The role of an understudy is a double-edged sword. Every actor/actress dreams of being the star of the show, and being an understudy offers the chance to do just that, but it’s also somewhat of an illusion of stardom as that moment in the spotlight is fleeting and temporary. Understudies are often highly under-appreciated talents, which is why it’s always rewarding to see a performer who has covered many lead roles move on to take them for themselves and begin to gain the recognition they deserve. That’s why this edition of In Profile recognises one stage performer who is fast rising from understudy to leading man status: Ashley Day.
Ashley Day is a young man who is forging his way to the top of the industry, having already laid down a trail of theatre credits to be proud of. He has worked towards a career on the stage for most of his life, having started dancing at the tender age of three and later going on to take singing and acting lessons. This led to him making his first West End appearance when he was just nine years old, as part of the child cast of Oliver! at the London Palladium. He trained at the Stonelands School of Ballet and Theatre Arts in those early year, as well as the National Youth Music Theatre, and has put that training to good use in securing the variety of roles he has played in the course of his career to date.
One of his earliest professional roles brought him back to the West End, as part of the original London company of Mary Poppins at the Prince Edward Theatre in 2004. He was a swing in the production, which featured the likes of Gavin Lee, Melanie La Barrie, Rosemary Ashe, Nathan Taylor and Charlotte Spencer, and won two Olivier Awards, including Best Actress in a Musical for its title star Laura Michelle Kelly. He remained in the musical until April 2006, after which he continued his West End streak by gaining a place in the ensemble cast of Michael Grandage’s revival of Evita at the Adelphi Theatre, spending just under a year in the show.
He appeared in several stage productions that same year, playing Dream Gabey in the English National Opera’s (ENO) production of the musical On The Town (London Coliseum), and Irving Stone in Babes In Arms at Chichester Festival Theatre. After that he took on his first lead role, starring as Troy Bolton in the UK touring production of High School Musical. A highly popular franchise at the time, the stage adaption of the film was a sold-out success, but challenged the cast to remain faithful to the beloved characters while also interpreting them in a new way. As heart-throb Troy, played by Zac Efron in the film, Day had the added challenge of dealing with overly-enthusiastic HSM fans, who would sometimes follow him home!
He was next seen in The World Goes Round (Castle, Wellingborough) before adding another principal role to his CV, this time playing Robert Martin in The Drowsy Chaperone (Upstairs at The Gatehouse) opposite Amy Diamond as Janet Van de Graaf. Then it was back to the West End to join the original London company of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Wizard of Oz revival, which brought him back to the familiar stage of the London Palladium. He performed in the show’s ensemble while also understudying Hunk/Scarecrow, playing the role on numerous occasions alongside Danielle Hope as Dorothy, and other stars of the show such as Michael Crawford, Emily Tierney and Hannah Waddingham. He departed after a year in the show but didn’t go far, soon back in the West End as part of yet another original London company. He was cast in one of the most sought-after shows of 2013, The Book of Mormon, which made its UK première here on 25th February 2013 following the staggering success of its Broadway début He appeared in an ensemble capacity, but was also 1st Cover Elder Price, making his first appearance as one half of the show’s male leads just three days after press night. He played the role on-stage many times and quickly became a fan favourite through his performances, which also earned him the title of Understudy of the Year in the 2013 West End Frame Awards.
He left in the February 2015 cast change after two years in the smash hit musical, but it was onwards and upwards for this talented stage performer who has gone on to secure not one, but two, leading roles, since. He went straight into the critically acclaimed tour of Oklahoma!, having spent weeks rehearsing for the show during the day and appearing in The Book of Mormon at night. He stars as Curly in his first touring show since High School Musical seven years ago, appearing opposite Charlotte Wakefield as Laurey, Belinda Lang as Aunt Eller and Gary Wilmot as Ali Hakim. He is still currently performing in director Rachel Kavanuagh’s brand new production, which will soon be arriving at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff and continues to tour the country throughout the summer, playing its final dates at the Wycombe Swan between 4th-8th August 2015. He will then be heading to Leeds to take on another lead role, starring as Bill Calhoun/Lucentio in Opera North’s tour production of Kiss Me Kate, which opens at Leeds Grand Theatre on 21st September 2015. It’s a musical he has always aspired to perform in, ever since he saw the 2001 West End revival production at the Victoria Palace Theatre while still in college.
His other theatre credits include Liquorice Man in Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker (Sadler’s Wells), Dream Curly in Oklahoma! (Cardiff International Festival of Musical Theatre and Peacock), Creation (Edinburgh Fringe Festival) and Ethan/Al Smith in the workshop of Empire – Greatness Begins with a Dream. He also features on the original cast recordings of Mary Poppins, Evita and The Wizard of Oz.
Ashley Day has been afforded a number of roles in an impressive array of stage shows, both in the West End and outside of it. With such a wealth of experience to draw on, coupled with his carefully honed singing/dancing/acting abilities, he surely has what it takes to really go places in the theatre industry. His growing fan following speaks volumes of the potential he possesses, and this up-and-coming talent may well be one of the next West End leading men.
You can follow Ashley on Twitter: @Ashleyday_86
By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25
Saturday 4th July 2015