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The Temperamentals, or, The First Time I Saw an Understudy and Wasn’t Mad About It

I know there is a culture of understudy love amongst certain theater fans, but I’ve just never been able to get into it.  I’m not the kind of girl who seeks out understudy performances, who wants to see what the rest of the supporting cast or swings can do when the spotlight is theirs.  I’m just not.  Maybe that makes me shallow, but let’s be real, no matter how talented the understudy is, there’s always a reason they weren’t outright cast in the role.  For some reason, they didn’t quite fit the director’s vision for the show.  And when I drop my hard-earned money on theater tickets, I want to see the show as the director intended it to be seen.

That’s not to say I haven’t seen some great understudies.  Because I have.  For example, this past September, Jay A Johnson’s Claude in Hair was absolutely wonderful.  At that same matinee, Ryan Link stepped up halfway through the show when Will Swenson sprained his ankle and pulled together a brave performance.  And that’s just one show.  One afternoon, actually.  That’s part of the excitement of live theater; it is inherently never the same.  Never exact.  And I appreciate that completely.  But no matter how wonderful, how brave, how new and interesting an understudy was, I don’t believe I’ve ever left the theater thinking “Wow, I’m so glad I saw so-and-so’s understudy today!”

That is, until last Monday night.

Last Monday I saw understudy Vince Gatton take Michael Urie’s role in The Temperamentals and I don’t want to imagine the show any other way.  I’m glad I didn’t see Michael.  This is a first.

Gatton was just so dashing in that suit.  So at home in the character of Rudi Gernreich.  I imagine seeing Michael Urie would have been somewhat distracting.  His character on Ugly Betty is so outlandish it would have taken some time for me to put that aside and this play is too beautiful, it says things too important, for me to be distracted by any kind of outside force.  But it was more than just that.  In fact, it wasn’t about Michael Urie at all.  It was about Vince Gatton and his amazing work on that stage.  I just do not want to picture that role being played any other way.  His character felt so right that I cannot imagine any other interpretation working half as well.

The Temperamentals isn’t quite perfect, but I loved it.  I’d see it again.  I’d recommend that you see it.  The story of Harry Hay and Rudi Gernreich and the Mattachine Society is something that should be passed along, told and retold and told again.  And as for the show itself, its characters are bright and engaging—I dare you not to laugh out loud at Bob Hull’s enthusiastic antics and bright humor—and in its finest, most human moments, The Temperamentals even moved me to tears.  I don’t know that I can ask much more from a play than to have learned something new and felt something real.  To have been transported.

So if you have a chance, head over to the New World Stages and check out The Temperamentals.  Let yourself be transported.  And maybe, if you’re very lucky, you’ll get the opportunity to see what I saw in Vince Gatton.

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