Broadway superstar Michael Fatica (Groundhog Day, Newsies, Matilda, She Loves Me) shares his experience of joining A Bronx Tale as a vacation swing.
Many of you Ensemblist blog readers are probably privy to what being a Swing in a Broadway Show means. For those who might not, I’m sure you have experienced opening your Playbill before your chosen show starts, only to have a little white piece of paper fall out onto your lap. On this paper, it most likely lists that “the role of Blahblah” or “the roles usually played by Yadayada” will be played by SoAndSo. This is one of the ways a show will let the audience know that an understudy or a swing is in the show in place of the actor or actress who normally plays the role. A swing’s job is to learn all of the ensemble roles in the show, and possibly some principal or supporting characters, and to be ready to perform them at any time. A swing sometimes receives a week’s notice or more, but many times it is no less than a few hours, and even during the show if catastrophe strikes.
Now, picture this. The holidays are over, your Broadway show is a hit, and half the company is ready to take a week off in order to recharge! Rather than working the show’s swings to the bone and leaving the rest of the company uncovered, a company will often hire a “Vacation Swing." This new cast member will be tasked to first learn the role of whichever cast member is on vacation, and then learn additional roles as well so as to increase the amount of coverage available in the building at all times. It is a fast and furious job, with this actor many times having to learn the show from the ground up in as little as a few days or a week.
I just finished my first two weeks as a new Vacation Swing for A Bronx Tale on Broadway, covering the four enormously talented men called the “Doo Wops." I had a week to learn the show, which included two tracks and one additional vocal track, the full track which I would learn the second week. I’m no stranger to swinging, having swung Newsies on Broadway for 2 1/2 Years, but I will admit that it has been a few years since then and the stress floods back just like it did the first time. The challenge for me in this particular show is the fact that these Doo Wop characters sing the entire time in tight, four-part, exposed harmony. The 4 current cast members are awesome musicians and blend together like a well-oiled machine, and learning these vocal parts well enough to jump in required constant attachment to my Earbuds (sorry to those strangers listening to me hum quietly on the subway!).
On top of the vocals, you’ve got to learn the movement, blocking, costume quick change spots, where to stand to catch Brittany Conigatti as she JUMPS off of a bar in the dark, and know it well enough to be comfortable enough onstage to actually play a character and be present with your fellow actors. I have to give a HUGE shoutout to the show's incredible(ly patient) Dance Captains, Music Department and Stage Management team, for being over prepared and literally always knowing the answer to any question I had. I did get to go on for the character of Slick for the final four shows of the week, and the Bronx Tale company and crew were champion helpers and nothing but supportive.
The first show in this situation always feels like you just completed the Ice Bucket Challenge: you’re a little numb, regretting a lot of things you just did, but also carry a sense of accomplishment. Each show gets a little easier, and because it’s all so new, the fun part is discovering new moments with another actor onstage, or feeling like you’ve got a better handle on the style of that swing snap step that you were struggling to make look “cool” the day before. The Bronx has been a really great neighborhood to be in for the past few weeks. I’ll be back onstage next week and can’t wait!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, back to my ear buds. There are a lot of Oo’s and Aah’s to learn.