Marissa Bode slipped her hands into her shoes and prepared to dance.
Paralyzed four weeks ago in a traffic crash en route to theater practice, 11-year-old Marissa joined her BFFs and hand-dancing thespians in the lobby of the American Family Children's Hospital on Friday for a remarkable performance.
In the process, she did the impossible: She made an American Girl story even more uplifting than the original.
Until Sept. 29 when she was injured, Marissa was in the cast of the "American Girls Revue," a Children's Theater of Madison ensemble production now playing at the Overture Center Playhouse.
Marissa, the daughter of Sean and Patricia Bode of Mazomanie, earned the part of Addy — a main character in one of the popular American Girl books — in tryouts during the summer. She was on her way to play practice when the crash occurred, and has been hospitalized since, unable to move below the waist. The play opened Oct. 8 without her, but her friends made sure that not every performance was without her.
Friday afternoon, with the baby-blue walls of the hospital lobby as the backdrop and real sun providing the lighting, the play and the players came to Marissa.
As about 40 people snuggled into the lobby to watch, Marissa, her voice softened by the effect of a feeding tube removed only recently from her throat, had all the moves and surprising stamina for the 60-minute musical.
The difference was all her moves were from a wheelchair maneuvered by Frost White, who took her place in the cast. Marissa played the part she rehearsed before her injuries.
The play follows the members of a girls' club as they act out adventures from their favorite characters in the American Girl books.
CTM producing artistic director Roseann Sheridan wasn't surprised Marissa sailed through the production in a wheelchair after four weeks in a hospital bed, gritting through her injuries.
At the last rehearsal before the accident, Marissa "had it spot on, she had the whole show down," Sheridan said.
The rest of the cast did too, ingeniously adjusting to Marissa's rolling presence in a narrow space without missing a beat.
The poignancy of the play's dialogue in this setting was not missed by the stage moms and dads, and the few hospital employes who watched:
"Your imagination can take you there. ...
"If life is full of changes, don't be afraid ...
"It's what you do with what you got."
In the production finale, all nine girls line up to tap dance, a scene Marissa particularly looked forward to in rehearsals, not least because of the shiny, red tap shoes the girls get to wear.
For Marissa's version, the girls also all donned hospital patient gowns, sat at tables and placed their hands in shiny red tap shoes.
They tappety-tapped, tappety-tapped through a stirring finale. It's not the first time a hospital drama ended on a hope for a happy ending.
After everyone left and Marissa returned to her room with her mom and dad, she was eating cookies and still bubbling from the performance.
"I thought it went pretty well," she said. "What I liked best was being with the others, performing.
"I definitely want to perform again."