Hugh Jackman praises 'courage' of understudies after Covid forces out Broadway costar

Actor Hugh Jackman closed out a Broadway performance this week with an impassioned tribute to the understudies and "swings" who must step in to perform on a moment's notice.

"It humbles me," Jackman, 53, told the audience during a curtain call Thursday night after a performance of "The Music Man" at New York City's Winter Garden Theater, where he is starring as con man Harold Hill.

"The courage, the brilliance, the dedication, the talent," he said. "The swings, the understudies, they are the bedrock of Broadway."

Jackman's speech came after his costar, Sutton Foster, tested positive for Covid-19 and was unable to portray librarian Marian Paroo, a lead role in the classic musical about a hustler who poses as a boys' band leader to make money, planning to skip town. 

In a video of the speech posted to Instagram by an audience member, Jackman, a Tony-award-winning actor, is heard honoring the understudy, Kathy Voytko, for her performance.

"Kathy, when she turned up for work at 12 o'clock, could have played any of eight roles," Jackman said. 

She found out noon Thursday that she would have to step into the lead for Foster, he said. "And at 1 o’clock, she had her very first rehearsal as Marian Paroo."

Jackman then called other swings and understudies forward and noted that their jobs are particularly difficult early in a production like "The Music Man," which was staging its fourth preview Thursday. 

Swings and understudies have not had much time to learn their parts, he said. 

"They've watched from the corner of a room while we rehearse, while we get to practice over and over again," he said. "They just get to watch and write notes, and then, five hours before a performance, they're told: 'You're on. By the way you've got a wig fitting. Go!'"

Foster echoed Jackman’s praise Friday morning on Instagram, according to People, noting that Voytko had “smashed it” on stage and calling Jackman a “class act.”

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