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Lyric actor injured in fire stunt expected to return home Thursday

Wesley Daniel Iphegeni2.0 with Next Theatre Company Directed by David Kersner. | Provided photo

Wesley Daniel in Iphegenia 2.0 with Next Theatre Company Directed by David Kersner. | Provided photo

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Updated: March 7, 2013 6:34AM

A fire-breathing stilt-walker could soon be returning to the stage after a stunt at a Lyric Opera of Chicago dress rehearsal went “horribly wrong” and left him hospitalized this week.

Wesley Daniel, a 24-year-old actor, circus performer and acrobat, is expected to head home from Loyola University Medical Center on Thursday morning, his father said. Second-degree burns on his neck and chin are likely to heal, and a friend expects he’ll make a full recovery.

Drew Landmesser, the opera’s deputy general director, said he suspects Daniel will be “knocking on our door any day now.”

“Wesley’s welcome here any time he wants to perform,” Landmesser said.

Daniel is also a great-grandson of the late President Harry S Truman.

Meanwhile, Landmesser said the Lyric Opera has been investigating since Monday night why the stunt left Daniel’s face engulfed in flames during the rehearsal for “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg.” It’s looking into every possible variable — including the speed of fans in the auditorium and on the stage.

Clifton Daniel, the actor’s father, said his son is well-trained, knew what he was doing and had pulled off the fire stunt “dozens of times without incident.”

It’s been a part of the opera’s other rehearsals, Landmesser said, and it was Daniel who demonstrated the stunt to the satisfaction of a Chicago fire marshal. It required Daniel, while wearing a fireproof costume and mask, to swig from a container of flammable liquid and create a “flare” by spouting the liquid onto a torch in his hand.

Landmesser said it’s part of a festival scene in the show’s third act but it’s been cut from the performance.

The flame seemed to blow back into Daniel’s face Monday, and Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said the problem was in the “application” of the stunt. He said something obviously blew the flammable liquid back into Daniel’s face.

“You don’t spit into the wind,” Langford said. “All of that is supposed to be taken into account.”

Another actor attempted the stunt for a fire marshall before Daniel, Landmesser said, but the flame singed a handlebar mustache the other actor had been growing for a different performance. That actor became Daniel’s understudy, he said, and shaved the facial hair.

Clifton Daniel was in the audience with his son’s girlfriend during Monday’s dress rehearsal, and he said he was looking forward to seeing the fire stunt for the first time. He could tell from his seat that something had gone seriously wrong.

“It’s horrific,” Clifton Daniel said. “You’re watching your child perform and you’re enjoying it, and you’re amazed at all the things he can do, and suddenly it goes horribly wrong. And you don’t believe it at first. And you watch your child in flames running for the wings, and you just bolt for the door.”

He said Daniel moved off the stage quickly, without flailing.

“He seemed to know exactly where he was supposed to go, and exactly what he was supposed to do,” his father said.

Daniel was first taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital before being transferred to Loyola. Doctors inserted a breathing tube into his throat just in case it began to swell, but Clifton Daniel said it was taken out Monday night. And the burns, he said, might leave the actor’s skin “pinkish” for a few months but won’t scar.

“The doctor at Loyola likened that to a severe sunburn,” Clifton Daniel said, “and it should heal without a problem.”

He said his son was able to speak in a low whisper Tuesday.

The actor was born in Wilmington, N.C., his father said. He moved with his family to Chicago about 15 years ago, and he graduated from Lane Tech College Prep High School. His father said he also considered a career in architecture but enrolled at Roosevelt University as a theater major.

Daniel also is a member of the Inappropriate Theatre Company. He performed in “Timon of Athens” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater and appeared with Lookingglass Theatre at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as Floretta in “Pulcinella,” according to his online biography.

“He loves it,” Clifton Daniel said. “I mean, he loves it. He loves what he does.

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