Editor’s note: In the wake of health concerns, the following show has been canceled.
“The show must go on!” It’s an entertainment axiom and one that singer Keala Settle seemed ready to bet her life on.
The Hawaiian native, who joins Seth Rudetsky for a “Broadway @ The Herbst” concert and chatfest on March 15, was rehearsing what would be her highest-profile career moment yet. She was singing the Oscar-nominated song “This Is Me,” which she introduced as Lettie Lutz, the Bearded Lady, in the 2017 film “The Greatest Showman,” at the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles. Then, she collapsed.
“I had a brain bleed,” she says, referring to what was ultimately diagnosed as a rare cerebrovascular disorder called Moyamoya disease. “I had two doctors look at my brain scan and the second doctor said ‘We can fix it and I’m really excited to start work on it. When can we get you in for surgery?’ It was Wednesday, the week of the Oscars, and I said, ‘Well, let me just go do this one thing real fast.’”
She laughs at the memory of his expression. “He put me on all these anti-seizure medications, and I was really tired, but I absolutely powered through it.”
Her live performance, with more than 3 million views on YouTube, is filled with raw energy and tearful passion that underscores both her then-immediate state of mind and the power of the song.
Written by “Dear Evan Hansen” authors Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, “This Is Me” has become something of an anthem for anyone who feels like “the other,” as well as a signature for Settle — one that she initially tried to give away.
“I begged them, ‘Please don’t make me do it. Shoshana [Bean] sings the demo. It’s incredible. Let her do it.’ Those were my own insecurities and fears talking, which for the past two years because of this song, I’ve had the ability to face and embrace.”
Settle has had four featured roles on Broadway, most recently in “Waitress” by Sara Bareilles, since she toured through San Francisco in 2004 as Tracy Turnblad in “Hairspray” opposite Bruce Vilanch as her mother, Edna. It was not a career she imagined back on Oahu.
“All we had were the movies. My mother would play movies that had music in them, and we sang them because my mother sang. Then in high school, someone said to me, ‘Hey, we’re gonna do ‘Grease.’ I was like, ‘The movie?’ ‘No, it was a play first.’”
“I had no clue,” she laughs, “because my parents never saw live theater.”
IF YOU GO
Keala Settle, with Seth Rudetsky
Presented by Broadway @ The Herbst
Where: Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
Contact: (415) 392-4400, cityboxoffice.com
This performance has been canceled.