Hugh Jackman praises ‘Music Man’ understudy for stepping into lead role last minute

Broadway’s “The Music Man” swung into high gear last Thursday thanks to one “swing actor.”

Two-time Tony Award winner Hugh Jackman took a few moments out of Thursday’s preview to thank his co-star for the evening, and got a little “emotional” while doing so.

Jackman, 53, plays charming con artist Harold Hill in Meredith Wilson’s ragtime musical, opposite Sutton Foster, 46, as do-gooder piano teacher Marian.

But when Foster, 46, became suddenly unavailable for the show’s fourth preview, understudy Kathy Voytko stepped up with fewer than eight hours notice, Jackman revealed during a post-show speech in which he thanked many of the show’s swing actors.

Swing actors may learn half-a-dozen or more roles so that they can substitute at a moment’s notice. Jackman explained that Voytko was told at noon on Thursday that she’d be covering for Foster, and by 1 p.m. was rehearsing for her star turn as Marian.

“It’s not only happening here … but all over Broadway,” Jackman explained, in footage captured by actress Katherine Winter and shared on Facebook. “This is a time we’ve never known. We’re in our fourth preview, we’re all just sort of learning so swings and understudies have not had a chance to learn.”

Amid the current coronavirus outbreak on the East Coast, which hit New York City hard this week, several Broadway shows have shut down production in the absence of healthy crew, including Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton,” Disney’s “Aladdin” and Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill.” However, there has been no mandate to halt performances as Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League, said on Monday that they “have the correct information that says it is safe to open for the cast, the crew and the audience.”

She added, “If we don’t feel it’s safe, we don’t perform that day.”

With several “The Music Man” swings by his side, the “X-Men” star continued, “They watch from the corner of a room while we rehearse, while we get to practice over and over again. They just get to watch and write notes and then five hours before performance they’re told, ‘You’re on by the way, you’ve got a wig fitting, go!’ ”

“I’m emotional because it humbles me — their courage, their brilliance, their dedication, their talent. The swings, the understudies, they are the bedrock of Broadway,” he concluded as the crowd whooped and cheered.

Voytko had tears in her eyes as she and her fellow swings reaped the applause. “Take it from me,” Jackman quipped. “Real superheroes do not wear capes.”

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