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

NEW YORK (AP) – The theatrical magic that kept Broadway going during the latest wave of coronavirus has been the presence of unknown artists willing to take on any role in an emergency. Then there’s Carla Stickler, who had actually left show business but came back to rescue “Evil.”

Sticker, who had started a new career as a software engineer in Chicago three years ago, canceled her winter break and returned to New York to play the green-skinned Elphaba while the cast was devastated by illness. She may have been playing an evil witch, but Stickler’s effort was very good.

“It was like riding a bicycle”, she says. “I went out and thought, ‘Oh, I remember this. This is really special, and I’m going to try to enjoy every second. ‘

Their effort is just one extreme example of the work Broadway understudies, understudies, and understudies have put into keeping shows open, often learning multiple roles with little formal rehearsals.

The stress on companies has been enormous, with many programs opened by skilled people being listed more deeply in the Playbill. Hugh Jackman, who before contracting COVID-19, took a moment in a curtain call to honor the many alternates who sustained his rebirth of “The man of music” open as long as it did.

“It’s been a really exciting time to see the substitutes, the substitutes and the swings get this kind of recognition for the hard work that they do.” Stickler says. “I think they get overlooked sometimes. So it has been very emotional to see the outpouring of love for everything they do. “

Stickler was not the only former interpreter to enter service. At one point in the holidays, eight of the 12 Broadway actors “Come from afar” They were alternates, including two, Pearl Sun and Holly Ann Butler, who had left the show, as well as Marika Aubrey, who was selected in the national tour draft.

“Everyone had to come together: the music department, the hair, the costumes, the stage direction, the lighting, the sound. Everyone to make this baby work. “ says Josh Breckenridge, the show’s dance captain who contested all 12 roles and is looking forward to five of the six male roles, each of which involves multiple parts.

“It really took a town and it was a beautiful town and it gave itself. So I’m very proud of us for having done it. And the audience was wonderful and with us every second. It really was a beautiful triumph. “

Breckenridge, who’s been on Broadway with “The Scottsboro Boys” Y “The Ritz” as well as also traveled with “The book of Mormon,” He hopes the latest heartbreaking Broadway experience will lead to structural changes, like investing in more reservations and add-ons during the holidays.

“I hope the producers take notice and start hiring more coverage so that we can avoid moments like this and be ready and not have to cancel at hearings.” he says. “We are literally the reason for the phrase ‘the show must go on’, right?”

Stickler was one of the reasons “Evil” It could continue into this Christmas season. She was driving with her husband and dog on December 27 for a week’s vacation in Michigan with friends when she received an urgent request to return to Oz. The cast was stretched and they needed his skills.

She had last played the role on Broadway in 2015, but it had been a swing, someone covering the ensemble roles of a show, until 2019. She had spent a decade in Broadway’s company. “Evil” and starred in a national tour as well.

“Elphaba is something that lives in my body, and I think many other substitutes will say the same.” she says. “You build those neural pathways and they are super strong, and all you have to do is remember them.”

As her husband continued to drive, she flew to New York for a long and treacherous day of travel dodging flight cancellations. She watched the show that night and then rehearsed for the next few days. She continued as Elphaba on Saturday night and I matinee on Sunday.

“I think everyone is doing the best they can.” she says. “I think the fact that the show has been able to stay open is a testament to how dedicated the actors are to the show and how large and talented the group of people they have hired over the years is.”

While Broadway casts and backstage staff are all vaccinated, wear masks when not on stage, and get tested every day, breakthrough infections have still spread. Various productions, including “Aladdin,” “Hamilton” “Dear Evan Hansen” “The Lion King” Y “Six,” Suspended proceedings due to advance cases.

Stickler will be staying this week just in case “Evil” needs your help. She will then fly back to Chicago, but will never rule out a return if the show needs her again.

“I did a lot of things in the last minute for the show of my life, and I wouldn’t dare stop doing it again. Would do it again in a heartbeat. I love the show “ she says.

“I swear I will be able to play this role in my grave. She is so ingrained in my body. If I turn 100, I will do it at my 100th birthday party. “

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