"Swings" are cast members who understudy many roles in a musical theatre production.
Usually, swings cover ensemble roles, and the ensemble cover the principal roles. This can lead to a domino effect - if one principal performer needs to be covered, up to four understudies can perform as they each move up a slot.
Starlight Express is so demanding to perform that the understudy system can be quite different, with swings covering principal roles.
As the second production mounted, the Broadway show gave the creative team the opportunity to streamline problems found in mounting the original show. This included allowing them to have a clearer idea about casting, and specifically casting certain minor roles as covers for principals.
|Rusty||Greg Mowry||Pearl||Reva Rice|
|Greaseball||Robert Torti||Dinah||Jane Krakowski|
|Poppa||Steve Fowler||Ashley||Andrea McArdle|
|Electra||Ken Ard||Buffy||Jamie Beth Chandler (Ashley)|
|Rocky 1||Frank Mastrocola (Greaseball)||Krupp||Joey McKneely (Flat-Top)|
|Rocky 2||Sean Grant (Rusty)||Wrench||Christina Youngman (Ashley, Volta)|
|Rocky 3||Ronald Garza (Caboose)||Purse||Gordon Owens|
|Rocky 4||Angel Vargas||Joule||Nicole Picard (Dinah)|
|Flat-top||Todd Lester (Caboose)||Volta||Mary Ann Lamb (Buffy)|
|Dustin||Michael Scott Gregory|
|Caboose||Barry K. Bernal||Belle||Janet Williams Adderley|
|Bobo||AC Ciulla (Rocky 3)||Espresso||Philip Clayton (Electra)|
|Weltschaft||Michael Berglund||Turnov||William Christopher Frey (Greaseball, Rocky 1)|
|Hashamoto||Ken Rose (Dustin)||Prince of Wales||Sean McDermott (Rusty, Dustin)|
|Swing||Lola Knox (Pearl, Buffy, Joule, Volta, Wrench)||Swing||Amelia Prentice (Ashley, Belle, Joule, Wrench)|
|Swing||Christine Langner (Pearl, Dinah, Buffy, Joule, Volta, Wrench)||Swing||D Michael Heath (Flat-Top, Dustin, Espresso, Prince, Turnov, Weltschaft)|
|Poppa Cover||Danny Strayhorn|
|Swing||Michael-Demby Cain (Electra, Rusty, Rocky 1, 2, 3, 4, Purse)||Swing||Mark Frawley (Greaseball, Flat-Top, Caboose, Bobo, Espresso, Hashamoto, Prince, Turnov, Weltschaft, Krupp)|
|Swing||Anthony Galde (Flat-Top, Dustin, Bobo, Caboose, Weltschaft, Krupp)||Swing||Ron Morgan (Bobo, Espresso, Hashamoto, Prince, Turnov, Weltschaft, Krupp)|
|Swing||Dwight Toppin (Rocky 2, 3, 4, Bobo, Hashamoto, Turnov, Krupp, Purse)||Swing||Broderick Wilson (Electra, Poppa, Rocky 1, 2, 4, Espresso, Prince, Krupp, Purse)|
This understudy list shows some unusual quirks - for instance Broderick Wilson covered Rockies 1, 2, and 4 - but not 3, who was AC Ciulla's only cover role as first cast Bobo.
Of the principal roles, only Buffy understudies another role, and that is Ashley, a role the same size as Buffy, not Pearl or Dinah who are the larger roles. Pearl and Dinah only have two covers, while all other roles have at least three covers apart from Poppa, who has a dedicated Poppa cover in Danny Strayhorn, and Belle, who is virtually a cameo role in this production. Broderick Wilson shows a very wide skill set, covering everyone from Poppa to Krupp to Rockies (not Rocky 3) and only one of the National engines, Espresso. Prince of Wales, who doesn't race, is a less athletic demanding role so is cast as a principal singer cover rather than needing the strongest dancers.
Swings are usually given one day's notice that they will be performing.
However, there are swings on standby at every performance in case a cast member suddenly falls ill or is injured. This has happened a number of times, such as on 24 May 2015 when Sian Velazquez was given 20 minutes' notice that she would be needed to play Pearl, or on 15 July 2015 when Toby Poole found out as the show started that he would be needed to cover Electra.
Unlike many musical theatre productions, the Bochum production openly shares information about which swings cover which roles, as it is likely that the audience for any performance will see several covers.
The system for male swings is more complicated. Most cover a 'base level' of the National Engines, the Components (Krupp and Purse, sometimes Wrench) and either the Hip Hoppers and/or Flat-Top and/or Dustin. Stronger singers cover the principal roles of Rusty, Greaseball, Electra, Red Caboose and Poppa, as well as some ensemble roles. Some links between characters can usually be made due to the similar requirements of various roles: a swing who covers Rusty usually also covers Caboose, for example. Some swings who cover Greaseball also cover Poppa.
Many productions of Starlight Express have cast one performer to exclusively cover Poppa. This performer is not strictly speaking a swing, but they are included in the category.
In 2005 when the Trax performers came in, they replaced some swings. Peelee, playing Wrench, also covered Electra, Caboose, Flat Top, Dustin, Rockies, Krupp, Purse and even The National Engines!