News: Life as a Swing: The Unsung Heroes of Musical Theater

Candi Boyd. Photo provided by candiboyd.com

Candi Boyd.
Photo provided by candiboyd.com

The opportunity to land a role in a Broadway show is the dream of every stage actor. But imagine having to know all the dialogue, lyrics and dance steps for every female or male character and being given only hours, sometimes minutes, to step in and perform. These people are an invaluable part of every production. Jared Bradshaw and Candi Boyd are currently utilizing their many talents in a very specialized role – the swing.

Jared Bradshaw is a swing and the assistant dance captain in the Broadway production of Jersey Boys, the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons; previously he was in the Chicago company and the First National Tour. Jared is also a theater junkie. Ask him any question about any Broadway musical and he will most likely know the answer. Jared is married to Lindsay Bradshaw, an understudy for six years in the Broadway production of Wicked. The couple recently celebrated the birth of their first baby.

Candi Boyd is the universal swing for all of the North America casts of Jersey Boys, which includes Broadway, Las Vegas and the Second National Tour (and for a time, the First National Tour which has ended). She must not only stand in for one of only three women who play an astounding 52 female characters in this Tony award-winning production, but also work seamlessly with three different companies around the country. Currently she is on Broadway and is married to Matt Kaitila, head technical engineer at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Read on for more about these incredible performers and what it takes to handle such demanding roles.

New York Theatre Guide (NYTG): Tell us a little about your background and training. When did you know you wanted to be an actor?

Candi Boyd (CB): I’ve been dancing since I was three and started acting and singing at 11.  In seventh grade, I played the title role of “Joseph” in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and I knew it was what I loved most in the world. I earned a Bachelors in Fine Arts (BFA) from Point Park University in Pittsburgh with a major in musical theater and a minor in dance.

Jared Bradshaw (JB): I grew up in the church listening to my dad preaching and my mom singing in the choir. I always wanted to be onstage. At age 11, my mother encouraged me to audition for The Music Man at our community theatre in Georgia. I worked on all the classic musicals such as Oklahoma! The King and I, and Sound of Music, while also performing in high school. I was lucky to have a long résumé of full productions before I went to college.

Jared Bradshaw. Photo provided by jaredbradshaw.com.

Jared Bradshaw.
Photo provided by jaredbradshaw.com.

NYTG: How did you get involved with Jersey Boys? Please explain the audition process. How long have you been with the show?

CB: Originally, I went to an open dance chorus call for Jersey Boys in 2008. I received a callback a few months later. I went through 10 callbacks over the next 10 months, always for the role of “Mary Delgado” (Frankie Valli’s first wife). Out of the blue there was an opening for the female swing on the First National Tour.  I received more pages of lines to learn. At the next callback, I booked it! That was in November 2009 and I have been with the show ever since.

JB: I first auditioned after casting director Meri Sugarman saw me in Forbidden Broadway performing in a Jersey Boys, Spamalot and Phantom spoof. She brought me in for Spamalot numerous times (because I’m a total goofball) but it didn’t click. The swing spot opened in the Chicago company and they needed a cover for The Four Season’s “Nick Massi”– somebody with real bass notes to cover six roles. People told me I was starring in an off-Broadway show and that I shouldn’t go swing. I threw caution to the wind and I’m so glad. It’s the greatest job I’ve ever had! And I get to star on Broadway every once in a while. I’ve been with the show for four and a half years now.

NYTG: How did you feel when you were asked to be a part of the company on Broadway?

CB: I was so excited to be asked to take on the role of Jersey Boys’ only universal swing. It also meant I would be making my Broadway debut at some point. As it turned out, I made my debut the first week at work! I felt so accomplished.

JB: I remember getting a text from our production supervisor saying, “don’t take any work this month.” I knew something was up. I had to drop out of the first day of rehearsal for Hairspray out on Long Island. Luckily I had a very understanding producer who let me go to live my dream. But I didn’t eat Indian food an hour before my first show on Broadway like Candi did! (Candi discusses her surprise Broadway debut later in the interview.)

NYTG: Unlike an actor who is on a “track,” you have to know all of the roles. Explain the difference between being on a track and being a swing.

CB: Being a swing is essentially knowing many people’s tracks at once and being ready to replace everything they do in a show at any given moment. A swing is kind of a show’s insurance policy. The show must go on no matter what and swings make sure that happens.

JB: The swing’s job is very hard at first. There is not a lot of room for mistakes. The lines, harmonies and choreography are difficult enough but you have to enter at the right speed, make the right mark on the stage, exit in the right wing, and change the right clothes in the right spot. It’s not just memorizing lines. Our guys in the show usually cover one or two principle roles, which is their “track.” When you see the Broadway show, you can look around and see who is the “type” who would cover “Frankie Valli” or “Bob Gaudio,” etc.  It’s a matter of learning two, or six or more roles – just degrees of specificity.

Jared in Jersey Boys on tour as Tommy Devito with the boys in Tampa, FL. L-R Steve Gouveia, Jared, John Michael Dias, Quinn Van Antwerp. Photo provided by jaredbradshaw.com

Jared in Jersey Boys on tour as Tommy Devito with the boys in Tampa, FL. L-R Steve Gouveia, Jared, John Michael Dias, Quinn Van Antwerp.
Photo provided by jaredbradshaw.com

NYTG: How are the demands different for a swing versus a universal swing?

CB: A universal swing is used for shows that have several casts performing in various locations such as Jersey Boys, Book of Mormon, and Wicked. A universal swing is an additional swing who steps in when a cast member is hurt or on vacation. A universal swing travels from cast to cast as needed. So, one week I will  be on Broadway then the next week I will fly to the Las Vegas cast and play “Mary Delgato.” Then I will fly to the tour in Buffalo or Denver and play “Francine” (Frankie Valli’s daughter) for the week. Instead of covering just three women, I cover nine actors in three different casts. And yes, the shows vary greatly, making my job quite confusing at times.

NYTG: Do you have to be backstage for every performance?

JB: All of us are backstage every night. The swings have to stay until “Rag Doll,” about 9/10ths of the way through the show. That’s when the Four Seasons ride the elevator, and everyone is on deck to make sure no one gets injured or falls down the stairs. Then we can go home.

NYTG: How much notice are you given before you are told that you will be performing. Do you have the opportunity to rehearse or brush up on each role?

CB: Sometimes none! Once I was told 20 minutes before the show started – and that was my Broadway debut! I have also seen swings go on at intermission or mid-scene, sometimes in their street clothes. We have regular “understudy rehearsals” but it is every performer’s job to be ready at all times to step in.

JB: I am usually given three or four hours notice – less if there is an emergency. We have rehearsals every other week or so, trading roles, playing our other tracks and filling in on the smaller ones. That keeps us fresh – just rehearsing on set with the piano, understudies and a stage manager. The backstage monitor is on during the show for announcements and to see what is going on during the performance. We keep up on the harmonies and lines that way as well.

NYTG: Since you have to be ready to perform so many different characters do you have your own entire set of costumes for all the characters? Candi, do the costumes travel with to the different cities?

CB: I have a copy of every dress, bow, piece of jewelry, wig, and high heels that the three women wear in the show – in my size and fitted to me. It is quite a lot of pressure to realize all the money and time spent on costumes only you can wear. It shows how much effort is put into every aspect of the show to make it so great and running without a hitch. Of the three tracks I cover, Francine has 17 costumes while Mary and Lorraine each have 15. With every costume change comes a full wig, shoe and jewelry change. When I fly to a location as the universal swing, they overnight all my costumes and wigs.

JB: I have boxes and boxes of costumes. The role of “Hal Miller/Barry Belson” has 19 costumes alone. I’ve played every role but Frankie Valli in the show, so I have costumes backstage for “Tommy DeVito,” “Nick Massi,” “Bob Gaudio,” “Bob Crewe,” “Gyp DeCarlo,” “Hank Majewski,” “Norm Waxman,” “Barry Belson,” “Joey” and “Knuckles.” It is amazing to watch as the costumes are hoisted up into the fly space backstage if you aren’t currently covering a certain role.

Jared is a "swing" or understudy for mulitple roles in JERSEY BOYS. He now has covered 9 of the 11 roles in the show: everyone but Frankie and Bob. Photo provided by jaredbradshaw.com.

Jared is a “swing” or understudy for mulitple roles in JERSEY BOYS. He now has covered 9 of the 11 roles in the show: everyone but Frankie and Bob.
Photo provided by jaredbradshaw.com.

NYTG: What was the most hair-raising call you ever had?

CB: I’ve never gone on mid-show like Jared, but my unexpected Broadway debut was my craziest, most stressful moment! It was my  first week covering the girls on Broadway, so Jared, another cast member and I went for Indian food before the show. I ate much more than I would have if I had known what was to come. I arrived at the theater and one of our actresses had not arrived for “half hour” (everyone is required to sign in a half hour before the show starts). I received the call to “come down to stage management” and I knew! I needed to start doing my pin curls and makeup but everyone was pulling me every which way to go over costumes and wigs. I don’t remember anything other than that I didn’t mess up the show and I did well. It was the best day of my life – after my wedding!

JB: I have gone on in the middle of the show five or six times. Once for “Tommy DeVito” when the actor playing the role cracked his front teeth with the guitar after “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” You get that call: “Jared Bradshaw, come to stage management immediately.” You know something’s up. The actor playing “Norm Waxman” on tour hit the lighting pole with the baby grand piano. It knocked the wind out of him and his head hit the deck. He was out. You just get down to the stage and hope you’re warmed up!

NYTG: Jared, you are also the assistant dance captain. Tell us about that job.

JB: I took over as dance captain in the Chicago company. After swinging so many roles, it was fascinating to watch the show with an eagle eye and to learn the female tracks and choreography. I haven’t tried it in heels, but I look good! (laughs) Here on Broadway, Katie O’Toole is our fantastic the dance captain. I watch the show every week or so just to make sure nothing crazy jumps out. I am really Katie’s vice president. When she was on vacation, I rehearsed a temporary “Joe Pesci.” I also noted Joseph Leo Bwarie’s Broadway debut. After over four years as “Frankie Valli” in the First National Tour, he’s pretty amazing! The dance captains keep the integrity of the choreography when Sergio Trujillo and Danny Austin aren’t around.

NYTG: Many of the actors in the current Broadway cast came from the First National Tour. What was the best thing about touring?

CB: Being on tour is kind of like being in the circus. A group of really fun, talented people from all age groups and walks of life are thrown together living and working in very close quarters in cities that no one knows anything about. It’s such a fun adventure! Depending on the city, being on stage can be very different experience every night. Some audiences are very vocal while others are more reserved but the first to stand at the curtain call. We also have the opportunity to meet a new backstage crew at each theater. In the bigger cities you spend your time exploring and being a tourist. In smaller cities, there’s much less to do so the cast and crew bond over game nights, theme parties, cooking meals together, a tradition we started called “women’s wine night,” and other activities that bring us closer together. My best friends are still people I met on tour!

JB: Our Broadway cast is stellar as were the Chicago and tour casts. I don’t know how our casting folks find all these talented people! I loved staying in hotels – having coffee and the paper waiting at the door and someone to make your bed. But you can really save money renting a house. I roomed with John Edwards (the current “Hal Miller/Barry Belson” on Broadway) and Candi in Minneapolis. We all saved money and stayed in a mansion! I love our country and it is priceless experience getting to know its cities.

Candi Boyd. Photo provided by candiboyd.com

Candi Boyd.
Photo provided by candiboyd.com

NYTG: Have either of you had a break from the show to do other work? If so, tell us about your project(s).

CB: I took a three-month break from Jersey Boys over Christmas of 2011. I played “Lily St. Regis” in a production of Annie at Northern Stage in a tiny, picturesque Vermont town and spent time with my husband. It was a nice escape and reminder of how magical the theater can be for both the actor and the patron. If I hadn’t left the tour to play this role, Jersey Boys probably wouldn’t have offered me the universal swing spot –  so I will always be thankful for that experience.

JB: I loved doing Guys and Dolls with former Jersey Boys swings Jake Speck and John Hickman down in Nashville. I also wrote a new play that was produced called The Seven Wonders of the South. It’s a comedy I wrote with two other guys. We play over 45 roles. It is reminiscent of National Lampoons Vacation with rednecks or “Greater Tuna on a Road Trip.” I can’t wait to get it published. I’m very proud of it.

NYTG: Jared, I don’t think anyone is more enthusiastic about Broadway musicals than you are and you share this joy with everyone. Explain why.

JB: I LOVE Broadway musicals! Growing up in a small town in Georgia, I never thought I would have the opportunity to live down the street from 32 shows playing eight times a week. It’s the center of the universe for musical theatre. I think the part I love is that no one repeats the same performance. An actor may crack, put a new spin on a line reading, give more than 100%, or an understudy may be on. I see every new musical that opens on Broadway, and try to see as many plays as my budget (and time) will allow. I love the history, which is why collect Broadway window card posters – over 400!

NYTG: The Jersey Boys juggernaut shows no signs of stopping especially with the movie version in production. What is it about this show that makes it special for you?

CB: Jersey Boys is special for me for a few important reasons. It was my first big break and has been so good to me for the past four years. I remember seeing the original Broadway cast, standing in the back when I was a poor waitress and thinking “that’s the best show I’ve ever seen. I’m going to be in it one day.” Then I brought my parents to see it. My father, who is not a musical kind of guy, fell in love. I knew then I had to do it. Finally, the fact that there are only three females per cast and EVERY actress wants to be in this show makes me feel very successful. I’ve never felt more proud to be a part of anything.

JB: The show is special because we ALL grew up with this music. As they say in the show it’s “ubiquitous!” You can’t get away from it and add to a story that is TRUE. It is incredible theatre. Real behind-the-scenes!

NYTG: Fans are applauding director Clint Eastwood for casting theater actors instead of “stars.” I assume the theater community has the same reaction. Are you excited about the casting so far?

CB: I think the casting is AMAZING! My Jersey Boys colleagues have been living, studying and bringing to life these characters for years now and many of them truly personify the characters they play. It’s a testament to how much Mr. Eastwood liked the production, and hopefully the movie will have a similar feel and style as the show. It was so amazing to audition for a big film, especially on the Warner Bros. lot in Los Angeles! None of us knew what to expect and we are all so proud and thrilled for our friends. We can’t wait to see it!

JB: Kudos to Clint Eastwood for giving credit where it’s due. These actors own these roles. Why start with stars who can’t sing it, act it, or look the part? These men and women have done half the work already. It is a testament to how great the stage show is. We were lucky because everyone had the chance to audition. I auditioned for the role of the group’s producer, “Bob Crewe.” Clint came to the show and met the cast. Pretty cool. I raise a glass to John Lloyd Young (the original “Frankie Valli” and 2006 Tony award-winner), Erich Bergen (“Bob Gaudio,” First National Tour and Las Vegas company), Michael Lomenda (“Nick Massi,” Canadian company and First National Tour), Mark Lotito (now on Broadway as “Gyp DeCarlo” but will be playing Bob Gaudio’s father in the film), Renée Marino (“Mary Delgado,” currently on Broadway), and the rest of the gang! Let’s hope they use show folks in the film versions of Wicked, In the Heights and Spring Awakening!

NYTG: What other roles you would like to perform?

CB: “Roxie” in Chicago or “Charity” in Sweet Charity. I’ve always been a Bob Fosse lover and I love playing strong, sassy, but also funny, flawed women. In 20 years, I would love to play “Mrs. Lovett” in Sweeney Todd opposite Jared! Also “Miss Hannigan” in Annie or “Mama Rose” in Gypsy.

JB: Dream role? Sweeney Todd in five or 10 years. That’s what my voice wants to do. It’s my favorite musical period.

NYTG: Thank you, Candi and Jared, for taking time out of your very busy schedules to talk to the New York Theatre Guide. We will be seeing much more of you in the future!

About Lynne Menefee

Lynne Menefee is the creative director/owner of Menefee Creative (www.behance.net/menefeecreative), a graphic design/marketing company. After earning her BFA from Maryland Institute College of Art, she worked at the Museum of Man and with San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre as a graphic designer and in the costume shop. In Los Angeles, she worked for CBS. Lynne returned to Baltimore and started her own business with clients that include the art organizations, musicians, nonprofits and educational institutions. She is a member of the Memorial Players in Baltimore and a member of the LA-based Costume Designers Guild Local 892 as a costume illustrator. Lynne manages and creates content for a vintage record show site and does concert reviews for martiniinthemorning.com, an online radio station based in Studio City, California. She writes reviews for both the Maryland and New York Theatre Guides, as well as interviews.