Published: Jul 08, 2016 2 min read
New England Patriots quarterbacks Tom Brady (L) and Drew Bledsoe drop back together during passing drills at a team practice at Tulane University in New Orleans Louisiana, January 30, 2002. Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick was expected to announce which quarterback will start Superbowl XXXVI against the St. Louis Rams after the practice.
Mike Segar—Reuters

Theater-goers lucky enough to snag a ticket to the hottest show on Broadway will see a new Hamilton in the lead role after Saturday, as Javier Munoz takes over from Lin-Manuel Miranda in the Tony-award winning production.

While Munoz’s rise will no doubt disappoint fans who longed to see Miranda in the role he originated, the understudy brings a swagger all his own to the part of the country’s first secretary of the Treasury. Munoz has played Hamilton regularly at Sunday matinees and has filled in as needed for Miranda during the rest of the week, leading New York Times reviewer Ben Brantley to say of his performance, “Alexander Hamilton is sexy on Sundays.”

In the theater, being an understudy doesn't necessarily mean you were the second choice for a role. Understudies have a distinct job and are often cast separately from the principal, explains Ilene Starger, a New York City-based casting director and producer. “It’s an incredible skill set,” Starger says. Besides talent to spare, understudies need a tremendous memory (most cover more than one role without much practice), and a highly dependable, team-focused nature.

Every profession has its go-to alternates. Munoz joins understudies throughout history who have been willing to wait for their moment to shine. Despite hard work, some never get their turn in the spotlight—or on the field or in the corner office. Here we salute understudies who got their big break, and who nailed their roles so well that we forgot their humble origins.

Got a favorite understudy-turned-headliner? Tell us at