Friday, June 26, 2009

Some stirred-up 'gossip' from midtown to Jersey

Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.

This summer I'm living with one of my childhood best friends, whose older brother - let's call him G - was in Spring Awakening up until its closing this year. He was understudy and swing which means he played just about every single male part in the show at one point or another WHICH means he had to learn just about every single male part in the show and be prepared to perform them at one point or another. Honestly it kinda blows my mind. For all you actors, imagine the hold you've got to have on your ONE character in a show ... now imagine having that same kind of hold on like SIX different characters AND just turning them on/off and switching focus at will. Seems pretty daunting. Maybe that's just me (over-obsessing, mildly perfectionist, OCD ... etc.), but I don't know how I could manage to do it and I think swings/understudies are intensely under-appreciated on Broadway.

But I digress slightly.

Last August, Hunter Parrish (of 'Weeds' fame) was cast as Melchior on Broadway. Now, I have to admit, I never got to see the show so I never got the opportunity to compare Melchiors. But everyone I've heard from seems to agree that his performance fell, well, sort of flat - to be fair, he's been acting on TV for so long, it must have been a fair challenge to switch from that small-focus sort of performance to a level that can fill the Eugene O'Neill Theatre.

BUT THIS IS MY POINT. Why cast a TV actor in a leading role on Broadway, in a show that's pretty fahking big these days? (Comparatively speaking, whatever, you can disagree if you want but I think it's a pretty big theatre milestone, but that's another post.) Is it just the economy? Did they really need that celebrity boost? Because it's a pretty small boost too at that, if you ask me; 'Weeds' is not what it once was. But I can't really think of any other reason for them to cast someone whose stage presence did really just not cut it the way it should.

Let me be clear, I'm not here to judge the kid. You've either got it or you don't; you're either right for a part or you're not. And my disclaimer, because I've read some of the reviews and I know Parrish was pretty well-liked, is that the less favorable reviews have come from insiders who were actually working with him, and who weren't crazy about doing so. And in the midst of all this was G, who had played Melchior plenty of times, was obviously comfortable in the role, and, from what I've heard, was GOOD in it. Like, REALLY good.

But OK. So maybe a lot of this is just conjecture on my part. It's possible the producers weren't even considering putting G in the role - but maybe they were. I don't know these things for sure. And maybe Parrish really was a decent Melchior, for the audiences anyway. (His rabid fans on IMDB certainly seemed to love him, but frankly, I don't really trust them.) (One of them told a story about meeting him outside after the show, telling him she loved him, and promptly sobbing on his shoulder. I mean, COME ON.) Like I said, I never got to see it, so I don't know. But to me it just seems that if you've got two actors up for a part, possibly-to-roughly equally well-matched, and you've got a TV star (admittedly D-list) versus regular guy, straight outta MoCo, who's done the time ... well, obviously I'm not in the business nor am I a businessperson, but I'd give it to the up-and-comer before the 'Weeds' supporting actor. Besides, Parrish was offered the role of Link Larkin at the same time anyway, so really, everybody would have won.

I just feel sometimes like Broadway is too much of a Business. It's that catch-22, Broadway and its environs can be your fastest and sharpest ticket into the biz ... but is it really the biz I want to be a part of?

I'll get back to you.

p.s. I wonder if anyone will possibly get the very veiled pun in my title? You'd have to know my life really well.


  1. I agree.

    Though Broadway is still, begrudgingly, the standard for success in American theater. It's somehow not *real* until there's a Broadway production.

    Luckily, this isn't as true anymore. Neil LaBute had his Broadway premiere THIS YEAR with "Reasons to be Pretty". This forerunner of American playwriting has had his other works passed up. "Mercy Seat" and "The Shape of Things" have never been produced on Broadway!

    Could that be the reason why he wrote the article "How American Theater Lost It"? (Ask Wendy for a copy -- it's good!)

  2. To the main point of the article regarding casting- it is a very strong point, and one that any theater actor in NYC is familiar with. The politics in casting is immense, and it is often difficult to actually break into Broadway unless you are already established. This is what makes young roles especially tricky, as most of those vieing for the spot are yet to make their Broadway debut. The part often goes to someone who was in the chorus of a short-lived musical, simply because they have a Broadway credit, despite their actual talent and audition.

    That being said, I would not be as quick to judge this decision made by the producers of Spring Awakening. As one who is a fan of Parrish's acting (Weeds is brilliant), I will admit that I was curious when I saw he was in Spring Awakening. He is certainly a strong choice to play Melchior. Having not seen him in the production, I don't know if I would have felt he'd lived up to my expectations or not, but there is, at the very least, reason to believe that he would give a strong performance.

    As to casting the understudy, this is a more common practice in small shows. For example, in Next to Normal, the part of Gabe was recently taken over by the understudy. However, it should be noted that this replacement had only been the understudy for two characters (Gabe and Henry.) Your friend's brother, G, was understudying significantly more parts. It is easy to see that it would be much easier for producers to cast a replacement in one role than a replacement in seven roles. Understudies are valued commodities- they are cast with the idea in mind that they could conceivably play more than one role in the show. This is not something that can necessarily be said for the (for lack of a better word)main actors in a production. Add on top of this the fact that, were they to find a new understudy, the entire show would have to be retaught, as that understudy would need to learn what to do in numerous roles. By recasting just one role, the director does not have to go through the pains of reteaching so many scenes, and can settle for just reteaching the part of Melchior. With the commercial promise, as well as the acting potential that Parrish brought, I feel that the choice to cast him as Melchior rather than G was actually a somewhat smart one on the half of the producers. It is simply a shame that it has to be that smart choice.