Cameron Mackintosh, the producing force behind megahit Broadway musicals such as Cats, Les Misérables, Miss Saigon and The Phantom of the Opera, issued a memo asking understudy and standby performers in all his U.K. and touring shows to stop posting their upcoming schedules on social media. But, according to Twitter, fans want to know when their favorite understudies will be standing in the spotlight.
Following the news, theatre fans shared their discontentment with the Bway Understudies Twitter account (@understudies), which has over 16,000 followers and tweets when understudies are going on in place of the show’s original leading players.
“Can’t count how many times I’ve gone to shows BECAUSE the understudy was on!” tweeted Julie Sousa. “Have been following you guys for years bc of that”
@understudies can't count how many times I've gone to shows BECAUSE the understudy was on! Have been following you guys for years bc of that
— Julie Sousa (@juliegsousa) September 14, 2016
A few performers shared their thoughts on the topic, but most (especially understudies, themselves) remained quiet or simply skirted around the issue.
Thoughts??? (When have producers ever posted when leads are out anyway?? ��) https://t.co/WOCGjXiLf5
— Alyssa Fox (@AlyssaFox) September 14, 2016
According to some of the understudies—and because of the way social media has brought Broadway fandom to a new level—fans look for their favorite understudy to tweet that they’re going on, and most of the understudies or standbys have major followings on social media. Andrew Chappelle, who covers multiple roles in the Tony-winning musical Hamilton, has nearly 36,000 followers on Twitter.
— Eric Sciotto (@E_DaddySciotto) September 14, 2016
Standing by for a major leading player on Broadway is not the easiest job, considering most ticket buyers are coming to see the above-the-title star, but those actors take pride in their work.
“When my agent called me saying that David Stone had asked if I would come in and be interested [to standby for Idina Menzel in If/Then], I took it as the biggest compliment in the world,” Jackie Burns previously told Playbill.com. “I think that’s epic, and I think that’s probably why I’m very proud to say that I am Idina Menzel’s standby. If my 18-year-old self watching Wicked, if someone had said, ‘Hey, you’re going to be standing by for this woman in ten years, I would be like, ‘Oh, my God.’”
In fact, there have been many understudies or standbys who have gone on to have major careers in the theatre. Sutton Foster is likely the most famous from recent memory. She was originally hired to understudy the role of Millie Dillmount in Thoroughly Modern Millie, which was to be played by Kristin Chenoweth, who ended up turning it down in favor of a sitcom deal. Erin Dilly next signed on, but left during the out-of-town rehearsal process due to creative differences with the production team, which is when Foster was promoted to full-time Millie and went on to win a Tony Award for her performance.
Speaking for Mackintosh, managing director Nicholas Allott told the London news site The Stage, “We don’t feel it’s right that an understudy should let the rest of the world know when a principal is going to be off. Once we [the producers] have announced it, they are completely at liberty to use that as much as they like but it needs to come from us first.”
Fans, however, are making it known that the stars of the show are just as important as theatre’s unsung heroes.
@understudies honestly what even is that? Understudies are wonderful and as important as the 'stars' of the show. Ppl want to see them!
— Mariya Biktimirova (@Manka__Kasha) September 14, 2016
Totally disagree! Love seeing understudies and would make a special trip to see them if I know they'll be on https://t.co/PZuDXR7Zfr
— Kim (@kimedian) September 14, 2016