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Theater Talk: Swings, Standbys, and Understudies "the bedrock of Broadway" now more than ever during Covid

THE MUSIC MAN Hugh Jackman praises Kathy Voytko and all understudies, swings, and standbys source theatermania.com on Facebook.jfif
THE MUSIC MAN Hugh Jackman praises Kathy Voytko and all understudies, swings, and standbys

Earlier this week Hugh Jackman, who stars in THE MUSIC MAN on Broadway, paid tribute to “the bedrock of Broadway” - understudies, standbys, and swings. In this video he particularly thanks Kathy Voytko, who plays Sutton Foster's understudy as Marian Paroo in THE MUSIC MAN. You can watch this emotional moment here.

“Kathy, when she turned up at work at 12 o’clock, could have played any of eight roles,” Jackman said at the curtain call. “It happened to be the leading lady. She found out at 12 noon today, and at 1 o’clock she had her very first rehearsal as Marian Paroo.” Jackman talks about how Swings, Standbys, and Understudies don't get the luxury of rehearsals, in fact, often learning their parts only by watching others perform. Read more about Broadway and Covid in the New York Times here.

If you're curious about the terms Swings, Standbys, and Understudies, read on.

A swing is an off-stage performer responsible for covering any number of ensemble tracks. A standby is also an off-stage performer whose sole responsibility is to cover the lead (usually a star) or several leads in a production. (Remember Meecah in HAMILTON ready to cover all three Schuyler sisters - Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy?). An understudy is an on-stage performer permanently cast in the ensemble of a musical (or a minor role in a play) who, in addition to their own role night after night, is also responsible for covering a lead or supporting role and stepping in as needed. For more on those essential roles (more so today in the time of Covid) read Backstage Magazine here.

With the pandemic and "Covid Protocols" these "unsung" heroes of Broadway are being called on more than ever. For example, across town in Manhattan, at COME FROM AWAY, eight (8!) standbys jumped in so that the show could go on. That effort was aided by a number of former cast members stepping into their "old" roles. You can read more in Playbill here.

And last week, Theater Talk heard from WNY native Neil Haskell playing King George in the National Tour of HAMILTON at Shea's. He told us about his white-knuckle introduction to that musical as a swing involved a video of an off-Broadway performance and orders to be ready to cover all six unique "tracks" of the six male ensemble cast members. People who temporarily replace ensemble members for any number of reasons are usually superb dancers called "swings." (Back in March, 2019, UB alum Sean Ryan also talked about his role as Dance Captain and Swing in RENT at Shea's. Listen to that extended conversation with Peter here.)


A balck-and-white photo of Christopher Newton, leaning on a stool, with his tuxedo tie untied.
Shaw Festival
Christopher Newton, former AD at The Shaw Festival, passes at age 85

For years, Buffalo theater lovers have had a warm relationship with The Shaw Festival in Niagara-On-The-Lake. From 1979 to 2002 the Artistic Director was Christopher Newton, who died peacefully at the age of 85 on December 20. Newton leaves behind his husband, Nicholas MacMartin. His successor was Jackie Maxwell (remembered in the naming of "The Jackie Maxwell Theatre" at Shaw) and the current AD is Tim Carroll. The Shaw Festival will hold a celebration of his life on a future date. As WBFO's Marian Heatherly reported here on WBFO “It is no exaggeration to say that, without Christopher Newton, there would be no Shaw Festival today,” stated Artistic Director Tim Carroll. “He set a very high standard in everything he did, and long after his retirement as artistic director in 2002 he continued to be a passionate supporter of the festival and the arts. He was an inspiring mentor to young artists and an unfailingly generous source of advice and encouragement to me. I will miss him.” As will we all.

Anthony had a long and friendly relationship with Newton, whom he described as "the great Christopher Newton" whose arrival at Niagara-on-the-Lake coincided with Anthony's arrival to the Buffalo theater scene. Anthony recalls that Newton "really put his mark on The Shaw Festival with beautifully integrated productions of so many shows. It was a Golden Age.... He was a dashing and charming man and a wonderful actor in addition to being Artistic Director.

Peter only got to know Newton personally in recent years as a fellow participant in various "Music Niagara" events held annually in Niagara-on-the-Lake.


The Tues 12/28, Wed 12/29 and Thurs 12/30 performances of HAMILTON were cancelled due to Covid. Per Shea's, tickets purchased through Ticketmaster will be automatically refunded. Ticket holders who purchased from Shea's box office will be contacted to reschedule or receive a refund.

HAMILTON will be back on stage through Jan 2, 2022 (ending a three-week run!) Friday at 7:30 pm, Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00, Sunday at 1:00 and 6:30 (Note: performances on both New Year's Eve and New Year's Day) at Shea's Performing Arts Center, 650 Main St. Buffalo (716-847-1410) Sheas.org.


THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT, a play by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell & Gordon Farrell, based on the book by John D’Agata & Jim Fingal. Directed by Kyle LoConti, Jan. 13-30 at the D’Youville Kavinoky Theatre, 320 Porter Ave. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $45 (with discounts for students, seniors & Military) (829-7668), kavinokytheatre.com. NOTE: REVISED OPENING DATE JANUARY 13, 2022!

"LIFESPAN" BLURB: A famed essayist is put to the test in this topical comedy when a fact-checker finds most of his groundbreaking story is fabricated. Proof of vaccination or negative test within 48 hours is required. Masks must be worn regardless of vaccination status.


TRIBES, a play by Nina Raine, directed by Doug Zschiegner, starring David Marciniak, Margaret Massman, Anna Krempholtz, Johnny Barden, Dave Wantuck and Melinda Capeles. Jan 13 - Feb 6, Thursdays - Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays 2:00. Road Less Traveled Productions, 456 Main Street Buffalo NY 14202

(716-629-3069) roadlesstraveledproductions.org CONTENT ADVISORY:

Tribes contains explicit language and profanity. Students under 17 not permitted.

Road Less Traveled Theater's 2021-2022 Season will require all patrons to provide proof of COVID vaccination.

TRIBES BLURB: Billy is the only Deaf member of a loving yet dysfunctional family who raised him as part of the hearing world. When Billy meets Sylvia, a young woman on the brink of deafness, he finally starts to learn what it means to be heard. With insight, humor, and an eclectic cast of characters, the award-winning Tribes questions how we define community, family, and belonging.


WAITING FOR GODOT, a play by Samuel Beckett, directed by Kate LoConti Alcocer, starring Brian Mysliwy as Estragon and Vincent O’Neill as Vladimir, also featuring Todd Benzin, Ben Michael Moran, Jackson Snodgrass and Teddy Hibbard Jan 14 – Feb 13, Wednesdays-Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays at 3:00, Sundays at 2 at The Irish Classical Theatre Company at The Andrews Theatre, 625 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14203 (716-853-ICTC) (716-853-4282) irishclassical.com

Masks required as is proof of COVID-19 Vaccination OR Proof of Negative COVID-19 PCR Test within 72 hours of Performance Time. ASL Interpreted and Open Captioned Performance: Wed, February 9, 7:30 PM

"WAITING" BLURB (per Britannica): WAITING FOR GODOT was a true innovation in drama and the Theatre of the Absurd's first theatrical success. ... The play consists of conversations between Vladimir and Estragon, who are waiting for the arrival of the mysterious Godot, who continually sends word that he will appear but who never does.


PUFFS, or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic, a play by Matt Cox, Jan 28 - Feb 13, presented by O'Connell & Co at Shea’s Smith Theatre, 654 Main Street, Buffalo NY 14202 (716-847-0850)
sheas.org/smith-theatre OR facebook.com/OConnellandCompany/

PUFFS BLURB: "For seven years a certain boy wizard went to a certain Wizard School and conquered evil. This, however, is not his story. This is the story of the Puffs... who just happened to be there too. A tale for anyone who has never been destined to save the world....PUFFS is a stage play written by Matt Cox as a transformative & transfigured work under the magic that is US Fair Use laws. Puffs is not authorized, sanctioned, licensed, or endorsed by J.K Rowling, Warner Bros., or any person or company associated with the Harry Potter books, films or play.


THE TREASURER at Jewish Repertory Theatre (2/3-27)

BUFFALO QUICKIES at the Alleyway Theatre (2/10-3/5)

TENDERLY, The Rosemary Clooney Musical at O’Connell & Company's main stage at Ken-Ton Elmwood Commons, 3200 Elmwood Avenue, Kenmore (2/11-27)

AMERICAN RHAPSODY at MusicalFare (2/23-3/27)

Listen for Theater Talk, Friday morning at 6:45 and 8:45 during Morning Edition.
Even though "semi-retired," Peter Hall continues to wear many hats. He is the Sunday afternoon host on WBFO’s “sister station,” Classical 94.5 / WNED where he has produced over 1,000 radio interviews with musical artists. If you see him at a theater with a pen in his hand, he’s probably getting ready to co-host “Theater Talk” with Anthony Chase (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO) or to write a review for www.buffalorising.com. He is also a member of the "Artie Awards" committee (think “Tony Awards for Buffalo theaters”).
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