N.Y. Today: Celebrating the understudies

What you need to know for Monday.

By Grace Ashford

Reporter, Metro

Good morning. Today we'll look at the swings and understudies who have been vital to Broadway during the Omicron surge. We'll also examine why Mayor-elect Eric Adams may have held off on naming a former high-ranking police official to a City Hall post. And we'll run the Metropolitan Diary item that readers chose as the best of the year.

George Etheredge for The New York Times

Over the weekend, my colleague Alexis Soloski took us into the behind-the-scenes world of understudies: those much needed, rarely celebrated actors who ensure that the show really does go on if, say, there's a terrifically contagious virus going around.

Without the benefit of full rehearsals, these human Swiss Army knives must learn the choreography, scenes and songs — sometimes for several characters — so that they can jump in to save the day. They might never go on. They might have just minutes to prepare.

"It's the job," explained LaQuet Sharnell Pringle, who covers a raft of parts in the musical "Mrs. Doubtfire."

She added: "It's the gig — to be able to be thrown on in a moment's notice and to be able to deliver."

Pringle said her rehearsal regimen allows her to be ready to perform as any of the parts, including Wanda, the social worker usually played by Charity Angél Dawson, whom she stepped in for in November.


"I physically need to do choreography every single day, I physically need to say words out loud every day so that it's a part of my muscles," Pringle said, adding that she also does cross-training and voice work to ensure she has the vocal and physical stamina to do the show at the drop of a hat.

Actors know that both swings (who do not appear regularly but cover up to a dozen roles), and understudies (who might play a smaller role and cover several larger ones, or wait backstage in case they are needed) are crucial for the smooth and safe running of a show. But with the pandemic forcing shows to cancel performance after performance for want of cast, their contributions have become visible to even casual theatergoers.

The impact of the pandemic, and what it says about working conditions on Broadway, has sparked a public debate within the theater community, where global social movements like #MeToo and the Black Lives Matter protests have already spurred dialogue about art and the status quo.

In her piece, Soloski lets us hear the voices of swings and understudies who help ensure that shows like "Phantom of the Opera," "Book of Mormon" and "Slave Play" run smoothly.


Sid Solomon, who is in the "Play That Goes Wrong," leaves us with a parting note on what it means to be an understudy in the days of Covid-19.

"I have an even greater personal sense of pride of showing up to the theater every night, knowing just how important having understudies is, so that nobody is ever put in a position where if they're sick, if they're injured, if they have a family issue, they ever have to think, I'm choosing between my well-being and whether or not a show happens that evening."


It's mostly cloudy today in New York City, with temps in the high 30s. At night, there will be light winds with a chance of rain.


In effect until Friday (New Year's Eve).


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Ex-police official with troubled past helped shape Adams administration

Philip Banks III, a former top New York Police Department official, has had considerable influence on incoming mayor Eric Adams's new administration. Banks, who resigned abruptly in 2014 while under federal investigation, supervised the selection process for top law enforcement posts, meeting with candidates and making recommendations, my colleagues Michael Rothfeld, Emma G. Fitzsimmons and William K. Rashbaum report.

But now Banks's own long-rumored appointment as deputy mayor for public safety might be in trouble amid ethical concerns. The federal corruption investigation turned up evidence that he'd accepted gifts from influence peddlers, but he was never charged with a crime. It is a strange and fascinating story, featuring a bag of diamonds, kosher steaks, foot massages, a private jet and $250,000.

Adams has complete faith in Banks, whose brother, David C. Banks, he just named as his schools chancellor, but the mayor's team is taking some time to rethink how to structure a job for him, a person familiar with the thinking of the mayor-elect's advisers said.

Adams defended the former police chief last month:

"He has not been accused or found guilty of any wrongdoing at all, so I think it would be unfair if we made an insinuation that he is," Adams told reporters.

What we're reading


Cool breeze

Dear Diary:

One early fall morning some years ago, I decided to walk to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and spend a few hours there before meeting a friend for lunch.

It was one of those days when the weather could not make up its mind between bright and sunny or cool and cloudy. I grabbed a sweater from the closet, wrapped it around my waist and set off.

After wandering through the museum's galleries for a while, I headed south on Fifth Avenue to meet my friend. The sun had just disappeared behind a large bank of gray clouds, and I was glad I'd brought a sweater.

Standing at a corner waiting for the light to change, a man at a hot-dog stand waved and called out to me.

"Lady, are you walking as far as 72nd Street?" he asked me.

I nodded.

He reached under his cart and pulled out a light blue windbreaker.

"Could you please take this to my wife?" he said. "She has a hot dog cart just like this one."

"Of course," I replied, grabbing the jacket just as the light turned green. The man grinned and waved.

About 10 minutes later, I spotted a shiny steel hot-dog cart. A woman stood beside it, her shirt collar turned up against the cool breeze.

"Your husband sent you this," I said, handing her the jacket.

"Oh, thank you so much," she replied with a smile, quickly putting the jacket on. "He is a good man."

Faith Andrews Bedford

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — G.A.

Jaevon Williams and Olivia Parker contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at nytoday@nytimes.com.

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