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Hotelier Gives Broadway Understudies a Star Turn

By Alan Neuhauser | March 12, 2013 8:04am

FLATIRON — A Hollywood actor-turned-hotelier is giving Broadway understudies their star turn in the limelight.

Robert "Toshi" Chan, owner of the Flatiron Hotel and its two-story music venue, Toshi's Living Room, launched "Understudies & Swing(er)s" Monday night, a free weekly music series featuring performances by the unsung heroes of the Great White Way.

"It's really a selfish thing," Chan said, noting that he's not a musical performer. "I can't do what they do, so it just makes me happy. I have that vicarious thrill and pride when I see them, when they hit these notes and move the audience."

Genny Lis Padilla, who has appeared in "Rent" and "In the Heights," was tapped to headline the series debut Monday night, and actors Erik Heitz and Brian Kess are scheduled for March 18 and 25.

"This is kind of a way to be supportive of people who have been understudies in shows or swings in shows, and be able to give them an opportunity to shine and show what they can do," said Lis Padilla, 30, who most recently performed as an understudy in the off-Broadway production of "Rent," which closed Sept. 9.

"It places them in people's minds — that you can carry a show, that you can put on your own type of show. I think it allows people to see you in a different light, the light of a headliner."

Understudies, she explained, are performers who play a regular role in a production, but also step into larger roles to replace other actors who are sick, injured or on vacation. Swings, by comparison, are performers who do not have regular roles, but instead wait in the wings to fill open roles for actors who are away.

"Understudies and Swing(er)s" runs from 6 to 9 p.m. While admission is free, there is a $10 food and drink minimum for general seating, and $20 for seated tables.

Actors are welcome to audition for a slot in the series by submitting headshots and resumes to producer Darrel Alejandro Holnes at darrelholnes@gmail.com. Those selected are paid for their performances, and there is a chance to earn a regular gig at Toshi's: A previous series featuring understudies and swings, titled "For the Love," helped "Smash's" Jaime Cepero land a weekly Saturday evening opening act at the venue.

"It's a great farm system, it's very organic. What could be just a single song as a guest singer might end up being a residency at Toshi's," said Chan, 38, who has appeared in The Departed and Deception. "I would encourage that for anyone who wants to have a place to perform and would like to be welcomed with open arms and great warmth, Toshi's is the place."