Unsung heroes of Broadway: Understudies save the day as COVID sidelines stars

Local News

THEATRE DISTRICT, Manhattan — The show must go on, but only if there are enough understudies waiting in the wings during this COVID-plagued Christmas season.

When LaQuet Sharnell Pringle arrived at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre for the 2 p.m. matinee of “Mrs. Doubtfire,” she had no idea if would be going on stage. 

“At the moment I am not on stage but that could change at any moment,” LaQuet Sharnell Pringle, an understudy and a swing for “Mrs. Doubtfire,” told PIX11 News on Monday.

The Harlem mother of a 2-year-old is what’s called a practiced swing. She covers all of the female parts in the ensemble of “Mrs. Doubtfire.”

Pringle also understudies the role of Wanda, the social worker, which she went on to play with just an hour’s notice.

“There’s a lot of nerves with COVID of, ‘Who am I going to be when I walk into the theater each day,’” Pringle said. “But there’s also an incredible buzz of electricity waiting to know. It’s like a thrill seeker.”

Understudies and swings are arguably the unsung heroes of Broadway, enabling shows to go on despite many breakthrough cases of COVID-19.

Just last Thursday, during the previews of “The Music Man” with Hugh Jackman, leading lady Sutton Foster tested positive for COVID and her understudy, Kathy Voytko, stepped in at the last minute — to accolades from her leading man at the curtain call.

With close to half of all Broadway shows canceling at least some performances in the lucrative week before Christmas, audience members who spoke to PIX11 News were sympathetic and grateful for these understudies.

“As theatregoers, we want to see Rob McClure but whoever stands in for him we would be delighted to see them, too,” said Siobhan McDonald, who was visiting New York from Massachusetts.

Waiting on line with her daughter to see “Mrs. Doubtfire,” Lindsay McDonald called the understudies “the backbone of theater.

“They would not be a show without them,” she added.

The Broadway League has set up a website for those who want to check if there have been any last-minute show cancellations. For more information, visit bwaytoday.com.

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