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Monday, June 27, 2011


I like underdogs.

I like antiheroes.

I like the singing of songs unsung.

I like it when people who may not always receive the prime opportunity get their chance to shine.

I like understudies.

I have a friend who is making a go of it at professional theatre in New York City, and, for a long time, he was inviting me to see shows for which he was understudying. Mrs. Apron and I went to New York to see a show for which he was understudying both male roles. And, the day before, he went on. The performance we saw, he didn't. I was hoping he would, because I love my friend and it's exhilerating to see him perform in a professional venue, and I admit there's a modicum of professional jealousy there for me, because I know it is something I will most likely never do myself-- but I do get a charge out of seeing him do it.

Always have.

(Bloody voyeur.)

Understudying is a funny business. I can't imagine that the people who do it actually want to be doing it, but it's a way of paying your dues, and getting paid, of prepping and working with excellent directors and performers, of staying fresh in your craft, of staying busy, of staying involved. But it's got to be hard-- much harder than being the principal performer, I think, because you must hold yourself in abeyance in the event that your services are required. And, really, aside from your friends, nobody really wants to see you. Nobody wants to pay $150 a ticket to see that little paper insert in the program saying that you are taking over for Kelsey Grammer or Catherine Zeta Jones.

When Mrs. Apron and I went to New York to see the revival of one of my favorite musicals, "A Little Night Music", we were greeted by one of those little slips of paper indicating that the role of Desiree would, this evening, not in fact be played by Catherine Zeta Jones, but by her understudy, Jayne Paterson. We didn't give a shit, because we were there to see a show-- not an actor.

And Paterson was excellent. Because she's a professional, Broadway perfomer-- she just isn't married to Michael Douglas and isn't hot as bubbling ballsweat.

When we saw "Wicked", it wasn't Idina Menzel defying gravity, nor was it even the chick who was doing the Broadway tour-- it was Coleen Sexton, who blew the shit out of the Academy of Music with her powerful voice, astonishing looks (yes, we had good enough seats to tell) and sensitive portrayal.

Last night, we found ourselves at the Academy again, having procured rush tickets to see "Next to Normal". Again, the slip of paper told us that Diana Goodman would not be played by the supersonically famouse Alice Ripley, but by Pearl Sun. She was fantastic, in a performance that had me craning forward (and not just because they were 2nd Balcony seats) riveted and moved.

In an age where people are flocking to Broadway in droves to see big names-- and big film names, no less-- and not works created by accomplished playwrights and festooned by visionary directors and designers, we have our understudies to thank for opening our eyes to the fact that professionalism and talent do not necessarily have to come prepackaged, that theatre can stand on its own merits, and that there is more to top billing than a name encased within a star on Hollywood Boulevard.

The next time you go see a Broadway or Broadway touring show, and you see that little slip of paper in your program-- try smiling instead of complaining, because chances are you're about to see something, and someone, very unexpected, and very special.

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