NEW YORK—We have just finished our Monday evening show, and all seems to have gone as normal at the theater. However, it wasn’t. When I arrived at the theater and signed in, I found out that we were short of onstage personnel. ’Tis the season to catch something viral or bacterial in nature, and because the weather has been erratic of late—Mother Nature seems unable to decide whether it’s fall or winter—our bodies haven’t always been quick to keep up and stay healthy.
Many of us in the theater will keep powering through, just for the sake of keeping the show going. So people will perform with the flu, or while someone is spewing something awful.
I’ve done my share of performances under these circumstances, both in musical theater and in concert.
In “Once on This Island,” we have four superstars who comprise what we call “Swing Nation”: Tyler Hardwick, Loren Lott, T. Oliver Reid and Aurelia Williams. All of them are seasoned Broadway veterans, having trod the boards in various shows.
Tyler has performed in “Motown the Musical” on Broadway, “Dreamgirls” on tour and in “Ragtime.” Loren landed in the Top 16 of the 2015 season of “American Idol.”
T. Oliver has performed in 12 Broadway shows, including “Sunset Boulevard,” “Mary Poppins,” “The Wedding Singer,” “La Cage aux Folles,” “Chicago,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Kiss Me Kate.” Aurelia’s most recent credit before heading to the island was in “InTransit.”
I’ve always held the swings in such high regard because of what they are able to do. During rehearsals, they study not only the parts they do in the show regularly (all of them are our offstage vocalists, singing on a high perch on stage right), but also the parts they have been assigned to cover.
Tyler covers the ensemble men, as well as Daniel and Armand; Loren covers the ensemble women, as well as Ti Moune, Andrea and Asaka; T. Oliver covers the ensemble men, as well as Agwe, Papa Ge, Armand and Tonton Julian; and Aurelia covers the ensemble women, plus Asaka, Mama Euralie.
Already, it has been incredibly busy for the swings, beginning at our third preview in November, when T. Oliver had to step in for Quentin Earl Darrington (Agwe), who had the flu. T. Oliver has since gone on for Phillip Boykin (Tonton Julian), David Jennings (Armand) and Rodrick Covington (Storyteller).
Loren’s had a busy time too, stepping in for Hailey Kilgore (Ti Moune) during tech as they were focusing lights, and has now officially stepped in for Alysha Deslorieux (Andrea) and Darlecia Cearcy (Storyteller).
Tyler started in earnest when he had to go on at midshow for Grasan Kingsberry (Storyteller), then went on for quite a number of times in Grasan’s track. On his busiest week, he did four tracks: his own offstage vocal track; Rodrick’s track when he was swung out to watch the show; Grasan’s once again when he fell ill; and for Isaac Powell (Daniel) when he got sick.
The amount of work each of these swings puts into their jobs is beyond vast. It seems an almost inhuman task to ask these four incredible humans to cover the numerous actors that make up our show. On the sand, we can have up to 15 active company members singing and dancing (including one little girl … we have two in the company that both regularly appear, but in case of illness or injury, they cover one another), and with a long-running show, anything and everything can happen. We’ve been running for over a month, previews included, and already things have gotten interesting.
So, to these four superstars, as well as every swing currently covering a gazillion tracks all over Broadway, we salute you, love you, are in awe of you and respect you. Without a doubt, you have one of the most difficult jobs in this industry and truth be told, Broadway wouldn’t keep going without you and what you do.
All hail Swing Nation!
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