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Understudies


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#11 Matthew Winn

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Posted 19 March 2007 - 04:27 PM

QUOTE(armadillo @ Mar 19 2007, 01:01 PM) View Post
But my experience is that in the provinces you are less likely to see an understudy. As with all jobs, there is less sickness if people know there's nobody to cover for them

One reason you're less likely to see understudies in tours is because there are usually allocated slots for holidays, where the tour takes a week off and everyone in the company takes their holiday at the same time. Similarly, in short runs the only holidays are emergency ones. It's not that people are less likely to take time off sick, but that the only time they're off is when they're sick.

Because of this regional shows sometimes try to get by with fewer covers than in the West End. I've known a couple of cases where some major roles have had only a single cover, and then when one out of the lead or the cover is injured they have to frantically rehearse someone else in case they run out of people to play the part.

The last time I saw a show cancelled through illness it was actually the technical side of the show that had run out of people. One of the cast had been ill and had refused to quit (doing the whole look-at-how-brave-I-am, I'm-going-to-be-a-martyr act), and ended up infecting so many other people that there was nobody available to call the cues.
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#12 armadillo

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Posted 19 March 2007 - 04:52 PM

I wasn't thinking so much of tours as of small regional reps like the Royal Exchange or Library Theatre where there are short runs and probably no understudies.

A while back the Bridewell did a musical (can't actually remember what it was now) where a chorus girl was upgraded to leading role between the dress rehearsal and first night and managed excellently. Does this ring a bell with anyone?

#13 M George

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Posted 19 March 2007 - 06:45 PM

I've regularly seen understudies in tours.  I think the frequency of understudies performing on tour is equal to that of them performing in West End.

The Royal Exchange don't employ understudies.  They have a covers system with one actor and actress taken on for each production who are expected to be at every performance ensuring they are familiar enough with the play and production to be able to go on for any of the performers at any time.  They are NOT expected to be off the book.  They are required to go on very infrequently but it has been known to happen.
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#14 xTanyax

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Posted 19 March 2007 - 08:36 PM

In Birmingham I got Nigel Harman's 2nd understudy there was alot of illness going round the cast, he could have been worse but he stumbled over alot of lines and missed out a few and didn't have the right charisma for Sky. Saw Sarah Lancashire as Adelaide and then saw Lynsey Britton when sarah left and though Lynsey was fantastic best Adelaide I have seen.

It seems to work out quite often that the understudies to celebs are better, it is obvious they would have been cast in the role if it hadn't been for the fact the compny wanted a celeb to play the role. obviously not always the case.

#15 itsallgonesour

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 11:23 AM

As one who goes far too often to the theatre, especially to the same shows, I can definitely notice the difference between a good performance and a bad performance.

I saw Earl Carpenter's first night in Phantom of the Opera, in October 2003 and he was excellent. His singing was a touch weak perhaps, but his acting and portrayal of the character was superb. When I went back to see him in 2006 I thought he was dire. His singing had improved ten-fold but he lost the character and the very charm which made him unique.
I like to see fresh, exciting performances, which usually can only be given by those new to a role, or on as an understudy. As a principal performers start taking liberties, especially if they have been in the show for a number of years. Look at Mark Hutchinson in Blood Brothers... how can you give a fresh, exciting performance every night for fifteen years? You can't. And he doesn't. The lines aren't funny to you after 100,000,000 times, and that will carry through. Especially if you're a 50-year-old man playing an 8-year-old boy.

In 2005 I saw what, (along with my musical loving partner) we agreed was the single worst thing ever seen on the West End stage, a performance of my favourite musical Les Miserables. Every single cast member was a principle, and they were either not up to it (which isn't there fault) or phoning it in. (step forward Mr Michael McCarthy). The lady next to me fell asleep and the two chaps on my partners right didn't come back after the interval. The performance was met with even a few boos at the curtain call, something I have never seen in the west-end before, for even the biggest turkey. Unsurprisingly, a few weeks later at the next cast change, pretty much the entire cast was cleared out.

I saw the very same show (and I'd like to add - with the same ticket price to boot) in October 2006, and it's the single best theatrical performance I have ever seen.
Everyone in the cast was on fire and amazingly the acting was superb from all involved. TWO understudies were on, and they are the best I have seen or heard in the roles they played. They were Rob Archibald (u/s Marius) and Laura Brydon (u/s Eponine) - both superb and better than the principals they were covering who I have since seen.

Other great understudy performances I have seen;
Tomos Griffiths is the best Phantom I have seen or heard (u/s Phantom 2004)
Craig Whitely (u/s Eddie, Blood Brothers, West End 2005) - now doing Blood Brothers tour as Eddie
Oliver Thompsett (u/s Fiyero, Wicked 2006) - hundreds times better than Adam Garcia
Rachel Barrell (u/s Millie, Thoroughly Modern Millie 2006)

I've seen a few bad-uns too, don't get me wrong, but they ALWAYS put in the effort. I saw the understudy Velma last year in Chicago too, she was fine but very nervous, which showed.

I feel it is slightly different with those who are mentioning plays, as I've been talking about musicals. With musicals, especially triple-threat parts, one track isn't that different to another, and usually people will know three or four tracks...
If I went to see say Kenneth Branagh in a play, and got an understudy, I would be disappointed and therefore as good as the understudy is I wouldn't enjoy it because of my disappointment. And the same probably is true for those who go to shows 'just' to see star performers. (I saw Oleanna with Julia Stiles and Aaron Eckhardt and there was no understudy - the show must go on!!)


#16 JWC

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 11:31 AM

Interesting article on this in the Sunday Times particularly at the end when different producers give their views - those of Mr Rogers (Equus) particularly revealing in their inability to accept blame

Click here

#17 curzon

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 01:44 PM

QUOTE(itsallgonesour @ Mar 20 2007, 11:23 AM) View Post
In 2005 I saw what, (along with my musical loving partner) we agreed was the single worst thing ever seen on the West End stage, a performance of my favourite musical Les Miserables. Every single cast member was a principle, and they were either not up to it (which isn't there fault) or phoning it in. (step forward Mr Michael McCarthy). The lady next to me fell asleep and the two chaps on my partners right didn't come back after the interval. The performance was met with even a few boos at the curtain call, something I have never seen in the west-end before, for even the biggest turkey. Unsurprisingly, a few weeks later at the next cast change, pretty much the entire cast was cleared out.
I think the Les Mis situation can happen to anything that has run so long. It's a great pity because it was a great production when it was first out and it still can be thrilling on a good night. The last time I saw it was very near the end of the Palace run and it was dire - Sloppy, lazy, inaccurate and the cuts (made to save money whatever Cameron might say) were appalling. I could barely recognise it as the production I had worked on so many years before. I vowed I would never see it again and everything I have heard from people who have seen it since has confirmed that view. I think a lot of the blame for sloppy long runs must rest with the resident directors but, in the end, the buck has to stop at the producer's door.

Sebastian


#18 siobhan

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 11:39 PM

What are the best understudies we've seen? I saw a great one on for Anna Maxwell-Martin as Sally Bowles in Cabaret recently.
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I thought Kaisa Hummerland who is the understudy for Sally Bowles was awful. sorry.
After all the praise she got on this site when AMM got a throat infection, I got balcony tickets to see her.
Dear God, She forgot her lines during 'Perfectly marvellous' and I much prefered Anna Maxwell martin who sang clearer as far as I'm concerned.

Understudies generally try harder in my opinion because it's their oppourtunuity to shine, I'm never disappointed when I hear an understudy will be replacing a certain performer.
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#19 Richey

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Posted 21 March 2007 - 08:52 AM

I'll never forget travelling for miles to see a performance of Grease on tour a few years ago (mainly because the wife wanted to see Luke Goss as Danny) and there had been such a bad bout of illness among the cast that most of the roles were played by second and third understudies. It was still a very good performance though!
On a positive note we recently saw Wicked with the Wizard played bythe understudy (Andy someone?) who was excellent and played it far better than Nigel Planer.

#20 Trev

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Posted 21 March 2007 - 10:59 AM

Saw Spamalot yesterday and was really impressed with Craige Els who in my opinion was even funnier than Tom Goodman-Hill.




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