Sunday, September 4, 2011

Understudy Love: Ones to Watch (Amended)

Just wanted to put up a quick post about some of the lovely understudy performances I have seen this summer. Seeing two different performers interpret the same role gives me new perspective on the production, the role and the actors.  I think it helps to show what about a certain performer I like and what another performer brings to the role.  It's just a new prism to see a show through and if you've seen the show before it can really open your eyes to aspects you never noticed before.  And you come to see that there is so much talent out there that doesn't always get a chance to sing out.

I have already discussed the understudy performance in Jerusalem which I enjoyed.

With all the shows of Hair I have seen this summer (hangs head in embarrassing shame), I have had the chance to see three different performers perform Crissy (Kaitlin Kiyan, Laura Dreyfuss, Cailan Rose) and Woof (Matt DeAngelis, John Moauro, Larkin Bogan) and two interpreters of Dionne (Phyre Hawkins, Tanesha Ross).  And this weekend Paris Remillard called out for the lead in Hair, Claude, and Marshal Kennedy Carolan filled in.  Also I saw Alex Ellis perform the role of Brenda Strong in Catch Me if You Can.

I will admit that when I heard Marshal was going on in Hair I rushed out to lotto to get a ticket.  I did not want to miss out on his turn as Claude.  As I have previously mentioned, the chemistry in Hair between Claude and Berger is one of its more compelling elements.  Getting to see someone else go on in the role of Claude was exciting both to see what another actor would do with that role and to have a chance to see Marshall Kennedy Carolan sing more.  I had seen him sing at the Hair Be-In and at Broadway Sessions (a great rendition of I'm Alive).  He also regularly performs the "What a Piece of Work is Man" trio.  He's got a fantastic voice. 

Marshal was noticeably nervous (seriously his hands were shaking--totes adorbs).  But he made it through.  His voice was great and he made some personal adjustments on a few songs.  Whether it was a combination of nerves, excitement, or fear, in the first Act, he seemed to be ready to burst out of his skin.  Certainly Act I is more upbeat so it was not out of sync with the show entirely (although he seemed kinda smiley at times when he shouldn't be).  I really liked his I Got Life--his first verse gave me chills.  I was up in the mezzanine for the first Act and wish I had been closer to see more of his performance in the song Hair.

I moved to the orchestra for the second Act and by then, I feel like he'd gotten more comfortable in the role and was able to channel his energy to a more somber place.  There was something more vulnerable in Marshal's interpretation.  He plays so much younger than Paris (and Steel) so vulnerability comes across from that too.  There was a lot of Steel brushing Marshal's bangs out of his face (yes adorable). 

One thing that was hard not to notice was how bloody winded Marshal was at times...which really goes to show how physical that role is.  Marshal is no slouch (have you SEEN his six-pack abs).  It's just an incredible amount of running around and singing all at the same time.  After seeing Paris perform it a bunch of times, he makes it look effortless.  Seeing Marshal perform reminded me that I have been taking so much for granted in Paris's performance and that it is a physically demanding role. 

AMENDMENT:  In a stunning turn of events, Larkin Bogan went on as Claude in the Monday night show of Hair (well stunning for me--I don't get out much).  So again, I had to check out his performance even if it meant missing Lindsay Mendez's concert at Birdland which I already had a ticket to (guilt, guilt guilt).  They wigged Larkin in a long, straight haired wig for the show which was a little disappointing since he has such fun hair to begin with.  But he jumped into the role feet first.  He was very relaxed and comfortable in the role.  If I didn't know better, I would have thought he had played it 100 times before.  He and Steel had some wonderful, playful moments as Claude and Berger including Steel basically tossing Larkin up in the air by his belt.  Vocally, Larkin was on fire and he did not seem winded at all. He had some vocal fun with the "Amen" of I Got Life.  Larkin's Claude was sweeter than other Claudes and he did a nice job of going from playful antics to somber reality.  Maybe it was the blondish wig, but Larkin's Claude reminded me more of Gavin Creel's Claude than anyone else.

There are a greedy few hoping for a Matt DeAngelis Claude this week, but I am pretty happy to have now seen 4 Claudes (counting Gavin Creel, of course, in the 2009 Broadway production).

There are a lot of fans for the Hair tribe and swing cast with good reason.  There are some amazing voices in the tribe and swing that you might not otherwise get to see stand-out unless they are covering for someone else. 

I think Matt DeAngelis is a fantastic Woof but I really liked Larkin Bogan's interpretation as well.  Matt is physically a tall and imposing guy.  His Woof can be sweet, puckish, and yet swaggeringly sexy.  His Mick Jagger moment is spot on.  For his character, he succeeds at making him believably bisexual.  Larkin has a completely different presence but made his Woof his own.  Still in the same model as Matt, Larkin's Woof is sweet and sexy but less swagger.  I actually liked his "Scarlet O'Hara" more.  Larkin has a beautiful voice and it was nice to see him get to show it off a bit when on for Woof.

Tanesha Ross stepped in for Dionne yesterday in Hair and she killed.  Again, I saw her last week at Broadway Sessions where she got a standing ovation.  That's right a standing ovation in a basement, open-mic thingamabob.  She's amazing.  I was excited to see her step in for Dionne.  Her final rendition of Let the Sunshine In with tears in her eyes was heartbreaking.

And as I have said before, I really just want the cast of Hair to start performing Sunday in the Park with George.  So I can hear this over and over and over again. 

I never got to see Kerry Butler in as Brenda Strong in Catch Me if You Can so I cannot compare it to her understudy's performance.  I am disappointed this show is closing so early.  Alex was lovely in a role that I think is sadly underwritten.  I'll keep an eye out for her in other shows.

If Hair is not your kinda show, I'd at least keep an eye out for these performers as hopefully you'll get to see them in other shows in the future (seriously I will invest in Sunday in the Park with George right now! I know it's too soon for that revival but still...). 


  1. As you know, I was so disappointed to miss Marshal Kennedy Carolan in Hair, so thanks for a detailed description of his performance. I usually don't go out of my way to see understudies (though it's often a pleasant surprise when I do see them), but I love seeing different interpretations of Claude because it really affects everybody's performances as well. I think I saw everyone who played Claude in the park and on Broadway until now and as much as I love Gavin Creel, I think the show is more powerful with a younger Claude.

  2. I am glad I saw Larkin last night, but I don't have to compare him to Paris. Either way, the show was so so so much fun. The entire CAST Is so talented, it's shocking. I am so glad I went.