BWW Blog: Sean Patrick Doyle of Paper Mill's GREASE - From Geek to Greaser
I should first explain that the understudy situation for this show is particularly unique. Because our swings are receiving their Actors Equity cards at the end of the run, our Union protects pay increments for AEA actors and doesn't allow more than one principal role to be covered by the non-Union actors in the show. And because we only have a three person ensemble, not all Principal roles can be covered by those actors. Therefore, Eloise Kropp (who plays Patty) and I signed riders that allow us to cover two principal roles each (I also understudy my pal Robin de Jesus, as I did in the 2010 revival of La Cage aux Folles).
I've only ever understudied on Broadway or on the road, never regionally... and it's a different game entirely! During longer non-regional runs, you generally have several staging rehearsals leading up to a fully costumed understudy run with technical elements, and a proper put-in. On a seven week contract like this, you get two days with work lights onstage, and ASMs as your scene partners, so you have to use your imagination to fill in the holes, and really prepare on your own. Stepping into our choreographer JoAnn Hunter's complex dance formations without having practiced with a full cast was the most daunting task - and thankfully our stage managers scheduled a half hour dance put-in! Because the one absence caused a ripple effect, our dance captain Kevin Santos was on for me as Eugene, and our swing Mike Longo on in Kevin's track, so this helped minimize scary onstage traffic moments. Greased Lightning was slightly disorienting, because it features crazy strobed lighting and a trick/tumbling pass that I had never done in my show jeans. But it all went off without a hitch! In fact, the only time I really ended up in the wrong place was during the finale and my cast mates utilized the "shove with love" method. :))
I think Tommy as Sonny is one of the strongest casting choices in the show. In additional to terrific natural timing, he benefits from being so slight and saying lines like "What did I tell ya, they're always chasing me!" to our leggy girls. I think I also benefited from being a skinny string bean saying things like "Get me out on the field, Imma betta broad jumper than Zuko!" and hearing some laughs during my first few scenes immediately put me at ease. And thankfully our gang of greasers, and my incredible dresser Lourdes Garcia were incredibly supportive and I think having fun changing things up for the day. Then, less than 14 hours later, I had shed the leather jacket, aviators and Staten Island accent, and was getting into my Eugene argyle once again. It all felt like a bizarre dream - but a fun one nonetheless!