by Mo Brady
Everyone knows why being an original Broadway cast member is cool: you get to be a part of the fabric of that show. You get to be there for all of the script changes and song revisions. Plus, you get to be part of a myriad of cool milestones: opening night, the cast album recording, performing on the Tony Awards. The list goes on and on.
Less excitement goes to the experience of joining a Broadway show after opening night. While doing so doesn't provide the bells and whistles of being in an opening company, the benefits those actors receive are just as valuable.
Almost half of Broadway musicals close within six months of opening night. Of the 19 musicals to open on Broadway last season, only ten of them were still running six months later. Of course, four of them (Holiday Inn, Falsettos, Sunset Boulevard and Sunday in the Park With George) were limited runs. But tell that to the cast's bank accounts.
So if your goal is to actually BE in Broadway show, it may behoove you to be a replacement in a long running hit. You’ll actually spend more of your life working on the Great White Way. That's more time walking through Shubert Alley on the way to your stage door and considerably less time telling your relatives that you’re “in between gigs.”
Replacing in even a moderate hit can give you more time on Broadway than a critical darling that closes too soon. Take me, for example. I spent a calendar year as a replacement in The Addams Family, New Year’s Day to New Year’s Eve. That’s more time performing on a Broadway stage than the ensemblists in Bandstand, Bright Star and American Psycho combined.
Here’s a secret into the life of a long-running Broadway musicals: shows change even after the show is “frozen.” When you're adding new cast members or the creative team gets new ideas from mounting additional companies of the show, choreography will get tweaked and vocal cut-offs will get changed. If you’re invested and engaged, playing an extended run in a show can provide actors with ample artistic challenges in addition to stability.
The Addams Family isn’t alone in terms of providing long-term employment to great ensemblists. Look into the casts of every show from Chicago to Waitress and you’ll find actors finding artistic homes and financial stability in a business that can be anything but predictable.