“Newsies” Understudies Seize the Stage

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October 24, 2012 by breesalmon

The “At This Performance…” Series, celebrating its 9th anniversary this year, takes understudies and standbys and puts them where they belong: in the limelight.

The most recent concert, which took place Sunday, October 21st at the Lion Theatre in New York City, featured understudies and standbys for multiple roles in shows such as “Bring It On,” “Ghost,” “Chaplin,” “Into the Woods,” “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” and “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.”  But, of course, the one thing this fansie was most excited for was seeing our “Newsies” understudies – Laurie Veldheer, who understudies for Kara Lindsay’s role as Katherine Plumber, and Mike Faist, one of the understudies for Corey Cott’s Jack Kelly.

The atmosphere of the night was very supportive and relaxed.  The Lion is a very small and intimate theatre which helped to set the mood.  Aside from spending the show sitting between Michael Fatica (one of the swings in “Newsies,” there to support his fellow castmates as well as his best friend Justin Bowen, u/s for the role of Charlie Chaplin in “Chaplin”) and two of Laurie Veldheer’s best friends, the audience also held Corey Cott and Thayne Jasperson, there to show their support as well.  Each performer received hearty applause and support from the audience – but that was mostly because they deserved it: these performers are amazing.

During the first half of the concert, each performer got the chance to sing a song from the role that they understudy for.  Cooper Grodin, who is the understudy for Cinderella’s Prince and the Wolf in “Into the Woods,” performed the Wolf’s sultry number “Hello, Little Girl” – for the first time!  He never got to complete it during any rehearsals.  Eric Williams, the understudy for the roles of Cinderella’s Prince and Rapunzel’s Prince from the same production, sang a duet… with both princes… by himself.  And Alison Luff stunned the audience with shockingly powerful vocals and a beautifully moving rendition of “With You,” a song she sang when she covered the role of Molly Jensen in “Ghost.”

The only performers who couldn’t sing songs from their own show were our Laurie and Mike (No licenses for performing songs outside of the show will be released until the first of the year.).  Laurie laughed as she told the audience about her first time going on as the spitfire Katherine – she had just completed an understudy rehearsal the day of the last preview when she was told: congratulations, now you get to do it for real!  She chose to sing a song that she felt Katherine would still relate to: “Not For the Life of Me” from “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” which also happened to be her college audition song!  If you’ve never gotten to chance to hear Laurie sing (and I don’t mean as a secretary or a showgirl but as a SONGSTRESS) you need to run to the nearest YouTube and check it out.  She has a gift for taking on a character during a song and her voice is so effortless it makes you feel like anything is possible (Which then inspires you to go home and sing the same songs and you realize that anything is NOT, in fact, possible and your world crumbles as you realize Laurie may make it look easy… but it’s actually really REALLY hard.  But I digress.)!

Mike, after joking (?) about setting booby traps for Corey that failed to take him out of the show, shared jokingly (?) that he’ll probably end up just resorting to pushing him down the stairs (Thank goodness for the padding mentioned in Corey’s vlog!) to be able to go on as Jack Kelly.  He has performed the role before, luckily getting a good amount of notice so friends and family could make it to be in the audience.  Mike was told he could sing any song in the whole wide world that he wanted, and so he settled on “Yesterday” by the Beatles.  A simple song, when combined with subdued body language and a subtly sad expression, became an incredibly moving piece.  There’s no doubt in my mind that you’ve all heard the song “Yesterday” but I can also guarantee that you’ve never heard it the way Mike performs it.  I, personally have sang that song at least 38747829 times at summer camp vespers, have never experienced so much emotion from it.  Turns out Morris Delancey has a soft side.  I won’t tell Weisel if you won’t.

For the second half of the show, performers were allowed to sing any song they wanted.  Nikki Bohne, a woman with many hats as the standby for the roles of Campbell, Eva, Skylar, and Kylar in “Bring It On,” rocked the house with a loud and proud rendition of “I Need a Hero,” complete with backup vocals and great harmonies with two of her college friends.  Johnny Newcomb is the understudy for the roles of Jack and the Steward in “Into the Woods.”  He chose to sing Sara Bareilles’ “Gravity” and put a beautiful twist on an already beautiful song.  And Laurie returned to sing “Will He Like Me?” from the show “She Loves Me.”

The concert ended with performer Laura Shoop, the understudy for the Baker’s Wife in “Into the Woods,” singing “Stars and the Moon,” an absolutely breathtaking song, made only more impressive by Ms. Shoop’s facial expressions as she became the woman who waited and waited until she thought she got what she had always wanted… only to realize what she had missed out on.  Throughout the evening, all the performers were accompanied on the piano by Eugene Gwozdz.

Stephen DeAngelis, the Producing Artistic Director and Host of the show, closed the night by inviting all the performers onto the stage.  He asserted that the future of Broadway is in its understudies, and I strongly encourage each and every reader to make an effort to see an understudy performance so you’ll know that he is absolutely correct.  These performers are talented beyond belief and deserve all the credit in the world for the hard work they do.  There is no such thing as someone who is “just an understudy.”  The “At This Performance…” series has been doing a great thing for the Broadway community for the past 9 years and will continue to do so far into the future.  The next concert will take place in the spring, no date has been set yet.  For the sake of the performers who would love your support and for the sake of your own Broadway education, keep your feelers out for the next event and attend!

Bravo, one and all!

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Fansies Alliance is about collecting all of the fan material for Newsies, and bringing it together in one place for anyone to find it. We’ll try to keep this as updated as possible. We’ll have space for both movie and stage fan interactions. If you’re interested in being a contributor, please let us know! The more people involved the happier we will all be!

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