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Two sold-out audiences got an unusual reprieve at the Missoula Children's Theatre on Sunday after "Pirates of Penzance" lead Anne Basinski lost her voice.

"Anne had been nursing a cold all week," MCT Director Jim Caron said Monday. "She'd really done beautifully up to Sunday, but then she came in at 1 p.m. and had nothing. The show really revolves around that music, and we had two full houses facing us.

"There were a couple girls in the cast who could have done it, but then you're losing other parts. It's a domino effect."

MCT doesn't follow the Broadway practice of training understudies for leading roles. Caron said it was too unfair for a community theater of volunteers to spend that much time in rehearsal and not get to perform.

Enter the Pirate King's friend from New York. MCT alum Curt Olds, who's gone on to his own successful acting career, had returned to Missoula to play the Pirate King. And last week, he got a visit from Emily Pulley, a New York colleague. Pulley has spent 10 years singing for the New York Metropolitan Opera.

However, Pulley had never performed the part of Mabel, Basinski's role in "Pirates of Penzance."

And that Sunday afternoon, she was on her way to hike Mount Jumbo as the matinee was getting ready.

"We were hoping she had her cell phone," Caron said. "We called, but we couldn't reach her. We tried one more time. She had been on the phone calling her mother, wishing her a happy Mother's Day. She was about to turn the phone off and start her hike."

Instead, Pulley turned around and reached Broadway (OK, not that Broadway) by 1:20 p.m. She got with Basinski and conductor Michael McGill, and the trio worked out a way for Basinski to lip-sync the songs while Pulley sang from the orchestra pit.

Then Pulley ran to a rehearsal room with the play score to learn the music for the first act.

Basinski performed the part on stage, speaking the dialog and moving through the songs and sung operetta portions. McGill kept Basinski's lips, Pulley's voice and the orchestra together.

"At act break, she learned the second act," Caron said. "The combination of her professionalism and Anne's was great courage. I've been directing plays for 30 years and never seen this done. I've heard of it, but never seen it."

Ironically, Basinski herself pulled a similar rescue a couple of years ago. She and Missoula actor Malcolm Lowe were the leads in the MCT "Brigadoon" production when Lowe lost his voice for a performance. Basinski was able to turn most of their duets into solos.

Caron made an announcement before both Sunday performances about the arrangement.

"We were fortunate to have someone highly qualified to help out," Caron said. "The audience realized they were in on something special. They really enjoyed the experience. But it was really blind luck."

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com

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