Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Thought for the Day • GREAT UNDERSTUDIES • 2007

If you haven’t yet seen Fiddler on the Roof at the Savoy, why not take advantage of seeing Henry Goodman’s understudy in the part of Tevye. Actor Matt Zimmerman, who is playing the role at today’s matinée and evening performances, is an experienced hand who demonstrates the value of a system whereby an understudy is automatically given the chance to show his or her worth.

Matt Zimmerman may be unfamiliar to you until I tell you that he was the original voice of Alan Tracey in Thunderbirds. ‘Oh, him!’ I hear you cry. He continues to do publicity for Thunderbirds and is paid to sign autographs; in fact, he has just taken part in a BBC documentary about the show to be shown later in the year.

Among Zimmerman’s many musical credits, he was Bert Healey in the original West End production of Annie and, more recently, played the Bishop in the National Theatre’s Once in a Lifetime (2005).

My informant tells me that Zimmerman did his “first performance [as Tevye] last night as if he’d been playing it every day” and that it’s “a great system if they use real pros who can go out there and grab the moment with a very small amount of pre-rehearsals”. Indeed, my informant, who has known and watched Zimmerman as a ‘song and dance man’ for nearly thirty years, was “overcome by his acting and sensitive portrayal”. This is high praise.

Not only that but Zimmerman had to contend with an appalling start to the show. Within ten minutes of curtain up and starting the ‘Tradition’ number, “a horrid screeching was heard over the tannoy, the stage manager came out and uttered the ‘sorry we are having technical problems…’ announcement, the show was stopped, the safety curtain came down and around five minutes later they started it all again. Imagine how that must have felt!” Quite so.

Catch this “real pro” – you might be surprised at just how good understudies can be. Often there is nothing to choose between actor and understudy – careers are made as much by luck – being in the right place at the right time – as talent. Cream doesn’t always rise. Alas.

Sarah Vernon © 2007

Originally published 11-07-07

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