down a trap door
at the end of the opening number (which they don't do anymore). The stage manager
grabbed me and said, "You're the understudy, aren't you?" I said, "Yeah . . .
" and she said, "Are you ready?" "NO! (laughs) Not at all!" So she says,
"Well, you're on standby. We don't know whether Michael can go on again. He's
at the trap door at the moment, and we're taking him to his dressing room." I'm
saying, "He will be fine. They'll just strap it up, whatever it is - they'll just
do something and he'll be fine. He'll go on." My God, I couldn't believe it! I
knew Warlords, and at the end of the first half, I do Lord of the Dance
as well. I was just panicking about the Duel, really, in the second half.
And they were saying, "You ARE on standby, you know."
TB: What did they
do for costuming?
Well, I didn't have any costumes. I'm a lot taller
than Michael, you know. I'm 6'1". There's a good 15 minutes between the opening
and Warlords. So I'm standing there backstage and they were running around
frantically looking for costumes. They found this one pair of men's trousers that
hadn't been taken up. They threw these leather trousers at me and said, "Put these
on." "Okaaaay . . ." (laughs) I put them on, but, "I'm still NOT doing
it!" (laughs again) Then they found a gold top of Michael's, which they
just threw at me and said, "Put THIS on!" I put it on for Warlords even though
everyone else was wearing black and silver.
I think it was just after Celtic
Dream the stage manager said, "That's it. Michael's not going to be going
on. You're going on." I remember that everyone was around me cheering, and I was
like, Oh my God! - I can't believe it! So they made an announcement just after
Gypsy and said, "We are sorry to announce that Michael Flatley cannot continue
with the show tonight and the role of the Lord of the Dance will now be played
by John Carey."
The whole place cheered! There were a hundred people from
my dancing school there, a big busload - my dancing teacher was there, my mum
was there . . . they'd all come up was because Catriona, the girl I'd danced with
my whole life, was doing the good girl lead that night, because Bernie had been
injured. They knew Cat would be doing this on that Friday night, so they'd booked
the bus to go see her. So all my dancing school started to cheer! The stage manager
turned to me and said, "THAT's not the response I expected!" And I said (laughing),
"Oh . . . uhhh . . . I know a few people in the audience, I think."
were sitting in tenth row, and I could see them the whole length of it. I went
on to do Warlords - it went fine and everyone stood up afterwards. It was
a really amazing atmosphere in the place that night. Everyone in the audience
knew this was my first time to do it, that no one had done it before and it was
obviously (laughs) stressing. But you know, I had a great reception - standing
ovations after nearly every dance I did, I think. It's kind of a bit of a blur,
now. I don't remember much about it. I just remember at half time, I was trying
to think of Duel steps.
And plus, all my places had to be filled
in the back line of dancers. No one had ever done my Siamsa place before,
because it had only been going for two weeks and there was nobody watching my
place. Daire was really the only other person that had learned Siamsa.
It was a really tiny theatre. We were backstage in this really cramped area and
Daire was trying to learn where he was going in Siamsa. He knew the movements,
but he didn't know my place. And he was doing the bad guy that night as well!
It was just an amazing night. Plus I got to dance with Catriona, who'd
been my dancing partner since I was seven. I felt really comfortable doing Stolen
Kiss with her, because we'd danced together all our lives.
day we did two shows, the matinee and the evening show on Saturday. On Sunday,
we traveled to London. Opening night in London was on Tuesday. Michael had had
physio[therapy] the whole time, so he was able to do the opening night
TB: Did he get to watch you when you were doing it?
No, he was in the hospital, I think. Or at the physio, or something. Anyway, if
he was backstage, I never saw him. We did a week in London. And Michael said to
me after the first night, "I'll probably need you to do a couple more. I'll see
how I feel."
The next Monday night, I was at the physio for a routine check,
and I got a phone call. They said, "Is there a John Carey here?" I said, "That's
me." They said, "There's a phone call for you." I said, "Nobody knows I'm here."
The dancers knew, but what would they want to ring me for? It was Marie [Duffy-Messenger],
the choreographer. "I think you're going on tonight. Michael isn't feeling very
good - it's still playing up a little bit." So I was like, "Ok…whatever … Oh my
God…" (grins) So I did it again that night, and that was the last time
I had to do it.
The run was for another two weeks. He finished that run.
Then we had a week off, then we started back for another tour of England. He was
fine then from then on.
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