by Brad Giovanine
Looking back at Tony Day for Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, certain scenes flash through my memory: careening down the aisle at Radio City in skin-tight, star-emblazoned, black shorts and a red drum major jacket; hearing Jenn Colella animatedly announce to those around her, “They’re actually playing their instruments!”; my phone continuously buzzing throughout the night with clips of me shaking my 19th Century Russian booty on television. At the time of the Tony’s, I was actually away from the show, and our producers and creatives asked if I would perform as an additional swing in the ceremony. I’m sorry—WHAT?!
I joined Great Comet as a vacation swing shortly after the show’s opening on Broadway. I then stepped into two different, full-time ensemble tracks over the life of the production. Because our ensemble was gender-fluid (as more ensembles should be) the swings could potentially cover upwards of twenty tracks. One or two of us may have actually done every one of them. I focused most of my energy on the roving musician tracks (even learning the accordion in three days), so I have to acknowledge the work of the collective swing team who were still split-tracking/principal-ing while I was full-time ensemble-ing: Paloma Garcia-Lee, Brandt Martinez, Celia Mei Rubin, Mary Page Nance, Blaine Krauss, Shoba Narayan, and Kennedy Caughell. I worked on the show in a permanent ensemble track until we closed in September of 2017. The collective spirit of that cast stays with me, and I’ll always be so grateful to our director, Rachel Chavkin, for welcoming me to Moscow.
The actual day of the ceremony is a bit of a blur. What people neglect to tell you is that the entire performance goes by in a heartbeat. Four minutes becomes four seconds. After a month of rehearsals (in addition to your show schedule), you are carted into the depths of Radio City, into the house to play your clarinet in Stephanie J. Block’s face, and then ushered back to your theatre to celebrate only ten minutes later. What I remember most about the night was how it made me feel. The cast taking a collective, meditative breath in the lobby before our performance; the raucous jam session on the bus back to the Imperial; the laughs and embraces at our afterparty. That’s what my Tony Night represents: a celebration of achievements created with a second family.
Great Comet was a 360 degree experience, and, coupled with the generosity of our producers, our creative team felt it was meaningful to include our full company. Not part of the family. All of the family. Tony Night was no exception to the rule. The entire Broadway company was always included in anything related to the show, from recording the cast album to Broadway in Bryant Park. One only wishes this were the experience for all performers.
Tony Night is perhaps the most public celebration of Broadway, but a successful show thrives in many aspects because of the work done by the swings an audience will seldom see. There are performances happening every day across the country with a brilliant swing in a track they may have just learned. This is work deserving of celebration, and, in shows like Great Comet, it was. Our creatives and producers really understood that what made the experience come to life had everything to do with the entire team (onstage and off) they had brought together.
I re-watched the performance recently (very legally and definitely not streamed), and I’m reminded of the electricity - the palpable lightning felt by the audience. Celebrating the work of the swings and standbys of Great Comet was a true gift from our team. I hope that other swings in future productions that grace the stage at Radio City are fortunate enough to have that same honor.