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Do Broadway Actors Ever Play Multiple Roles in the Same Show?

Jennifer Ashley Tepper Is answering your questions with Broadway Deep Dive!

By: Jul. 29, 2023
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Do you have a burning Broadway question? Dying to know more about an obscure Broadway fact? Broadway historian and self-proclaimed theatre nerd Jennifer Ashley Tepper is here to help with her new series, Broadway Deep Dive. Every month, BroadwayWorld will be accepting questions from theatre fans like you. If you're lucky, your question might be selected as the topic of her next column!

Submit your Broadway question in the comments here!

This time, the reader question was: How many different roles has one actor been contracted to play in the same Broadway production?

After discussion of the fact that the great Bebe Neuwirth has played Velma Kelly, Roxie Hart, and Matron “Mama” Morton in the long-running Broadway revival of Chicago, the question was raised: Has anyone else played multiple roles in the same Broadway production?

Of course, incredibly talented understudies, swings, and standbys often play multiple roles in the same production. Swings in particular regularly go on for more than three tracks they cover, over the course of a production’s run! Sadly, there is no source that tracks whether understudies, swings, and standbys have gone on in their productions, let alone for specific roles. But it’s worth noting the multitude of truly gifted performers in Broadway history who have covered and gone on for many roles in a given production, in their jobs as understudies, swings, and standbys.

And then, there are many tracks within shows that require actors to play multiple characters within one performance. Which roles ask actors to play the most characters within one performance? And besides—who has played the most roles in one show, including different productions? Those are other great questions!

But back to the question at hand. In Broadway history, which actors have been the planned performer and occupied more than one performance job during the course of a singular production’s run?

To answer that question, let’s rewind to the original 1975 production of Chicago. When the show opened, Lenora Nemetz was standing by for Gwen Verdon in the role of Roxie Hart. Nemetz went on to occupy the role of Roxie during Verdon’s absence due to a vocal injury (before Liza Minnelli took over the part). Later during the show’s run, she spent a year in the role of Velma Kelly as well!

Do Broadway Actors Ever Play Multiple Roles in the Same Show?  Image
Scene from Chicago, Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel

Our current Broadway revival of Chicago has played over 10,000 performances over the course of almost 27 years! During that time, many performers have played multiple roles. Among those, many have played three: Gregory Butler played Aaron, Fred Casely, and Judge, Roxane Carrasco played Annie, June, and Velma Kelly, Jennifer Frankel played Mona, Annie, and Hunyak, Deidre Goodwin played Annie, Velma Kelly, and June, Bernard Dotson played Doctor, Judge, and Billy Flynn, and more. Eddie Bennett has occupied six different tracks, including Bailiff/Court Clerk, Judge, Doctor/ Martin Harrison, Harry, Sergeant Fogarty, and Aaron! David Bushman has played four different tracks: Bailiff/Court Clerk, Doctor/Martin Harrison, Judge, and Harry. Throughout the run, several other performers have stepped in for multiple roles in similar ways, playing different tracks at different times. Also notably, Bianca Marroquín played both Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly and Christopher Fitzgerald played both Amos Hart and Billy Flynn.

Sarah Jessica Parker, long before she was a household name, played orphan July in the original Broadway production of Annie, in 1978. At the same time, she understudied the role of Annie, and in 1979, took over playing Annie full time. She was not the only child actor to play more than one orphan role in that production: Jennine Babo played Molly, Tessie, and Duffy, Kim Fedena and Kia Goodwin each played Tessie and Kate, and Stephanie Vine played Tessie, July, and Pepper.

The long-running original Broadway production of Les Misérables saw many actors step into multiple roles over the course of its 16 year run. One of these was Norman Large. Large originated the track that played the Bishop of Digne, Diner, and Lesgles in 1987. He also understudied the roles of Javert and Thénadier. He later officially took on the roles of Javert and Thénadier and stepped into the Constable role as well. This means he played four different tracks, in addition to understudying, during the original Broadway production of Les Mis. Additionally, Philip Hernández played both Jean Valjean and Javert, both Sarah Litzsinger and Christeena Michelle Riggs played both Cosette and Eponine, Joseph Mahowald played both Javert and Enjolras, Jacquelyn Piro Donovan played both Cosette and Fantine, and more. In the 2006 revival, Drew Sarich played Grantaire, Jean Valjean, and Javert.

The long-running original Broadway production of A Chorus Line similarly saw many actors step into multiple roles over the course of the record-breaking run. In many cases, a performer started out playing one of the dancers who are cut at the beginning of the show and then went on to switch to a role that spends the night on the line. These included Larry G. Bailey, Kevin Chinn, and Michael-Pierre Dean, who each played both Butch and Richie, René Ceballos who played both Lois and Bebe, René Clemente who played both Tom and Paul, Cynthia Fleming who played both Vicki and Kristine, Diane Fratantoni who played both Tricia and Diana, Vicki Frederick and Laurie Gamache, who each played both Lois and Cassie, and Dana Moore who played Vicki and Sheila.

Al and Mike was a popular combo, with the following actors playing both “I Can Do That” and “Sing!” during the run: Dean Badolato, Buddy Balou, and Mark Bove. Tim Cassidy played Frank, Bobby, Don, and Greg over the course of the run—four roles! Paul Charles played Mark, Mike, and Larry. Murphy Cross played Judy and Val. J. Richard Hart played Larry and Mike. Deborah Henry and Wanda Richert each played Val and Cassie. Angelique Ilo played Cassie and Judy. Carol Marik played Vicki, Judy, and Sheila. Kevin Neil McCready played Mike, Al, and Larry. Cynthia Onrubia played Tricia and Vicki. R.J. Peters played Mark and Larry. Tracy Shayne played Lois, Bebe, and Vicki. Ronald Stafford played Bobby and Don. A Chorus Line showed that dancers could do anything—including stepping into different roles at different times!

Carrying on the legacy, in the 2006 A Chorus Line revival, Jenifer Foote played both Vicki and Val, Nadine Isenegger played both Lois and Cassie, and Grant Turner played both Frank and Zach. Jessica Lee Goldyn originated the role of Val in the revival before stepping into Cassie’s shoes.

Rent is another long-running show that has found performers taking on different roles at different times. Playing both the Mark’s mom track and Maureen Johnson were Maggie Benjamin, Jessica Boevers, and Kristen Lee Kelly, who originated the former. Will Chase played the Steve track as well as playing Roger, Jim Poulos played the Steve track as well as playing Mark, and Andy Señor and Justin Johnston played the Steve track as well as playing Angel. Luther Creek played Gordon as well as Roger, Shaun Earl played Paul as well as Angel, and Destan Owens played Mr. Jefferson as well as Collins. Gwen Stewart originated the Mrs. Jefferson track and also played Joanne.

Do Broadway Actors Ever Play Multiple Roles in the Same Show?  Image
Scene from The Producers, Photo Credit: Paul Kolnik

During the run of the smash hit The Producers, several principals went on to play other principal roles. This included Roger Bart who originated the role of Carmen Ghia and went on to play Leo Bloom, Brad Oscar who originated the role of Franz Liebkind and went on to play Max Bialystock, and John Treacy Egan who, like Bebe Neuwirth in Chicago, played three different principal roles: Franz Liebkind, Roger De Bris, and Max Bialystock!

The instances pointed out in this article are by no means exhaustive. Throughout Broadway history, there have been many other times when incredible performers have played different roles in the same production! Who are your favorites?