Andrew Rannells Shimmied Into His Co-Star’s Costume at a Moment’s Notice and Seized the Day


Places, please for ELLE’s monthly column Showstoppers, where theater’s biggest stars reflect upon the moment in their career where the famous phrase “the show must go on” became a little too real. When things don’t go according to plan onstage, here’s how the pros react—and what they take away from it.

This month, Andrew Rannells, who stars in a two-man show with former Book of Mormon co-star Josh Gad titled Gutenberg! The Musical emphasizes the power of an understudy. Below, Rannells, in his own words, talks about seizing your moment, especially as a young person in the arts.

I started my career in musical theater on Broadway as an understudy. I had never understudied before. It was Hairspray, and I was 26 at the time. It was my first job on Broadway. I was playing one of the “Nicest Kids in Town,” Fender. But, then I understudied three parts, and one was Link Larkin, that I would later go on to play; one was Corny Collins, who was the host of the Corny Collins Show; and then the other one was this character called the “Male Authority Figure.” That’s just a track that plays a bunch of crazy small parts, very charactery. They told me when they offered me this job, “You’ll understudy these two parts now, the third one, [Male Authority Figure], you’ll never go on for, but you’ll have to learn it, but you’ll never go on.” I never had a costume fitting.

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About a month in, I was playing Fender every night, and I had already been on once for Link Larkin, so I knew, “Okay, I’m actually going to really have to do this.” Then, I got a phone call and they were like, “Okay, you’re going to be on tonight.” I just assumed it was to be Link. They were like, “You’re going to have to play the Male Authority Figure.” I was like, “What? What’s happening?”

andrew rannells and josh gad

Andrew Rannells plays Doug and Josh Gad plays Bud in Gutenberg! The Musical!

Matthew Murphy

I showed up very early, and they were like, “Sorry, this just happens.” There were multiple people that were sick. I didn’t have costumes. I was understudying an actor named Jim J. Bullock, who I loved. When I was a kid, he was on a show called Too Close for Comfort. He’s just hilarious and was such a nice man and was really very welcoming. But, he was probably 20 years older than I was. All of a sudden, I was playing all of the character parts in Hairspray.

I didn’t know it. I knew enough to get through it. I also was wearing his wigs and these costumes that didn’t fit. Luckily, a lot of what I had to do was with this actress named Julie Halston, who’s a very good friend of mine. She pushed me around the stage and was like, “And now you go over here, and now you go over here.” It was quite eye opening. It was Broadway, and this is how Broadway works. With no rehearsal, I was now all of a sudden going on for this part. People were paying full price tickets to see this show. And I was like, “Oh God.” It was a really good lesson early on in that process. You’ve always got to be ready to do all of these things. You have to.

andrew rannells, 'falsettos' cast photo by andrew h walkervarietypenske media via getty images

The cast of the 2016 revival of Falsettos


When we were doing Falsettos, which is a very small show, it’s a small cast, it’s a really dense musical musically and lyrically, and there’s a lot going on, Stephanie J. Block, who’s so brilliant, was playing this role of Trina. She got sick. So her understudy, Courtney Balan, went on one night. You could tell Courtney was also not feeling well. She sounded like she was sick.

So the next day, James Lapine, the director, called all of us said, “Okay, so Courtney is also sick, so now we don’t have a Trina.” This amazing young actor, whose name is Stephanie Umoh, who’s now playing Angelica in Hamilton, said, “I’ll do it.” She did not understudy Trina, she was not there to understudy Trina.

James Lapine said, “What?” She said, “I can do it,” and she did. She went on. That show is nonstop. It’s a hard show to do anyway. Stephanie had lyrics for some of it, and James made a speech at the beginning of the show and was like, “She has never gone before, she’s never rehearsed this before.” Stephanie Umoh went on and she did the whole show nearly perfectly…and then had two more performances after that. Just fucking nailed it. By the second performance, she wasn’t carrying the book anymore. By the third performance, she was very much like it was her show. It was so extraordinary and so exciting to get to see that. At that moment I was like, “Oh, this girl’s a fucking star.” And now she’s starring in Hamilton.

We could have canceled the show. Instead she was like, “No, I’m just going to do it.” I was like, “Oh, you’re staking your claim in this business, and you are telling these people I am here to stay, and I’m here to play.”

There’s a term in the theater, some people don’t like it, but it’s “hungerstudy.” And I was one, definitely, especially when it came to the other parts that I was understudying. I knew that Link Larkin stuff before I knew my own track, so when they asked me to take over the role, it was clear that’s what I had my sights set on. But, the best way to do that was just to show up and do my job every day as perfectly as possible. And then, when the opportunity presented itself to go on for those parts, it was like, “Well, now you’ve got to show them, you’ve got to show them you can do it.”

andrew rannells and josh gad

Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad promoting The Book of Mormon soundtrack

Bruce Glikas


“We had always been trying to find something to do together. We couldn’t really find anything that was a good fit for both of us, and then [director] Alex Timbers presented us both with this script. I was not really familiar with Gutenberg. We read it, we listened to some. They’d had a cast recording of it done [when it was Off-Broadway]. Then, Alex put together a reading for us in Los Angeles. We did the reading and we thought, ‘I think this seems like the right fit for us.’ But, that was in March of 2020, so then everything shut down.

“Josh and I both went off to other projects. Then about a year ago, it came back around. Alex was like, ‘Well, what do you think about trying it again?’ So we did another reading. That was when it really all snapped together and we were like, ‘Yeah, I think this is the one.’ Our friend Nikki M. James, who was in The Book of Mormon with us, said to us not long ago, ‘Well, it makes sense that you’re the only two actors in this show, because who else will you get? No one else wants to work with you. Really only the two of you can tolerate each other.’ 

“In a lot of ways, no time had passed between leaving The Book of Mormon and then getting back together too, because we did become friends in that process. I see him often. But, to get back into a rehearsal room with him, it was just like we had just been doing it [all along].”

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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Andrew Rannells currently stars as Doug in Gutenberg! The Musical! at the James Earl Jones Theatre. Tickets can be purchased here.

Headshot of Samuel Maude

Samuel is the Assistant to the Editor-in-Chief at ELLE Magazine. His interests include music, theater, books, video games, and anything to do with Taylor Swift. He famously broke both his arms at the same time in fourth grade. 


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