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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