As Broadway battles wave of viruses, unsung heroes come to light


This image posted by Polk & Co. shows stunt double Carla Stickler as Elphaba from the musical

This image released by Polk & Co. shows starring Carla Stickler as Elphaba from the musical “Wicked” in New York City in March 2012. Stickler, who had quit show business and became a software engineer in Chicago, is returned to New York to play the role of the green-skinned Elphaba when the cast was ravaged by illness. (Joan Marcus / Polk & Co. via AP)


The theatrical magic that keeps Broadway alive during the latest coronavirus wave has been the unannounced performers ready to play any role in an emergency. Then there’s Carla Stickler, who had actually left the show business but returned to save “Wicked”.

Stickler, who launched a new career as a software engineer in Chicago three years ago, canceled her winter vacation and returned to New York City to play the green-skinned Elphaba as the cast was ravaged by disease. She might have been playing a wicked witch, but Stickler’s efforts were all good.

“It was like riding a bicycle,” she says. “I went out and I was like, ‘Oh, I remember that. It’s really special, and I’m just going to try and enjoy every second of it.

Her effort is just one extreme example of the job that Broadway liners, substitutes, and substitutes have done to keep shows open, often learning multiple roles with little formal rehearsal.

The stress on business has been enormous, with many shows kept open by the skillful folks listed later in the Playbill. Hugh Jackman, who prior to contracting COVID-19, took a moment during a recall to honor the multiple liners who have kept his cover of “The Music Man” open for as long as it has.

“It was a really exciting time to see liners, substitutes and swings get that kind of recognition for the hard work they do,” said Stickler. “I think they are sometimes overlooked. And so it’s been really moving to see the outpouring of love for everything they do.

Stickler wasn’t the only former artist to be commissioned. At one point during the holidays, eight of the 12 cast of Broadway’s “Come From Away” were substitutes, including two – Pearl Sun and Holly Ann Butler – who had left the show, as well as Marika Aubrey who had been selected for the show. national tour. .

“Everyone had to come together – the music department, the hair, the wardrobe, the control room, the lighting, the sound. Everybody make this baby work, ”said Josh Breckenridge, the dance captain of the show who contests for all 12 roles and is on hold for five of the six male roles, which each involve multiple parts.

“It really took a village and it was a beautiful village and it delivered. So I am very proud of us for having succeeded. And the audience was wonderful and with us every second. It was truly a beautiful triumph.

Breckenridge, who has performed on Broadway with “The Scottsboro Boys” and “The Ritz” as well as touring with “The Book of Mormon,” hopes the latest heartbreaking Broadway experience will lead to structural changes, such as investing in more vigils. and replacements. during the holidays.

“Hopefully, producers will notice and start hiring more coverage so that we can avoid times like this and be ready and not have to cancel audiences,” he says. “We are literally the reason for the phrase ‘the show must go on’, aren’t we? “

Stickler was one of the reasons “Wicked” could make it through this holiday season. She was driving with her husband and dog on December 27 for a week-long Michigan vacation with friends when she received an urgent request to return to Oz. The cast was stretched out and they needed his skills.

She had last played the role on Broadway in 2015, but had been a swing – someone who covers the overall roles of a show – until 2019. She had spent a decade in the Broadway company. of “Wicked” and had also performed in a nationwide tour.

“Elphaba is just sort of something that lives in my body, and I think a lot of other liners will say the same,” she says. “You’re building these neural pathways and they’re super strong, and all you have to do is kind of call them back. ”

While her husband continued to drive, she flew to New York on a long and perilous day of travel avoiding flight cancellations. She saw the show that evening and rehearsed over the following days. She continued as Elphaba on Saturday evening and Sunday morning.

“I think everyone is really doing their best,” she said. “I think that the fact that the show was able to stay open is a testament to the dedication of the cast to the show and the quality and talent of the group of people they have hired over the years.”

While the actors and backstage staff on Broadway are all vaccinated, wear masks when not on stage, and get tested daily, groundbreaking infections have always spread. Several productions, including “Aladdin”, “Hamilton”, “Dear Evan Hansen” “The Lion King” and “Six”, have suspended their performances due to groundbreaking cases.

Stickler is staying this week just in case “Wicked” needs his help. She will then return to Chicago, but she’ll never rule out a comeback if the show needs her again.

“I went and did a lot of things at the last minute for the show in my life, and I couldn’t happen to do it again. I would do it again in a heartbeat. I love the show, ”she says.

“I swear I’m going to be able to play that role on my grave. It’s so ingrained in my body. If I’m 100 years old, I will on my 100th birthday.”


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