Theatre he­roes

Auckland City Harbour News - - FRONT PAGE - By JESS LEE

THEY are the un­sung he­roes of mu­si­cal theatre – ready and wait­ing back­stage to step in at a mo­ment’s no­tice for cast mem­bers who are un­able to per­form.

Dancer Joseph O’Sul­li­van is able to cover for no fewer than nine char­ac­ters in the award-win­ning Broad­way mu­si­cal Wicked which flew into Auck­land for the first time this month.

He is called a swing and must know the lyrics and dance steps; when to make cos­tume changes, en­ter at the right speed and make the right mark on stage for each of his as­signed ensem­ble cast mem­bers.

‘‘It’s a lot of work. We spend a lot of time out­side of pro­duc­tion hours just with the swings re­hears­ing and do a lot of watch­ing from the wings and sneak­ing out into the au­di­ence as much as we can to get a bet­ter grasp of the show.’’

The 24-year-old made his pro­fes­sional theatre de­but in the Asian tour of the Broad­way block­buster.

‘‘Be­ing a part of the show has been a dream of mine,’’ he says.

‘‘Be­fore I au­di­tioned I had seen the show six times in four pro­duc­tions around the world, so it was def­i­nitely a dream come true to be a part of such an amaz­ing mu­si­cal.’’

Mr O’Sul­li­van moved from Mt Eden to Mel­bourne at the age of 17 to take up a place at one of Aus­tralia’s lead­ing dance schools, Dance World Stu­dios.

He landed the role of swing in Wicked in 2011 af­ter a full day au­di­tion.

The show opened at The Civic Theatre on Septem­ber 21 as part of its tenth an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions.

It is based on a novel by Gre­gory Maguire and tells the tale of the witches of Oz well be­fore Dorothy bumped into the Tin Man and the Cow­ardly Lion.

The mu­si­cal has picked up 35 ma­jor ac­co­lades in­clud­ing a Grammy and three Tony Awards.

Mr O’Sul­li­van must wait in the wings of each per­for­mance just in case some­body falls ill or is in­jured dur­ing the show.

‘‘It does hap­pen oc­ca­sion­ally. Peo­ple think they’re well enough to go on but they change their mind at the last minute.

‘‘It can

be a


bit stress­ful at times but it keeps the show in­ter­est­ing and can be a lot of fun for ev­ery­body back­stage.’’

Mr O’Sul­li­van is one of five swings who all have their own cos­tumes, wigs and masks for each of their as­signed roles. Swings may go un­no­ticed but pro­duc­tions could not func­tion with­out them, he says.

‘‘Peo­ple nor­mally see it in the pro­gramme and are not 100 per cent sure what it is if they’re not fa­mil­iar with the mu­si­cal theatre in­dus­try but it’s def­i­nitely a vi­tal part of the show.

‘‘We get a lot of recog­ni­tion from fel­low cast mem­bers and crew for what we do.’’

Auck­land’s Cen­tre City Mu­sic Theatre board chair­woman Linda Fox says the role of swing is sought af­ter by up-and-com­ing tal­ent.

‘‘In an in­ter­na­tional show the cast will mainly come from over­seas so for a rel­a­tively new per­former fresh out of drama school it’s con­sid­ered a real coup get­ting to step up from ob­scu­rity.’’

Wicked plays un­til Novem­ber 24 at The Civic Theatre.

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