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Posts from the ‘Understudy Hall’ Category

22
Jul

Ghost‘s Jennifer Sanchez displays ‘model behavior’ on Broadway and as a single mom

“What was the name of that cheese that I like?” It’s the seventh voicemail Candela leaves for her MIA friend Pepa in the song “Model Behavior” in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. While Laura Benanti was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance in the role, this line (and her rendition of the whole song) highlighted understudy Jennifer Sanchez as an unsung comedic gem at a 2011 At This Performance concert. Sanchez went on twice for the part and still beams at the memory of it, calling it “the best time” she’s ever had on stage. Having made her Broadway debut in West Side Story in 2009, she’s now appearing in Ghost the Musical as an ensemble member and Rosa Santiago, the first client of the faux psychic Oda Mae Brown. Sanchez sat down with Stage Rush to discuss playing a 64 year old, the challenges faced by an understudy, and being a single mom on Broadway.

This is your third Broadway show. What’s it like to work on Broadway? Was this always the dream?
I didn’t see a Broadway show until I was in college. I had never been to New York. The first time I acted in a show was when I was 7 years old. It was a community theater production of Annie in New Mexico. I thought that was everything. I had so much fun. I got to wear lip gloss and hairspray. I thought my life was complete. That was the start of it all.

You are playing an old widow in Ghost. How did that happen?
Well, she’s 64. Her age isn’t specified in the script, but she’s 64. When I auditioned for Rosa Santiago, I honestly thought she was 27. I thought she was young, fun, and beautiful. When I auditioned, I wore my usual outfit—these huge earrings, bangles over my tight dance top, and heels. There was nothing in the script that said she’s older and has a cane. When the producers flew the cast to London to see the show, I saw her come out and I thought, ‘Well that must just be the London version.’ [laughs] I had seen the movie, but I didn’t think it’d be the same. I thought, ‘That’s just for London.’ We came back to New York and on the first day of rehearsals, they gave me my cane. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh!’

It seems that you prefer playing a character role rather than the pretty young woman that you are.
That’s the most fun for me, when I’m lucky enough to make people laugh. Read more »

20
Oct

The agony and the ecstasy of Anything Goes’ Robert Creighton

robert creighton anything goes headshotRobert Creighton made the decision that he would not understudy anymore. After covering roles in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Little Mermaid on Broadway, he felt that he was losing his spark, his “umph,” which Creighton cites as his greatest asset. But then along came the revival of Anything Goes, and as Creighton himself says, “[Understudying] Joel Grey’s a different story.”

Creighton has been covering Grey in the role of Moonface Martin in the Tony-winning revival since October 4, while Grey is sidelined by a foot injury he sustained while walking around New York. Creighton usually plays the role of the Purser. While most actors would be ebullient with the opportunity to play such a major role in a hit show like Anything Goes opposite the great Sutton Foster, Creighton is not in a celebrating mood. “When I found out Joel had hurt himself… I love Joel. I don’t feel comfortable really celebrating that I get to [play the role] when Joel’s hurt. If he was in Europe for a month, I’d be like, ‘Hey, I’m playing Moonface! Come and see me!’ In this case, I hope he gets better and I’m just doing my job.”

This is not the first time Creighton has gone on in the role. While the show was still in previews, Grey was unable to perform one Sunday due to a vocal injury. Creighton got the call at 11:30 a.m. and an hour later was on the stage of the Stephen Sondheim Theatre with Foster receiving his first rehearsal as Moonface. In addition to no prior rehearsal, there hadn’t been time for a costume fitting. Creighton brought his own suit and tuxedo pants to the show. “It was scary, but it was also the highlight of my career,” Creighton said.

VIDEO: Robert Creighton on his bold Anything Goes audition and bonding with costar Joel Grey

Read more »

14
Feb

Concert recap: At This Performance, October 2011

The latest installment of the At This Performance concert series brought big laughs Sunday night. The concert that gives Broadway understudies and standbys the spotlight saw performers choosing hilarious song selections and telling stories of their careers that had the audience in stitches. Producing artistic director and host of the concert series Stephen DeAngelis noted the importance of understudies in theater, acknowledging their future star power. Speaking of what Broadway would be like without these actors, DeAngelis said, “They’d be dying Snooki green and putting a broom in her hand.”

The night kicked off with At This Performance’s youngest performer ever—11-year-old Logan Rowland from The Addams Family. He sang Pugsley’s solo “What If” with polish and confidence while his parents video taped and took pictures from the audience. Rowland told the story of his first time going on in the role—co-star Nathan Lane made an announcement to the audience during the show’s curtain call that they had just witnessed his Broadway debut. Rowland’s Addams co-stars Mo Brady and Lisa M. Karlin duetted with “Crazier Than You,” but didn’t live up to the chemistry displayed by Colin Cunliffe and Jessica Lea Patty when they sang the song last October.

Brady’s solo follow-up song was a song called “I Won’t Have To Anymore.” Easily the night’s most emotional performance, Brady sang the story of a young man preparing to flee the home of his verbally and physically abusive father. Showing great emotional depth and vocal range, Brady’s performance was among the night’s most memorable.

Video: The Addams Family‘s Mo Brady sings “I Won’t Have To Anymore”

(Using an iPhone or iPad? Watch on YouTube)

Read more »

15
Dec

‘The Fantasticks’’s Matt Leisy is silent no longer

The Fantasticks is giving Matt Leisy his voice, literally and figuratively. After playing the Mute (yes, a non-speaking role) for a year and understudying the young lover Matt, Leisy was promoted full-time to the role, which includes the ballad “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” on December 6. The Northwestern University graduate who split his childhood between England and Kansas sat down with Stage Rush to discuss understudying, role ownership, and shielding eyes from glitter.

Catch Matt Leisy’s appearance on Stage Rush TV this Friday!

You’ve achieved what so many understudies hope for—you took over the role you were covering. How did you feel when you were told?
I was definitely very excited and relieved as well. I was wondering if it was going to happen. When I was offered the role of the Mute and the understudy to Matt in the show, it was kind of inferred that if an opportunity arises, they’d like me to play the part. So I knew it was a possibility. The fact that the opportunity came was a big relief.

What did it feel like in your first official week in the role?
I’ve had the opportunity to go on a lot as an understudy. Kind of unusually a lot. A while ago, I was able to let go and realize it’s not about just making your mark and singing the right notes. I was able to play then, but this has been a great time to play on stage with the other actors and figure out what my Matt is about. Each show I’ve been trying new things.

Do you feel freer to try new things, now that the role is yours?
I was more tentative. Now there’s more sense of ownership and an extra sense of confidence, because this is my part. Read more »

23
Jun

Understudy Hall: ‘Race”s Afton C. Williamson is no longer a clenched fist

Every day, understudies hope to go on in the role they cover. Yet as much as that is the desire they obsess over, the even greater dream is to take over the part permanently. Understudy veteran Afton C. Williamson’s dream came to fruition on June 15 when she stepped into the role of Susan in David Mamet’s legal drama Race for the remainder of its run. Understudying Kerry Washington since Race began previews in November, Williamson will stay with the production through its August 21 closing date. Already an experienced understudy from last year’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Williamson sat down with Stage Rush to discuss achieving the ultimate understudy dream.

How does it feel to go from understudying a role to taking it on as your own?
Surreal. As an understudy, you usually only get a performance or two, if that. When I did Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, I didn’t get any performances. I was understudying three women, and it was a wonderful experience. All of them became some of my best friends in the world. To come through all this and to still keep building people in New York, it’s always good to have people around you who get it.

This is a situation that not many understudies find themselves in.
Being with Race for seven months and listening to it every night and seeing over 200 shows, all of that has really just prepared for this moment. But I didn’t know it when it was in existence. There were days where I was like, “Man, I really wanted to go on stage tonight, but OK.” You just do it. It’s the craziest job in the world. You just got to be ready at any moment, but as actors, all the gratification is when we’re on stage. But as an understudy, you don’t get to act. You work up all this stuff every day and then you don’t get a release. The actors on stage get the release. I kind of go home like this—(m,akes a clenched fist). You’re like, “Maybe once! Maybe once!” When we have understudy rehearsals, that’s when all the understudies get the opportunity to let it all out. I think it’s going to be exciting to have that experience every night. Read more »

27
Apr

Understudy Hall: ‘Carnage’’s Charlotte Maier doesn’t need vomiting lessons

Imagine being trained to do a job and then having to wait a year to apply it. That’s how long Charlotte Maier had to wait to unleash Annette’s projectile vomit and tackle her on-stage husband as Veronica as the female standby in the Tony-winning play God of Carnage. The life of a standby (different from an understudy, in that there isn’t even an ensemble role to play) is a true waiting game. Yet in between mystery novels and balancing her checkbook backstage, Maier says she’s received master classes in acting by observing the actors she covers.
A Chicago native, Maier began her career at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. She moved to New York and started a family while appearing in Broadway plays in understudy and standby roles since 1993. She has acted in films with Steve Martin, Sandra Bullock, and Drew Barrymore, and Carnage marks her tenth Broadway production. The producers of Carnage announced Monday that the Tony winner for Best Play would close on June 27. Of this news, Maier remarked that the cast and crew felt lucky to run for a season and a half—a rare feat for a straight play. “Now we pass it on to the next cast in the next city.” Despite this news, Maier remains grateful—and why shouldn’t she? She learned how to vomit with the use of a hose.
How many times have you gone on in Carnage?
Twice. Fifty-two weeks had passed and I knew I was going to go on for Christine Lahti, but Annie Potts had broken her rib in the show somehow. So Thursday night, February 11, I went on for Annie after being with the show for a year. Two days later, I went on for Christine. Didn’t go on before and haven’t gone on since.
What was that first performance like?
That’s the part of Annette, the one who throws up. Technically speaking, that’s a very difficult part. For the vomit trick, you’re hooked up to a hose and there’s a hookup in the couch. I had never had a rehearsal doing that.
***VIDEO AFTER THE JUMP: Charlotte Maier talks vomiting sensations and James Gandolfini’s cast gift that got mysteriously destroyed.*** Read more »
19
Apr

Understudy Hall: ‘At This Performance’: Spring 2010

Before the actors took the stage for the penultimate performance of the spring series of At This Performance concerts Sunday night, Musicals Tonight! artistic director Mel Miller delivered the bittersweet introduction. “These are among the most talented and underappreciated performers on Broadway,” he said. And therein lies what is so brilliant about this concert series that features Broadway understudies—for this night, the spotlight is on them; they are the headliners. Little white slips of paper be damned!
Sunday night’s lineup featured actors currently appearing in The Addams Family, Hair, Lend Me A Tenor, The Phantom of the Opera, and the recently closed Ragtime. Each performer took the stage, looking thrilled to be there, and ebulliently performed their prepared numbers. A barebones stage allowed the audience to focus solely on these (most likely, new) performers’ talents. Singing with only a piano accompanist (Eugene Gwozdz), the setting had an “audition feel” to it, which felt relevant to these performers’ stories. 
Frank Mastrone sang a hyper-emotional “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables. Mykal Kilgore performed an octave defying “Aquarius” from Hair (he understudies the female role of Dionne?? Interesting!). And Mamie Parris gave a heartbreaking rendition of “Back To Before” from Ragtime. In addition to impressive vocals, many of the actors’ performances displayed infectiously likeable personalities. Briana Carlson-Goodman of Hair performed a comedic song from a musical workshop she was involved with, where she sings of her love for her piano accompanist, and Lend Me A Tenor’s Donna English displayed a multitude of hilarious facial expressions during “The Killer Soprano,” a song featured in Forbidden Broadway. 
Setlist:
Briana Carlson-Goodman (Hair, u/s Sheila and Chrissy)
“Easy To Be Hard” and the in-love-with-accompanist tune 
Donna English (Lend Me A Tenor, standby Maria and Julia)
“Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” and “The Killer Soprano” 
Mary Illes (The Phantom of the Opera, u/s Madame Giry)
“Yes, It’s Love” and “Go Little Boat” 
Morgan James (The Addams Family, u/s Wednesday Addams and Alice Beineke)
“Pulled” and “Ohio, 1904”
Mykal Kilgore (Hair, u/s Dionne)
“Aquarius” and “Don’t Let The Sun Get You Crying” 
Frank Mastrone (The Phantom of the Opera, u/s Monsieur Andre and Piangi)
The dress rehearsal of ‘Hannibal’ (from Phantom), “Bring Him Home” and “Those Were The Good Old Days” 
Anastacia McClesky (Hair, u/s Dionne)
“White Boys” and “Stormy Weather” 
Mamie Parris (Ragtime, u/s Mother)
“Back To Before” and “Perfect” 
The spring dates of At This Performance (which also takes place in the fall) has been playing on scattered Sunday and Monday evenings since February 28. Today is the final performance, and tickets can be purchased for $25 online or at the box office. Further information can be found at musicalstonight.org.
31
Mar

Understudy Hall: ‘Memphis’’s Bryan Fenkart is worth teaching how to dance

While Chad Kimball builds Tony buzz for his exhaustive lead performance as Huey Calhoun in the new musical Memphis, his understudy Bryan Fenkart is making a very visible Broadway debut. Having performed the role a handful of times since the New Year, the New Jersey native is getting his chance to bask in the spotlight of one of Broadway’s flashiest male roles.
Growing up in Midland Park, Fenkart wasn’t set on acting. He joined his first high school production on the terms of a lost bet. Yet after the interest took, he studied acting at Rutgers moved to New York. With a three-year stint as a doorman for the Times Square comedy club Carolines behind him, the 30-year-old has made his way to a different Broadway venue and is learning the lessons of performance-induced amnesia and even how to dance. Yes, after being cast in the role.
You’re making your Broadway debut understudying the male lead in a new musical. How does that make you feel?
It is really an honor. I didn’t train in musical theater, but I do love it and everything I’ve seen. Coming in for Memphis, I fell in love with the part of Huey. It’s everything that you would want, as an actor. It’s a very distinct physicality that’s different from my own. It’s got an accent. He’s got a drinking problem by the second act. Even as an understudy, to be able to have the opportunity to do that is a great thing. Also, to have somebody like Chad Kimball do the role and watch him every night is pretty awesome. I have a tremendous amount of respect for what he brings to that part. He fully immerses himself in it and I love what he does. To be able to watch that and then change it on my own is pretty awesome.
***VIDEO AFTER THE JUMP: Bryan Fenkart would get “beat up” if he wore Huey’s clothes outside the theater.*** Read more »
23
Feb

Understudy Hall: ‘Phantom’’s Jeremy Stolle drives his BMW all over the Majestic

We’ve all done it. We’ve taken our seats in a Broadway theater, opened our Playbills in anticipation of the rising curtain, and groaned when that little slip of paper has fallen out and floated to our feet. The disappointment sets in: one of the lead actors is being understudied. It’s a common occurrence, yet rarely are the stories of these underdogs of Broadway told. We’ve all seen incredible understudies, as well as mediocre ones. But the truth is that without them, the show couldn’t go on. And don’t kid yourself for a second—they know exactly what the audience is thinking of them. Understudy Hall is a series spotlighting some of Broadway’s greatest pinch hitters. Now let’s kick off the series with an actor who is always on call to play one of the most coveted roles in Broadway history.
Jeremy Stolle has gone months at a time without playing the Phantom or Raoul, the two leads he has understudied in The Phantom of the Opera since he joined the company in October 2007. Most nights, he plays the operatic Passarino in the musical’s haunted Opera Populaire. But during the week of February 15, while the regular Phantom, John Cudia, was on vacation, the 33-year-old California native went on as the tortured genius during the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evening performances. Given that the 22-year-old Broadway mainstay sold over 90 percent of its tickets that week, the excitement of the packed, cheering house should sustain Stolle for the next few months, in case it’s that long till he next dons the mask.
You’re making your Broadway debut understudying the Phantom and Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera. How does that make you feel?
That feels amazing. I started acting at 15. I wasn’t into musicals whatsoever, and everybody has their one show that they find and they really like, and Phantom was mine. At 15, I really wanted to play the Phantom of the Opera. Ninety-five years later, I’m here as the Phantom of the Opera. I couldn’t be happier. I couldn’t even speak for a good half hour when I got the hiring call. Every day I come to work loving to be here. When it comes to playing the Phantom, I walk down the street with just a little bit of pride about that.
What does it feel like when you’re in your moment as the Phantom, whether it’s in your favorite scene or taking your final bow?
It feels amazing for me, because I’ve worked really hard at this part. It’s not an easy part. People have ideas about the role, like, “Oh, you’re only on stage for 30 minutes.” It is 30 minutes of full-out sprints. It’s one of the hardest things ever.
Give me a brief history of your background.
I am from the San Francisco Bay Area. I taught high school for two years; I was a substitute. I taught math, English, and choir. Then I decided that with two bags and a plane ticket, I’d move to New York.
What is the longest period you’ve gone without performing the role of the Phantom or Raoul?
I’ve never counted, but months at a time. It really depends on the leads. Our leads aren’t flakey at all. We go on occasionally, on their vacations and their sick days. I do get to go on as the Phantom every so often, but I also rehearse the role at the theater during the day a lot. So I’ll have run Phantom six times within a three-month period during rehearsals and then I’ll have done it once at an actual performance. That is to make sure it’s fresh.
***VIDEO AFTER THE JUMP: Jeremy Stolle unlocks the mystery of the Phantom’s never-seen full mask*** Read more »