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Big Names Vs. Alternates, Stand-Ins, And Understudies

How many West End shows have you been to see when the big named star you've been looking forward to seeing has taken the night off? If, like me you go to see a lot and have particular performers you really rate, the answer is probably quite a few. But does it make a difference?

I think most audiences would be disappointed if they had booked to see a specific star and then watched the understudy/alternate, but in truth so often, the replacement is as good if not better than the big name. Most of the biggest stars of the West End and Broadway started life in the chorus and then progressed to the understudy status. West End Star Kerry Ellis got her first big break after playing the second understudy in My Fair lady. Ruthie Henshall spent years in the chorus before she finally gained her first leading role. 

More recently shows seem to have relied on bringing in big names boost ticket sales. Ronan Keating brought more sales of tickets for Once and I'm sure the same will be the case for Nicole Sherzinger in her role as Grizabella in the much anticipated West End revival of Cats. But the question remains, if you arrive and they are having the night off, is the show not as good? 

I have taken recently to not looking at the board or the programme before the performance starts, in a kind of 'who's in the cast?' lottery. It makes the opening of the show really fun, spotting the characters and who's playing them when they come on for the first time. 

The West End has so many amazingly talented performers that most people have never heard of, so I say don't be disappointed if the star's away, be inspired and enthralled by the actors who will provide the best entertainment in the world!

By Nicky Sweetland



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