Backstage.com did an article on 9 actors who started out on Broadway on the sidelines and ended up making it big. Lea is one of the actors highlighted.
Of the thousands of people who audition for Broadway each year, few ever make it on stage. Some of the luckier hopefuls find themselves working as understudies, swings, or standbys. Understudies and swings perform onstage regularly, usually as a member of the ensemble, and take over a lead role if the actor has a planned absence. Standbys, on the other hand, only perform when a lead actor has an emergency or something happens mid-performance. Otherwise, they spend their time waiting backstage. Although challenging and frustrating, these jobs can help an actor break into Broadway. These are just some of the many performers who launched their careers waiting in the wings as understudies, swings, and standbys.
Her character on Fox’s hit television series “Glee” may be snooty and proud, but in real life, Michele’s career had humble beginnings. She earned her first Broadway credits at nine years old, playing Young Cosette and Young Eponine in “Les Misérables” and understudying the character of Gavroche. In 1998, she had a small role in “Ragtime” as The Little Girl, followed by a six-year hiatus from Broadway. Michele returned in 2004 to play Shprintze in “Fiddler on the Roof,” understudying the role of Chava. But her big break came in 2006, starring in “Spring Awakening” as Wendla Bergmann. Michele gained widespread recognition for her performance, and in 2009 she landed the role of Rachel Berry on “Glee.” Now, Michele is in the spotlight more than ever. She made her film debut in “New Year’s Eve,” opposite Ashton Kutcher, and still stars in “Glee.” She would like to return to Broadway, though, and she told “Harper’s Bazaar” in August 2011, “I plan on playing every role on Broadway…. ‘Glee’ is only the beginning.”