Importance of an understudy

kinky-boots-london-tt-inlineFor those of you who have read my previous blogs, you will know I have somewhat of a soft spot for an understudy and it increasingly frustrates me that they are not appreciated for the hard work they put in.

This week I was lucky enough to catch Kinky Boots at its best. For this week, not only did we have 1, not 2, but 3 lead characters being played by understudies.

Paul Ayres as Charlie Price, Emma Crossley as Lauren and James Ballanger as Don. This meant we also had Michael Vinsen as Harry and 3 Swings in the factory. Simon Anthony Rhodes as Richard Bailey, Robin Mills as Mutt and Suzie McAdam as Gemma-Louise.

And as if that wasn’t exciting enough, we also had the 3 other male swings as Angels! Jason Winter covering Craig as Referee Angel, Dominic Tribuzio covering George as Splits/Bikini Angel and Robert Jones covering Ben.

By the end of the week Alan Mehdizadeh had returned to the role of Don and George Grayson to Splits/Bikini Angel, however this did not make the cast any less exciting as by Saturday we had Jane Milligan showing us her Trish, Catherine Millsom as Milan Stage Manager and Robin Mills covering Sean Needham in the factory. The return of George meant Dominic Tribuzio moved over to cover Referee Angel and Jason Winter onto cover Ben. I’m sure you can agree it has been a very exciting week at the show and anyone who managed to catch it received a truly special show with an incredible cast! The energy from the cast was brimming, they were having fun and enjoying their jobs! Each and everyone of them fully deserving of their opportunity to play the role and they all nailed it!

Paul’s Charlie is passionate and he brings an amazing emotion to the role. As an original London Cast Member Paul has been lucky to play Charlie many times and this shows, as he has truly put his own stamp on the role and sings the part, effortlessly, as if he has been doing it full time for years. Paul’s emotion really shows during the phone call to Lola, before Hold Me In Your Heart, when you are genuinely drawn in and feel for Charlie as he suddenly realises he pushed Lola away because of his own pride. Paul’s deliverance of the role is beautifully done with perfect timing and exceptional acting.

Emma’s Lauren is fun, natural and energetic. At no point do you feel she is overplaying the part for laughs. You can really connect to the role through Emma’s portrayal as she progresses through the show and fights to help the man, she wants to be with, achieve his dreams and help save the family business. Emma gets the chance to show off the full potential of her beautiful voice during History Of Wrong Guys and brings a bit of playfulness to the character. As the week went on you could really see Emma growing in the part and experimenting to put her own twist on it and the development she has made truly shone through by Saturday.

James Ballanger has a very different take to the role of Don, portraying the character slightly more cocky than angry, a little bit like the Original West End Don, Jamie Baughan. Although James still keeps the character’s dislike of Lola alive, he plays it out in a more placid sense. James’s voice really shines through during the final song, as he bursts onto the cat walk and surprises Charlie by bringing everyone along. As he belts out the lines, he then hits, and holds, a very impressive note, receiving rapturous applause from the audience.

Jane Milligan as Trish is comical genius! Her slapdash, straight to the point, take on the role has the audience in stitches and her feistyness when defending Don, particularly during In This Corner, is played with brilliant hilarity. Jane also gets an opportunity to show off her impressive vocal range when covering this this track.

As anyone who has seen the show probably knows, Lola and her Angels burst onto the stage and automatically grab the attention of the entire auditorium. These Angels (covers very much included) are some of the best talent currently on a West End stage. The levels of dancing are above and beyond, along with the make up! These ladies certainly know how to have fun! Each one having their own little characters and traits, playfully playing off each others incredible energy, this week the energy coming off of them was so strong it almost lifted the roof off the Adelphi!

At the beginning of the week we were treated to Jason Winter’s In This Corner, as he donned the Referee costume and dreads. The sass and fierceness that Jason brought to the role reflected onto the audience, who instantly lite up with screaming, shouting and joyous applause. At the end of the week, audiences were treated to Dominic Tribuzio’s Referee. Like Mary Poppins, Dominic is also ‘Practically Perfect In Every way’. He can sing, he can dance, he can act and better than that, he can do them all at once, whilst strutting around fiercely in a pair of heels! And just when you think you’ve seen it all, he flawlessly drops into Box Splits half way through In This Corner, sending the audience into a completely frenzy, before subtly regaining himself as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened!!

What this week at the show has proven is what an incredible bunch of people covers/understudies/swings truly are. Each day can bring a completely different role, playing opposite completely different people, but each and everyday they take it on with full professionalism and play the parts out to their full potential. Yet still we find they are often hidden away and never truly praised for their efforts, even though a lot of times, without these individuals, shows simply wouldn’t go ahead. It’s bad enough when members of the public complain about/ignore covers, but when the companies themselves are shying away from celebrating these wonderful performers, we have some real problems.

All companies, nationwide, should take pride in what they have and celebrate these most fabulous human beings for saving their shows night after night!

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