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Manchester Audience Member Fills In As INTO THE WOODS' Witch

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"I don't think I have ever been so terrified in my whole life. But everyone kept coming up and saying that I looked so calm and confident. In my head, I just wanted to make everyone else comfortable that I could do it."

That's how recent college graduate Melissa Bayern described to The Stage her feelings just before her first entrance as the Witch in the Manchester's Royal Exchange production of INTO THE WOODS with just five hours of preparation.

Appropriately for the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical inspired by the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, Bayern was just another audience member the previous day, watching the production's dance captain, Rachel Goodwin, reading the role of the Witch from a script after actor Gillian Bevan took ill.

Bayern had just played the Witch for her musical theatre course at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Before leaving the theatre to catch a train for London, she left a note for director Matthew Xia, offering herself as a replacement should Bevan need more recovery time.

The next day she received a call from the show's casting director asking how soon she could be in Manchester. She was back at the theatre by 9am the next morning for a costume fitting and a crash course in the staging.

"On my first night, people backstage helped me and told me what my next entrances were. I didn't think I would be able to do it, but I did."

Bayern did it for six more performances until Bevan was ready to return.

"Melissa was stepping in to cover one of Sondheim's biggest characters, with just five hours of rehearsal. She did an amazing job," raves Xia, "as did the rest of the company and team, who were all incredibly adaptive and supportive."

He adds, "The inimitable Gillian Bevan is now back for our final week, but we will always be extremely thankful to Melissa and her enterprising decision to leave her telephone number with stage door... it's almost a fairy tale in itself."

INTO THE WOODS runs through January 16th. Visit royalexchange.co.uk.

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