Monday, July 23, 2007

Curse Of The Understudy - Part III

Curse Of The Understudy - Part III

Forget Fantasia.

Who needs her when Saycon Sengbloh is living up to her own name by blowing the roof off the Broadway Theatre as Celie in The Color Purple?!

In the wake of all the great reviews the former American Idol star has garnered, I revisited The Color Purple in hopes of seeing yet another Reba McEntire-like performance where the replacement star was actually better than the original. And although Fantasia was a no-show -- creating havoc outside the theatre as scores of disappointed fans demanded their money back -- the audience that hung around was treated to exactly that: a bravura performance by an absolutely gorgeous actress who is making a name on Broadway as its most dependable standby.

I first caught Sengbloh a couple years back when I returned to Wicked on Broadway. At that time, my heart sank when I found that dreaded slip in my program that carried the words, "At this performance, the role of Elphaba will be played by..." The name attached was Saycon Sengbloh, who not only managed to lift my heart with her touching performance, but made it soar.

So as much as I was naturally disappointed last night when I learned that Fantasia was out, after I saw that other unusual name on the board, I reassured my friend that all was not lost. And by the time the last strains of the pivotal "I'm Here" was sung, Saycon Sengbloh had not only won over my heart once again, she brought tears to my eyes. She triumphed over the audience as well.

I certainly hope we'll be seeing this gifted young actress in a role of her own. Enough standing by, already. This lady's deserving of the real deal!

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Related Stories:
The Curse Of The Understudy - Part II (January 15, 2007)
The Curse Of The Understudy (October 2, 2006)

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39 Comments:

At 23 July, 2007, Blogger jan@broadwayandme said...

Bravo to you, Steve, for putting the spotlight on an understudy since these folks often get so little respect even though the job they do is harder than that of the stars they replace since they not only have to fulfill the expectations of the role but overcome the disappointment of the audience. I'll keep an eye out for Sengbloh.

 
At 23 July, 2007, Anonymous Esther said...

Like you, I had tears in my eyes at the end. She was awesome. I really felt like I had been on this journey with her, from gawky, abused adolescent to self-confident successful woman. Obviously, the first thing people think about when they hear "musical" is the music! But last night, I realized that it's really the human story that's at the heart of a show. And I really felt that Saycon Sengbloh brought Celie's story home to me.

 
At 23 July, 2007, Anonymous FANTASIA WAS MISSED said...

Very interesting the first lines of "your story" "Forget Fantasia who needs her"

I knew the story would be unfair and probably partially untrue.
However I was at the show myself on Saturday and while it shows that Saycon is a wonderful actress. The show was not near the feeling/emotion or standing ovation that is received the nights Fantasia performs. Sorry to disapoint you old Steve. She did do a great job but Fantasia was DEFINITELY missed as people were planning to reschedule to see FANTASIA. Please do not underestimate the reviews received as old Steve does in this blogs. When EVERY SINGLE review is great that DEFINITELY means something.

 
At 23 July, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Dear Fantasia Fan,

Lighten up!

Trust me, I know that Fantasia was missed, including by me. She's the only reason why I went back to see this show. And I don't doubt for a minute all the reviews that have heralded her success as Celie.

You said, "Sorry to disappoint you Steve" -- my only disappointment is that I did not have the opportunity to see Fantasia perform, but as Sunday evening's prolonged standing ovation clearly demonstrated, Ms. Sengbloh more than rose to the challenge and conquered Celie as her own.

As the "Part III" would indicate, this is not the first time I've written about no-shows by performers audiences have paid to see. I believe my readers have every right to know that a performer is missing a show; as regular theatregoers know, it can sometimes turn out to be a chronic occurrence.

Recently, I listened to an amazing interview with theatre legend Marian Seldes, who discussed how she believed it was the height of unprofessionalism for any actor to call in sick or miss a performance. While I would not go that far, I do believe that audiences should be forewarned that the star in question could conceivably be a no-show, as was the case with Fantasia.

But the flip-side of my message was actually meant to be a positive for anyone worried that they might not get a Broadway-caliber performance if Fantasia is out. Ms. Sengbloh does an incredible job as Celie, which as Esther pointed out is a very difficult and demanding role - simply put I loved her. And as Jan said, standbys inherently have one of the toughest jobs since they have to fulfill and exceed the dashed expectations of audiences expecting someone else.

Here's wishing Fantasia all the best.

 
At 23 July, 2007, Anonymous Love 4 Theater said...

I disagree with you Steve. I'm sure TCP Producers will not say Who Needs Fantasia as you stated in your blog. I'm not a huge fan of Fantasia but respect her as a performer. All TCP understudies have been good in my oppinion. I've seen TCP 17 times. Jeanette was an understudy who is very good as well.

Fantasia brings the song Im Here to a whole new level and receives a standing ovation just about every single night she sings it.

My prayers go out to Fantasia I hope she is well. I'm sure 8 shows a week plus other live performances for someone who has never done Broadway has to be taken a toll on her.

 
At 23 July, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This statement bothers the heck out of me.

"Recently, I listened to an amazing interview with theatre legend Marian Seldes, who discussed how she believed it was the height of unprofessionalism for any actor to call in sick or miss a performance."

What, because your on Broadway you don't suppose to get sick, and on the flip side if you are sick and report to work and your voice is horrid don't you think it would do more harm to the production and to all the folks that came to see you?

 
At 23 July, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Welcome to all you Fantasia fans who have found Steve On Broadway for the first time. But folks, you need to lighten up. I was giving major props to Saycon indicating that she's just plain outstanding as a standby.

As for Marian Seldes, I was merely letting you know what the quintessential theatre actress had to say about those who miss performances. She simply said that it isn't done, regardless of the reason, period.

I say, I hope Fantasia gets well real soon. But if she does not, audiences will behold a breathtaking performer in Saycon.

Cheers!

 
At 23 July, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I truly hope that Marian Seldes stays in good health.

 
At 23 July, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Anonymous,

The nearly 79 year old actress has never missed one performance in her close to 60 years on Broadway. Pretty remarkable track record that continues with Deuce.

Cheers!

 
At 23 July, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marian Seldes is a blessed woman to bad others haven't been bless like her with good health all the time.

 
At 23 July, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Marian Seldes is a remarkable and compassionate actress.

 
At 23 July, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw the color purple with Fantasia and i must say that Fantasia was brilliant in the role, for those who haven't seen it yet please go see Fantasia.

But she will be on vacation from 8/8 thru 8/12

that is allow isn't it?..lol

 
At 23 July, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think your first sentence wasn't very nice

"Forget Fantasia.

Who needs her when Saycon Sengbloh is living up to her own name by blowing the roof off the Broadway Theatre as Celie in The Color Purple?!"

 
At 23 July, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Thanks Anonymous for the heads-up on the upcoming vacation....Always good for my readers to be prepared.

As for your question, yes, as long as the show advises audience members when purchasing tickets that the name they're coming to see is on vacation, it's perfectly fine! Thankfully, the following message appears for anyone trying to book tickets for those dates:

"Please be advised that Fantasia will not appear at this performance."

That's exactly how it should be. Thanks again for your message!

 
At 23 July, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Anonymous, I think you're making a bigger deal out of my comments than you need to - I didn't seriously think anyone should literally forget Fantasia. It was meant in jest.

Now, if someone wishes to provide me with Ms. Barrino's telephone number, I'll be happy to reassure her that no offense was intended, along with my get well wishes.

 
At 23 July, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey the vacation has been changed maybe because of illness she will be taking her vacation now

http://www.colorpurple.com/

 
At 23 July, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Thank you. It's amazing how quickly things change.

The following notice is currently posted:

"*Fantasia will not be performing Wednesday, July 25 through Sunday, July 29."

The notices are no longer appearing for ticketing between August 8-12.

Appreciate that you've shared!

 
At 23 July, 2007, Anonymous Gene in Minneapolis said...

Steve,
Your comments are totally in line with your disappointment at learning the FB was absent for your performance.
Your comments regarding Saycon Sengbloh are totally in line with your discovering the star power behind the billed star.
As far as Ms. Seldes remark...brava to her for showing many of us "mind over matter" really is about.
I was wondering if Oprah would weigh in and offer you a complimentary ticket to a performance that would meet your schedule as well as Ms. Barrio's.

Does anyone remember the hoo-ha when Elizabeth Taylor made her Broadway debut in "The Little Foxes" then began missing performances. The late Maureen Stapleton stood up for Ms. Taylor's absences noting that the schedule was new to Taylor as well as the strain of performing live.
I remember editorials commenting on that "crisis."
The production, I believe, was in abeyance until she healed. Then Taylor trouped on for the remainder of the limited run.

I would like to know if there was a scheduling conflict that was overlooked. No one has commented in the press that I have seen about Ms. Barrio being ill.

I am puzzled that your statement was read into far more than need be. Sometimes someone steps out of the chorus and wows you like you didn't believe could happen.
You forget who you thought you would see and revel in having seen a new shining star. The experience was still worth it wasn't it?

 
At 23 July, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Thank you, Gene, for grasping what it was I evidently was not adequately conveying.

 
At 23 July, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please stop trying to make it sound like Fantasia is purposely missing performances. You are talking about the Saturday June 10th performance of which Fantasia was out because SHE was requested to perform at the tony awards. She was at the first showing of TCP earlier that day.

If this replacement is good she'll get the acclaim that Fantasia has received. Just as the word got out by REAL broadway critics about Fantasia, the word will get out about her replacement. However, I doubt that'll happen since I'm sure she isn't half as good as Fantasia.

 
At 23 July, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Anonymous, You clearly have not read my post. Fantasia missed her performance last night. The Tony Awards were one month ago.

AND MY POINT WAS THAT AS DISAPPOINTED AS I WAS THAT FANTASIA WAS NOT THERE, I LOVED AND WILL LONG REMEMBER SAYCON SENGBLOH.

 
At 23 July, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Steve for giving us a heads up on who the understudy is and how she does in the role. I myself was wondering who was going to replace Fantasia when she leaves so now I must go in search of this young woman and listen to her....

 
At 23 July, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

There's no guarantee that Sengbloh will replace Fantasia. But wouldn't it be cool if they both had concurrent theatre gigs?

 
At 23 July, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do not take this person's bait. The remarks were unnecessary and the opinion of one person. Technically speaking the play was surviving prior to Fantasia and will need to continue post Fantasia. i detest when people do stuff like that because it is unfair to both actresses involved (Fantasia and the Other). This to me is a ploy to start trouble. Please don't take the bait.

 
At 23 July, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do not take this person's bait. The remarks were unnecessary and the opinion of one person. Technically speaking the play was surviving prior to Fantasia and will need to continue post Fantasia. i detest when people do stuff like that because it is unfair to both actresses involved (Fantasia and the Other). This to me is a ploy to start trouble. Please don't take the bait.

 
At 23 July, 2007, Anonymous Esther said...

I have to admit that initially, I was disappointed at missing Fantasia. She was the whole reason I wanted to see the show. She'd gotten such glowing reviews in The Color Purple. I'm sure Ms. Barrino does a wonderful job, just as all the critics have said. I don't mean any disrepect toward her, and Steve, I know you didn't either. But you know, Saycon Sengbloh was so amazing that I honestly can't imagine having a more powerful, moving experience with Fantasia. I think that's one of the magical things about the theater - going in and expecting to see someone, then being totally blown away by a performer you didn't expect, whose name you didn't even know. I certainly know who she is now. I'm glad you gave her memorable performance the credit it deserves and told theater fans that she's someone to watch for. Someday, she'll get her starring role and I'll have the thrill of being able to say that I once saw her go on as an understudy and totally triumph.

 
At 23 July, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

TO ALL: The person who blogged this is clearly trying to start some crap don't take the bait. Fantasia is great, fantastic in the role but one day she will be leaving and it is good to know that the understudy will be able to step in and do a good job. However, this is that person's opinion and we all know that Fantasia has put her stamp on the role, period, end of story. I could be wrong but he soundS a bit annoyed that Fantasia was not performing that evening, like she is not allowed to be ill. Instead of expressing his annoyance in words he chose to throw a rock, I bet hoping people would debate with him. It's okay he can have his opinion, Fantasia has pretty much provened herself and that's that. Just pray that God will help her to heal quickly so that she can go back to doing what she loves to do. People do get sick and she is no exception.

 
At 24 July, 2007, Anonymous THIS GUY IS A LOOSER said...

Hey All

Don't waiste your time on this looser. He has no other blogs about The Color Purple but keeps defending himself about how he meant nothing but positive when the first whole paragraph is negative. SOB you don't have to bring another performer down to give the other credit it is not necessary. Then writes about the understudy.

Who needs HIM when you can get reviews from credible sources like:

The New York Times
New York Post
Clive Barnes
Access Hollywood
News Observer
David Rooney
Associated Press

I can name more but I will stop. :)

Oops hasn't Fantasia already won a couple of awards for this role??

 
At 24 July, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

To all the dedicated Fantasia fans out there, let me say this: Steve On Broadway is a blog about theatre and my personal theatre experiences.

It is not a Fantasia blog, and while I'm happy to host each of your opinions and have not edited a single one of them, I am entitled to my own, too. In the words of Celie, "I'm here."

The purpose of Steve On Broadway is ostensibly to write about each of my theatre experiences including the one I had Sunday evening.

I would strongly encourage you to take issue with the purely salacious items that have been written by other bloggers about your beloved performer. I merely spoke the truth about my experience on Sunday evening.

To suggest I was "trying to start something" is just plain silly. I was reporting on the fact that Fantasia was not in the Sunday night performance, which disappointed me tremendously given all the accolades she's been receiving, and I have no doubt that she deserved them.

But, and it's a pretty big but, the silver lining in all of this was that the audience was treated to a stellar performance by a young actress.

As for the insinuation that I'm only writing this post now because I want to take issue with Fantasia is pure fantasy. The reason why I have not written a review on The Color Purple previously is because when I first saw the show the week it opened in December 2005, I was not yet writing Steve On Broadway. Plain and simple. If you regularly read this site, you will see that I sometimes return to a show and when I do, I write an SOB Revisit, which is what I intend to do.

I'm afraid that all you Fantasia fans have taken way too personally what I was trying to convey, which was that even if Fantasia is not in a performance, you can rest assured that you will see a terrific show if Saycon Sengbloh is in it.

And finally, to the last contributor, at least I'm not afraid to identify who I am with my opinion. To say "This guy's a looser" would mean that I'm loose - I think you meant I'm a loser...

 
At 24 July, 2007, Anonymous Gene in Minneapolis said...

To all: I will tell you Steve knows what he is talking about.
I will also note to all the the billing of Fantasia in "TCP" makes her a commodity. In paralleling this to baseball you go to a Yankees game to see Arod....if he has a great day you are overjoyed. If Arod has a bad day you are bummed but you saw him. If you go to a game and he's not playing you are pissed as that's why you made the journey to the Bronx isn't it? If Arod was on the DL would you have made that trip? Arod's presence sells tickets, puts people in the stands and is why you are there.
The same things apply here. Fantasia is a commodity whose notoriety and talent has put her name on the marquee, put money in her pockets via drawing people to the theater to see "The Color Purple" starring Fantasia.

If producers and people like Oprah are going to put "Fantasia" or any other success from "reality television" into these productions those individuals must make clear to the "celebrity" that this is a JOB.
This is a highly sought-after job; people would figuratively kill to get this job. Performing eight shows a week is what she is being paid to do. Many patrons are in the audience because "Fantasia" is listed as the "star." Many of these seats could be empty if such "star casting" was not in play.


Fantasia is billed as "starring" and she has a duty to the theater-going public to get her butt to the theater and perform. If she is in a malaise that is the best thing for her. If she is not up to eight shows a weeks have management note and publicize that information to any person wishing to purchase tickets to "TCP."

All Steve has said is "Fantasia wasn't there and (he) saw a new exicting and unknown future star for the theater and (he)is so thrilled (he) got to see this fantastic performance while disappointed (he) missed Fantasia."
For those of you who can't understand that simple statement you need to get a life; take a reading/writing class.
Or perhaps see a performance where the star isn't there and the understudy or standby sends her numbers out of the ballpark.

I am so proud of Steve for letting us know there is just as real talent behind the stars and of his giving to those individuals the credit for the years of studying and devotion to career goals they deserve.
Thanks Steve!!!!!!!

 
At 24 July, 2007, Anonymous Esther said...

Gene, I totally agree with what you said. I think it's great that Steve has given a talented young woman some recognition for stepping into a difficult situation and pulling it off triumphantly.

 
At 24 July, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see that Steve has called in the reinforcements..lol

Gene i was kinda agreeing with you until you made this statement..

"If producers and people like Oprah are going to put "Fantasia" or any other success from "reality television" into these productions those individuals must make clear to the "celebrity" that this is a JOB."

Now come on Gene that was a low blow to say the least and not called for..Now to compare Fantasia to the A ROD wow, yes Fantasia can show up to every show and i don't care if she is hoarse and the people in the back can't here her and along the way she makes everybody in the cast sick with 103 fevers, as long as Fantasia is there thats all that counts...

Everybody needs to lighten up and give everybody respect around here including Fantasia.

 
At 24 July, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for your comments.

Just as Fantasia's fans are extremely loyal and passionate (with good reason), so too are fans of the live theatre experience (including me).

As I have stated ad nauseum, I really really wanted to see Fantasia perform. Yes, I was disappointed that she was out. And yes, I wish her nothing but good health so she can get back up on that stage and sing.

I sincerely meant the lady no disrespect. When you pay over $110 per ticket to see someone, as I did, you hope beyond hope that they're there (as my other "Curse of the Understudy" stories have suggested, I have had reason to hope and pray that the stars will be performing based on their track records). And when they're not, you have two choices: get angry and demand your money back (which a very long line of people did on Sunday night) or decide you're going to see how the show goes without its star.

As I noted above, my initial comments truly meant no disrespect to Fantasia. What they did mean to do -- and this is what's been lost in all this -- is that The Color Purple is, to its enormous credit, is a show that's much bigger than one single person. The scores of amazing talent amassed on the stage of the Broadway Theatre is nothing short of incredible. And fortunately, Fantasia is blessed with a glorious standby in Saycon Sengbloh.

I'm glad I didn't decide to get my money back. I'm glad I went inside that theatre and witnessed a breathtaking, breakthrough performance. I'm glad I stood up and cheered, not only for Ms. Sengbloh, but for the entire deserving cast on their magnificent efforts.

I'm just sorry that I can't see Fantasia in the role. Sometimes you get only one chance to see a show. I've been blessed to see The Color Purple twice, but because of my passion for the theatre, I will have to devote my personal resources to other shows moving forward.

That's why I've said it, perhaps in a way that has been largely understood, that I will cherish the fact that I saw Saycon blow the roof off that theatre. It's a memory I'll keep with me for the rest of my life.

Cheers!

 
At 24 July, 2007, Anonymous Lift Them Both Up said...

Steve you are missing the point! The point IS you "TRIED" to bring another actress down uplift another and that is wrong. My suggestion is to reread your initial statement especially the first two paragraphs.

Sengbloh does great job playing Cellie in The Color Purple. Fantasia has received great reviews playing Cellie its unfortunate that I missed her performance. See the difference Steve? Neither young lady is being downplayed to bring up the other? Now can YOU do that??

You're first two paragraphs did not state or show your disapointment but rather negatively downplaying the star and its not necessary. Revisit your first two paragarphs. Its not WHAT you say but HOW you say it! Peace!

 
At 24 July, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 24 July, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

With all due respect, and I do mean respect, I was not trying to tear Fantasia down.

Let's spell this out for everyone for one last time:

"Forget Fantasia" = Shorthand for saying I could forget about not having had the chance to see Fantasia because I had seen an excellent performance.

"Who needs her when..." = I wasn't upset with Fantasia since I still saw a spectacular performance.

Now, again with all due respect, regular readers have grown accustomed to my style of writing and I dare say that none of them would think for a moment I was raking Fantasia over the coals. Maybe you don't appreciate my writing style, but it is written by a real person, flesh and blood, in a genuine voice.

Finally folks, there was no intent to diss poor Fantasia. I hope she gets well quickly so others have an opportunity to enjoy her. All I'm saying is that after spending plenty to see this show, not once but twice, I need not go back and see it again.

 
At 24 July, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

And one more thing... the only comment that has been removed from this string was one of my own. Everyone's entitled to their opinion, including me.

 
At 25 July, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

" All I'm saying is that after spending plenty to see this show, not once but twice, I need not go back and see it again."

Good, now can you move on!

 
At 25 July, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Yep! And I have.

 

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