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.
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.