CARROLLWOOD – It was about a month until showtime and Dee Ford was in a panic.
She is the director of “Over the River and Through the Woods,” an off-Broadway play that will be opening on Sept. 27 at the Carrollwood Cultural Center. It is highly acclaimed and Ford had been preparing for months for the six-show run that ends Oct. 6.
The reason for the panic? An email from the show’s lead, who was leaving the production due to a better offer. The show is put on by volunteers, but Ford had an idea. She made a few phone calls, talked to a few people and finally came up with someone who might, just might, fit the role of Tony, a 28-year-old Italian guy who can do monologues as well as exchange rapid fire banter.
Ford tracked down Andrew Blizzard, an actor who works as an assistant manager at a Lakeland Papa John’s when he isn’t chasing his acting dream. He is 29, so he fit the part. Blizzard said he’ll be ready for opening night.
The play centers around a single guy from New Jersey who has both sets of grandparents living right across the street, demanding grandchildren. He is offered a dream job in Seattle and the grandparents scheme to do everything they can to keep Nick at home in New Jersey. The play is a touching comedy that has done well off-Broadway. For her part, Ford the director was once Ford the actress in the same play.
She has no qualms with Blizzard taking a crash course.
“I was panic stricken,” Ford said. “I had to tell him that this was the role of a lifetime. It is not an easy role, but he was perfect for it. I called everyone to try to find him and it finally worked out.”
The role is a tough one. The character Tony goes from monologues to rapid-fire banter, all while sitting around a dinner table and eating food – which is particularly tough, because you don’t want your mouth full when it is time for your lines.
For Blizzard, it means a daily drive from Lakeland. However, work may actually be helping him prepare for the role.
“I can turn myself into the main character when I am at work,” Blizzard said. “That’s what it is all about, and I understand the main character. By the time I get to rehearsal I can identify.”
As a student at the University of South Florida, Blizzard wanted to get into sports medicine. He took his first acting class to grab a few easy credits, but the acting bug stuck. He made it into a hobby and today considers himself a kind of backup quarterback, always ready for when someone calls his number.
“I stay ahead of the game,” Blizzard said. “I just love to act. There’s nothing like getting on stage and making people laugh.”
With little time left until opening night, Ford can feel the tension. Still, she anticipates when the curtain goes up for the first time.
“It is like torture leading up to the show,” Ford said. “When the curtains go up you realize it is all worth it. It’s like, all of a sudden, an angel comes down and makes it right. Whatever happens during rehearsals and no matter how much I panic, it always comes together on opening night.”
“Over the River and Through the Woods” will run at the Carrollwood Cultural Center from Sept. 27-29, and Oct. 4-6. For more information, call (813) 269-1310.