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Understudy steps in halfway through first Chess preview after leading man’s sudden exit

Cellen Chugg Jones at the curtain call of Chess. Photo: Kevin Wilson
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Actor Cellen Chugg Jones stepped in to cover a starring role in the West End revival of Chess – halfway through the first preview and without a full rehearsal – after one of the show’s leading actors pulled out at the interval.

Jones stepped into the role of Freddie Trumper at the last minute when Tim Howar had to make a quick exit at the interval after his wife went into labour.

Jones received a standing ovation for his performance at the London Coliseum, and described the experience as “completely surreal”.

He told the Evening Standard: “I had an inkling it might happen, but Tim, being the powerhouse that he is, always soldiers on. I’ve rehearsed the first two scenes and done a quick note bash of the songs, but that was it.”

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Kevin Wilson, a theatre publicist, was in the audience for the first preview and described Jones as a “a star”.

He told The Stage: “Having worked with Cellen Chugg Jones as PR on Dogfight at Southwark Playhouse I actually thought during Act 1 how great it would be to see him in the role of Freddie – little did I know it would happen an hour later.”

He added: “The interval was extended and director Laurence Connor came on stage to announce Cellen was taking over after no rehearsal whatsoever.”

Wilson added that one of the numbers required “intricate choreography” and that “the audience egged him on with warm applause”.

“Standing alone on an empty stage for the second number, he looked supremely confident and got the biggest applause of the evening for any solo,” Wilson said.

He added: “Cellen showed West End understudies in the very best light – what a star.”

In 2016, Ria Jones stepped in to cover Glenn Close at the London Coliseum, after Close fell ill and was unable to play the role of Norma Desmond for a number of shows.

Actor and Chess understudy Cellen Chugg Jones – ‘It was single-handedly the best moment of my life’

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