“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
Robert 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
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”
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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
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