The Understudy

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Since I fell in love with Sunny Afternoon, I’ve become a big supporter of the understudies (as you may have read once, twice or maybe even thrice…). They really are the forgotten heroes of a company! For example, last Saturday I ‘did the double’ at Sunny and saw two Micks, two Rays & two Grenvilles in one day – Nick switching from Grenville to Mick when Adam had to go home, John coming back for the evening to relieve Ryan of his responsibilites, and Silas stepping into Nick’s wake to be Grenville once more. Imagine if they weren’t there! Occasionally shows wouldn’t even go ahead.

So I was intrigued when I saw ‘The Understudy: Waiting in the Wings’ advertised on the Arts’ website. Ceili O’Connor has to go down as one of the unluckiest understudies in recent history! She’s been understudying for the past 5 years but has yet to go on. Yet she remains positive – and of course grateful of being in work, given the unpredictable nature of her industry. This cabaret evening, in what is becoming one of my favourite venues (Upstairs at the Arts), was her opportunity to sing some of the tunes she’s learnt over the years to a paying audience, alongside hugely talented MD Tim Evans.

And it was extremely well done. Somehow it felt both intimate & epic at the same time. Much of the audience was made up of friends & family (of Ceili & her special guests), but through her little anecdotes between songs I felt like I got to know her throughout the course of the evening. I was also there to support one of her guests: gorgeous Sunny Afternoon lady Carly Anderson. And I even ended up sitting with another lovely Kinkette (Emily Goodenough) for the evening, which made it all the more special.

As well as getting to see some ridiculously talented people, the event also ended up being a brilliant opportunity to be introduced to great new writing, as well as songs from lesser known shows. I’m still working my way up from rookie status – and, whilst I’m learning fast, this was a fantastic crash course in a real spectrum of musical theatre.

In an evening so diverse & so brilliant, it’s difficult to pick out favourite moments, but I will do my best to…

The first half consisted mainly of Ceili singing solo & being a terrific raconteuse; my favourites of these numbers were the jazzier ones, such as ‘Pretending That I’m Somebody Else’ (from The Rhythm Club) and a stunningly powerful rendition of ‘Cabaret’ to close the act.

Following the interval Ceili worked more in collaboration with her special guests, with personal highlights for me being ‘She’s My Sister‘ (from The In-Between) with Sophie Evans, and a laidback jazz piano version of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ (Urinetown’s Matt Roberts on keys). She closed the show with Bobby Cronin’s ‘The Understudy’ – a piece that showed off her wonderful vocals & comic delivery to a tee, and earned her a standing ovation.

But I think my absolute favourite performance (though I may be a bit biased) was ‘I’ve Decided To Marry You’ from A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder; Carly’s guest appearance, alongside Oliver Savile & Ceili herself. For me it was a real revelation to hear Carly singing like that, I had no idea she had such a beautiful voice – it’s truly criminal that we don’t get to hear it in Sunny Afternoon. The number had comedy aplenty, lovely harmonies & a real element of ‘show’ about it. It definitely made my evening!

I may have gone because I wanted to support Carly, but I got so much more than I bargained for – and in the best possible way. I will definitely be looking out for some of the writers & shows that were mentioned, plus I’m so glad to have been introduced to the considerable talent of Madalena Alberto; her voice definitely filled the room! Most of all, I’m now even more keenly aware of the life of an understudy, and a bit of what it takes to be a truly brilliant one.

I wish Ceili all the best in her future endeavours – she’s a true talent and a star just waiting to shine. Now someone please just let her go on!

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