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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Frayed Nerves Won't Shut '42nd Street'

MT"42nd Street" actors Natalie Krill, Amanda Laverne, Danya Gensiorek and Tiffany Helland say what they miss most is macaroni and cheese, seafood and Starbucks.
Two weeks ago, the cast of "42nd Street" was on a bus back to the hotel they call home on the southern outskirts of Moscow when they first heard that a musical theater had been seized.

Natalie Krill, a 19-year-old actress from Saskatchewan, Canada, got a phone call from a friend who had heard the news on CNN.

"At first we didn't know whether they were talking about ours, since we'd already left for the night," Krill recalled. Only later did it become clear that the reports were about "Nord Ost," not the MDM theater near Frunzenskaya metro where the 54-member American and Canadian cast of "42nd Street" had opened 11 days earlier.

"We were okay with it all at first," Krill said. But when they learned two of their dressers, who work for both productions, were backstage at "Nord Ost," "that was when it was really tough."

"42nd Street" didn't cancel any of its performances for the rest of that week. Though the show would lose money from low ticket sales, Boris Krasnov, one of the musical's producers, decided "it was my statement to terrorists that public life would not come to a halt."

In the wake of the "Nord Ost" crisis, security at the cast's hotel was increased. Its address is kept under wraps and guests are rarely allowed past the lobby. Security at the theater, too, was heightened. Audience members enter through metal detectors and guards rummage through their bags.

On Oct. 29, police closed the building for a thorough security check that ran longer than expected and was not completed in time for the show to run that night, Krasnov said. Rumors flew among cast members and in the press that there had been a bomb threat, but Krasnov denied the reports.

For a young cast already struggling to acclimate to life in Moscow and to cope with the culture shock, the bomb scare "was the straw that broke the camel's back," said Randy Buck, an executive for Troika Entertainment, the musical's U.S. co-producer, which hired and brought over the cast. "We saw that right away and jumped on a plane immediately to be here with them."

"The bomb scare was really the night for me," said Tiffany Helland, 23, from California. "It was a combination of a lot of things, things like communication problems mixing with fears about whether we feel safe here."

With the help of phone cards and

Internet cafes, many young actors have turned to their friends and family back home to cope with the emotional upheaval of the past two weeks.

"I talk to my family every Sunday night at midnight," said Amanda Laverne, 20, from Texas. "No matter what, they stay calm. If they ever freak out, they do it over there and I never find out about it. They're my sanity."

With their children living in a country wholly unfamiliar to them, and facing a steady stream of unsettling news reports about the "Nord Ost" crisis, parents try to put on a brave face, but their anxiety is often difficult to mask.

Ceil Ambrosetti, whose daughter Kristi is a cast member, has found it difficult to act laid back about having her daughter thousands of miles from their Maryland home. "I trust my daughter to make good decisions for her safety and to have this wonderful experience abroad, but at the same time I wonder if I'm being naive about the political uncertainty," she wrote in an e-mail.

"My mom does want me to come home, but she understands it's not her choice," said Danya Gensiorek, 25, from Winnipeg. "Parents always worry about you, but at some point, they have to let you go."

Troika has been in contact with security officials at the U.S. and Canadian embassies, "and if they ever came to us with an advisory, we'd have the kids packed up and on a plane home in 24 hours, no question," Buck said.

To reassure the cast, U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow and his wife Lisa stopped by the set Sunday before the evening performance. "The Vershbows were concerned about them, knowing they had never been to Russia before and were understandably shaken by the tragic events at the theater where 'Nord Ost' had been playing," an embassy spokesman said.

"They let us know they're watching out for us and they're proud of us. It was a really nice gesture for them to come," Laverne said. "I do feel lonely here on the other side of the world from home without anyone to freak out to, so it was good to have an authority figure say he's there for us."

Three members of the cast have opted to leave, but the other 51 have stayed. "They went home not because they wanted to, but because of the stress it was causing their families," Helland said.

The cast has understudies, but the loss was tough on those who remain. "We have to be a family here because it's all we have, so we were especially sad to see them go," Laverne said.

"42nd Street" performances are scheduled through the winter holidays, so the actors will not be able to go home to their families. "Some people's parents are coming over for Christmas, but not everyone can afford it. It's hard knowing we won't get any time off until June," Laverne said, "but I guess it's easier than auditioning every day."

All four women agreed that they feel as safe here as they would anywhere, and except for the few things they miss -- like Kraft macaroni and cheese, seafood, and Starbucks -- life in Moscow is good.

"Regardless of where you live in today's world, no place is 100 percent safe," Gensiorek said. "You just take each day and live it. Moscow is a really beautiful city with a lot of history and I'm really proud to be here. I can either make this a wonderful experience or a horrible experience. It's all up to me."