There’s nothing like opening night…

MacTheatre’s first performance ‘of The SpongeBob Musical’ ends in a sprained ankle, unexpected cast change


Dave Winter

The SpongeBob Musical cast members Finn Higginbotham (Larry the Lobster) and Alice Scott (the mayor of Bikini Bottom) perform a scene together. Higginbotham had to assume the role of Larry the Lobster after Salem McFadden sprained their ankle on opening night.

Kennedy Weatherby

The lights are low, and the stakes are high. In the minutes before opening night of MacTheatre’s first performance of the year, the cast waits impatiently backstage in full costume and makeup. The speakers start to play, “McCallum Theatre welcomes you to The SpongeBob Musical,” and nerves spike in the moments before the curtain opens.

“There’s really nothing like the adrenaline rush of the first show,” said sophomore Alice Scott, who played the Bikini Bottom mayor. “We were all pretty jittery, excited, and we had been practicing for a really long time, so it was exciting that we were finally starting the show.”

The curtain opens and out walks SpongeBob, played by senior Jessie Lucas. They begin the opening number before the rest of the cast joins her onstage.

“The opening number is a big dance number,” Scott said. “Everyone runs out, and we do our dance, and we pose at the end and then we exit.”

Assistant director Finn Higginbotham performs Salem McFadden’s role after McFadden sprained their ankle opening night. Photo by Dave Winter.

Like other McCallum opening night performances, it didn’t come without unforeseen incidents as senior Salem McFadden, who played Larry the Lobster, is fully aware.

“We were maybe two eight counts from the end of the dance,” McFadden said. “I was prepping for the last jump of the song, a one-legged hop, but I lost focus going into it and rolled my ankle on the landing, collapsing on stage. I honestly can’t say why I twisted my ankle that time. I had done that dance dozens of times without issue, but I guess the age-old rule of Murphy’s Law prevailed.”

Now with a sprained ankle, McFadden was out of commission and unable to fulfill their role as Larry the Lobster. While this unexpected obstacle was happening backstage, Scott and the majority of the rest of the cast carried on with the show, unaware of the injury.

“I go backstage,” Scott said. “Finn Higginbotham is wearing Salem’s clothes dressed as Larry the Lobster, and he’s like ‘Alice, I’m gonna be Salem tonight; I don’t know exactly what I’m doing, so you’re gonna have to help me.’”

Higginbotham was the assistant director of the show, responsible for managing the backstage area and making sure the cast was where they needed to be. While an essential part of the show, the job left him with no preparation for the role he had to assume.

“I have very briefly stood in for Salem before in rehearsals,” Higginbotham said, “but never enough to really learn the part or understand it. But Thursday night, my friend Rhett came [backstage], and he told me that Salem had hurt themself.”

In an attempt to solve the problem, Higgin- botham rewrote the next scene McFadden was in, which bought him some time. But soon after that scene, it became clear that McFadden would not be going back on, and Higginbotham needed to find another solution.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Higginbotham said. “In a moment of, ‘I got to get this done, the show must go on,’ I told [Salem] to take off their costume, and I put it on and spent the next 15 minutes trying to learn their lines and blocking for the next scene with the help of Alice.”

Because Scott and McFadden’s characters spent much of the time on stage together, she was the perfect person to assist Higgin- botham in learning every- thing he needed to know about filling in for McFadden.

Salem McFadden rehearses their role as Larry the Lobster during a dress rehearsal. Photo by Caroline Owen.

“I helped him with learning Larry’s cues,” Scott said. “We found moments where he could sneakily get off stage, so he didn’t have to do the dance numbers, or he could come on late so he could say his line. He did a good job and caught on quickly, but it was definitely stressful.”

Higginbotham and Scott handled the situation with composure, and they even went on to successfully perform the show seven more times.

“The second day, we went over cues a little bit,” Scott said. “We had a rehearsal before the show where Finn learned all the places he had to go on, and by Sunday, I think he had it down.”

Under a doctor’s order to stay off their foot for the rest of the month, McFadden initially hoped to return to the stage before the musical’s run ended.

“I plan to return to the show next weekend, only doing walk-ons and dialogue,” McFadden said after the first week.

Unfortunately, McFadden’s injury prevented their return even in a diminished capacity.

“That’s the worst part about this injury,” they said. “I’ll never be able to perform the dances I spent weeks learning for my friends and family on stage. I’m doing my best to stay positive about the situation.”