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Tony Awards Honors the Swings and Understudies Who Kept Broadway Running


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Tony Awards host Ariana DeBose shone a spotlight on the swings and understudies of the Broadway season Sunday, praising their critical role in keeping productions going while the industry grappled with COVID-19. 

“I want to give a round of applause to some people who played a vital role in keeping Broadway shows open these past few months—the understudies, the swings and the standbys,” DeBose said. “And let’s not forget the stage managers and the associates and the dance captains who rehearsed them to go on in a moment’s notice.” 

As the omicron wave hit Broadway casts in December and January — and as COVID cases continue to impact Broadway shows — understudies and swings (actors who can go on for multiple parts) have frequently filled in for sick cast members in order to keep the shows running. 

In one example, Hugh Jackman addressed the audience after a curtain call at The Music Man in December and highlighted the work of understudy Kathy Vyotko, who went on for the lead role of Marian with only a few hours of rehearsal, as well as the show’s swings, who stepped in with little or no rehearsal as the musical was in its fourth preview.

In other cases, productions flew in cast members from touring productions of the show or called on previous cast members to come back. Thoughts of a Colored Man playwright Keenan Scott II stepped into his play in December, after several cast members contracted COVID-19 and director Sam Gold stepped in to cover a role in Macbeth in April.

“I’m really passionate about this because I was an understudy,” DeBose said during the telecast. “Most of the dancers in our opening number were swings at one point in their career.”

DeBose began her Broadway career as a member of the ensemble and an understudy, first in Bring It On The Musical and then in Motown the Musical and Pippin, before joining the ensemble of Hamilton. She then took on larger roles in A Bronx Tale and Donna Summer The Musical.

More examples continued to come up in the Tony Awards. Mallory Maedke, a standby in Six, performed during the show’s musical performance Sunday, after cast member Abby Mueller tested positive for COVID-19. 

As Anthony Edwards introduced the musical number from nominee Girl From The North Country, he mentioned his one-night appearance in the musical. Edwards is married to Mare Winningham, a Tony nominee and lead in the show, and was called on to step in when the production ran out of swings and understudies. Winner Patti LuPone thanked the understudies and COVID safety officers, 150 of whom were in attendance at the awards show. 

While presenting the award for best revival of a play, Samuel L. Jackson referenced making his Broadway debut as an understudy in The Piano Lesson in 1990. He will return as a lead role in that play next fall. 

Understudies and swings have also been a sensitive topic within the Broadway community this season, after Broadway League President Charlotte St. Martin told The Hollywood Reporter that she believed many of the performance cancellations in December were due to “understudies that aren’t as efficient in delivering the role as the lead is.” St. Martin later apologized for this comment, saying she misunderstood the situation. 

However, this comment, as well as the heroic efforts of the understudies and swings, galvanized the community, with many now reinvigorated in recognizing the efforts of these actors.

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