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New Documentary Explores Life of Standby in Broadway Show

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A new documentary on one of the most unusual jobs in show business is playing this week at Quad Cinema on West 13th Street. NY1's Stephanie Simon filed the following report.

Stand by. You're about to get your big break...maybe.

In the documentary "The Standbys," Stephanie Riggs explores the life of the standby in a Broadway show. Where an understudy probably performs in the show in a smaller role, a standby is there just to fill in for a big above-the-title name.

"With the documentary, I followed three different feature performers," Riggs says. "There's one who is Merwin Ford, who is the standby for Nathan Lane and 'Addams Family' while we were filming, and he probably had the hardest story because everyone knows Nathan Lane, and Nathan is a beloved theater performer. So when Merwin goes on to see the humble and yet appreciative attitude that he has towards having the opportunity to perform for an audience that may not want him there. They want Nathan there."

The tides, though, can turn.

"Sutton Foster is an understudy that has been able to lead up through the role," Riggs says. Patina Miller has done extremely well. Cheyenne Jackson, Christian Borle. Those are all people that were understudies that are now leading on TV or leading in other Broadway shows."

Sometimes, when standbys takes over for the lead, ticket holders are allowed to get a refund, but Riggs says not so fast.

"One of these days, that person that you saw as an understudy or a standby go on is going to be above the title. They are going to be the leading ladies and the leading men of Broadway. They're that talented," Riggs says.

Riggs was inspired to make the film after seeing a show called "At this Performance," where understudies and standbys performed.

"The stories were incredible, and yet, their voices were even more incredible, and so for me, it was a, it was a story that needed to be told," she says.

The film will soon be out on DVD and VOD. Riggs also hopes to turn it into - what else - a Broadway musical.

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