Understudy/Standby Appreciation

Before January, I had heard tell of mid-show switches: Elphabas who had to be replaced after “The Wizard and I” or Desi Oakley going from the audience to onstage in Waitress. I had never been in the audience when one happened though.

I was in the audience of Tina on January 7th, and Nkeki Obi-Melekwe was on as Tina Turner. She had just finished performing “River Deep Mountain High.” When the lights went on for the next scene, a voice came on over a loudspeaker to stop the show. 20 minutes later, Kayla Davion was on as Tina for the rest of the show.

Kayla had been on in a different track in the Ensemble for the first 40 minutes of the show when she was put on as Tina. Not only that, she was put in the track right before the emotional climax of Act One and “Proud Mary.” I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to jump into that moment without the emotional buildup of the first part of the act.

Kayla absolutely nailed it. I felt every one of Tina’s emotions and went on her emotional journey with Kayla for the rest of the performance. Watching her, I could think about how incredible understudies and swings are. Without people like Kayla, shows wouldn’t be able to go on. She was a literal superhero in that moment.

Similarly, earlier this week, I was in the audience of Dear Evan Hansen. Jordan Fisher went offstage as Evan before “Requiem.” At the end of the song, it was announced that Zachary Noah Piser, the Evan alternate, would be on for the rest of the performance.

As Kayla did, Zach delivered a raw, emotional, and beautiful performance, despite jumping into the show partway through. He immediately won over the audience, and by “You Will Be Found,” a few songs into watching Zach, I’d forgotten that he hadn’t been on the whole show.

The next time you see an understudy slip in your program when you arrive in a theater, remember to appreciate the incredible people who keep shows running. Especially when they have to go on mid-show.

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