Should understudies be reviewed?

There have been some issues this week in theatreland, as four of the principal cast members of Dreamgirls were struck down with illness, which caused some performances to be cancelled entirely. Usually, in a production of this size, understudies would assume the roles so the show can go on without disruption. However, due to Dreamgirls being so early on in its preview stage, understudies were probably not fully trained up yet (as you wouldn’t expect so many people to go off at one time during previews).

As a reviewer, I was planning to see the show yesterday afternoon but due to the cast illnesses, I was asked to instead change my booking to next week, so I could see the full cast in action. This is normal practice but it got me thinking; should a review only be written if the full cast are performing? Or should a review be written based on which ever performers happen to be on stage that day?

If a cast is advertised as performing, I suppose a review should be of those people as 90% of the time it will be them who people see on stage. I mean there would be no point in reviewing Dreamgirls without Amber Riley being in it, as everyone wants to know about her performance. But, should there also be an opportunity for understudies to be reviewed so that they can also be given some exposure?

Cameron Mackintosh recently (apparently) banned performers in his shows from mentioning on social media when they would be performing their understudy roles so it would only be when you arrive at the theatre that you would know who was/wasn’t performing at that performance. But theatre fans hit back at this claim, saying that they will often book tickets to show, specifically to see an understudy portray a role that they have seen done previously by someone else.

Perhaps we should be making a bigger deal of understudies in theatre, rather than trying to pretend they don’t exist? Perhaps press should be invited to understudy runs (where all of the understudies perform their cover roles to make sure they haven’t forgotten anything). Some may not have performed their cover role for sometime or even ever! I am sure that understudies would appreciate having an opportunity to perform the roles they have been learning, in front of press so they can receive some feedback on their performances.

Ideally, it would be great to review the principal cast of a show but also have an opportunity to attend a performance where understudies are given an opportunity to perform the parts they have been cast to step in to should the need arise.

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