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by Michael Portantiere

Jeremy Jordan Makes Headlines

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    The phrase "up-and-comer" absolutely applies to Jeremy Jordan, in spades. The young actor has the leading role of Jack Kelly in the wildly anticipated stage adaptation of the Disney film Newsies, premiering on September 25 at the Paper Mill Playhouse. Soon after that show opens, he'll go into rehearsal for the Broadway run of the Frank Wildhorn musical Bonnie & Clyde, recreating the role of Clyde Barrow, which he played last year in a production at the Asolo Repertory Theater in Florida. And, come January, you'll be able to see him at your local multiplex as one of the principals in the new film A Joyful Noise, starring Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah.

    Jeremy's skyrocketing career is all the more gratifying to me in that I happened to catch his excellent performance in what was, to all intents and purposes, his first professional theater gig, as the bisexual call boy Alex in a 2008 production of Douglas Carter Beane's The Little Dog Laughed at TheaterWorks in Hartford, CT. He and I recently spoke about Newsies and the other great things that are happening for him.


    BROADWAYSTARS: It's a very busy and exciting time for you, Jeremy. I'm guessing that as soon as Newsies opens, you'll go into rehearsals for Bonnie and Clyde.

    JEREMY JORDAN: I'll have a little bit of a break, but yes, there will be some overlap. I'll be rehearsing one show while performing another. It'll be nuts. During rehearsals [for Bonnie & Clyde], I'm sure I'll be, like, "You guys have heard me do this. I don't have to sing full out."

    STARS: I was lucky enough to see you in The Little Dog Laughed, which I believe was your first major theater job.

    JJ: Yes. I had done some summer stock shows while I was still in college at Ithaca, but that was my first show out of school, and it got me my Equity card.

    STARS: Especially because of the way the role of Alex is written, it was great to see someone completely new in the part.

    JJ: New and nude! I was definitely shot out of cannon in that show. Welcome to the real world!

    STARS: As I remember, you had your appendix removed during the run of the show.

    JJ: Yes. I was in New York on a day off, for an audition. I woke up in the middle of the night, feeling gassy. I ended up going to the E.R. and, about four hours later, I was in surgery. My appendix didn't burst, but it was probably the most painful thing I've ever experienced. I was out of the show for three weeks, and then I was supposed to go back, but we all thought it was safer to replace me, so they got someone who had done the part before. Maybe I could have gone back if I didn't have to be naked; we would have had to explain why there were scars on my abdomen.

    STARS: Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, was the show a good experience for you?

    JJ: Oh, it was a fantastic experience. I was amazed, having usually done musicals before that, to get a straight play as my first professional job. The script is funny, challenging, and very exciting. It really pushed me farther as an actor than I'd ever been pushed before. It was the first time I ever cried onstage. I had a blast.

    STARS: You had great chemistry with Chad Allen, who played Mitchell in that production.

    JJ: Chad! I used to joke that he was straighter than I am.

    STARS: In what respect?!

    JJ: Well, I'm straight, and Chad's gay. But during our off times, he would say to me, "Dude, let's lift some weights! Let's go rock climbing!" And I'd be, like, "Can't we just watch a movie?"

    STARS: You both were terrific in the play, but of course, I had no inkling that you could sing. The next I heard, you were in Rock of Ages.

    JJ: Yes, I was a swing in that show, and it was a great introduction to Broadway. Then I went into West Side Story as an alternate Tony, and I went on twice a week. I got to work with Arthur Laurents and to sing probably the most iconic Broadway score ever written. It was definitely a bucket list sort of thing. How many people can say they played Tony on Broadway?

    STARS: I met you briefly at the opening night party for Rock of Ages through Angel Reed, who was also in the show and who used to be my next-door neighbor.

    JJ: I love Angel. I just ran into her a few weeks ago. She had her baby with her.

    STARS: Does the baby look like her daddy, Constantine Maroulis?

    JJ: No, I think she looks more like Angel. And she's gorgeous, especially for a baby. Most babies look like little, tiny old men, but this one is really beautiful. She definitely looks more like her mother than her father -- which is good, seeing how she's a girl.

    STARS: You're 26 years old, but you read even younger on stage. I'm sure that's been very helpful in booking parts like Tony in West Side Story and Jack in Newsies.

    JJ: Yeah, certainly. Bonnie & Clyde is the closest I've ever played to my real age. No, that's a lie; in The Little Dog Laughed, I played my actual age. In Newsies, I'm playing 17, and I'm not 17. But I have a baby face, and I shave. It's definitely something that has worked for me, and hopefully it will work for at least a couple more years! It's great playing young in Newsies. And it's funny because, when I actually was 17, I was this meek, kind of nerdy kid, very shy and introverted. Now here I am playing Jack Kelly, who's the cock of the walk -- everything I wasn't when I was that age. Also, it's taken me many years to look anything like the jocks in high school. Being an actor gives me a chance to sort of go back and try out other lives that I might have led.

    STARS: How old is Clyde supposed to be?

    JJ: The show takes place over a period of four years, and he goes from 20 to 24. Bonnie and Clyde were very young when they died; they were 23 and 24. In the movie, those actors were much older.

    STARS: In your program bio for Newsies, you say, "I am literally living a childhood fantasy playing the role of Jack Kelly."

    JJ: That's true. As a kid, I loved a good Disney movie as much as any other kid, but most of those movies were animated cartoons about princesses and love and all that stuff. Newsies was a live-action movie about a bunch of rough guys being guys. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. It only played in theaters for a few weeks, but I saw it two or three times.

    STARS: It was not a critical or financial success in its initial release, but it became very popular on home video. Why do you think that is?

    JJ: Probably for the same reason that I loved the movie: It's just a bunch of boys doing what boys do. And a lot of people respond to the revolutionary aspect of the story. I met someone who told me that his brother really connected with the whole newsboys-on-strike plot line when he was a kid, and now he's the head of his union. Also, the music is great, very percussive and beat driven. I think that really helped the movie develop a cult following when it hit home video. But I loved it from the get-go.

    STARS: Christian Bale played Jack in the movie, and I for one think his New York accent is very impressive, especially for a Brit. Are you guys going for thick Noo Yawk accents at Paper Mill?

    JJ: We certainly are -- and we're trying to be as authentic as we can, even though there aren't any recordings of how people spoke in 1899. I'm definitely going full out. These kids were poor, some of them even lived on the streets, so they'd have the thickest New York accents you could possibly imagine.

    STARS: Your show has most of the songs from the movie, plus several new ones. Jack's big song in the movie is "Santa Fe," and it's very effective. Do you enjoy that number?

    JJ: Yes. I don't want to give too much away, but "Santa Fe" is used as the quintessential song of this musical. We've made it kind of epic, and you'll hear flashes of it throughout the show in reprises. It's not a big chorus number of anything, but it's Jack's defining moment. You'll see why.

    STARS: Here's a funny coincidence I've noticed: Both Jack in Newsies and Roger in Rent sing about wanting to move to Santa Fe. What's that all about?

    JJ: [Laughs] Well, I've heard it's a beautiful city.

    STARS: Anyway, you must be so excited about all of your current projects.

    JJ: It's been a ride. Newsies opens in September, Bonnie & Clyde opens in November, and I have a movie coming out in January.

    STARS: Yes, I definitely wanted to ask you about that before I let you go.

    JJ: It's called Joyful Noise, and it's about a gospel choir. I play Dolly Parton's grandson. It's kind of an incredible story, how I got the part: The writer/director, Todd Graff, came to see Rock of Ages on the night of my very first performance as a lead. The show had been running for about two months, I was a swing for five of the roles, and one day I was told I'd be going on the next day for Constantine. It was going to be my first time setting foot on Broadway, and I hadn't even rehearsed the second act. But I went on with a wing and prayer, and somehow I pulled it off. Todd happened to be in the audience that night. And the rest is history! I just hope the movie and both of the shows I'm doing are received well. That's all I can hope for. I'm certainly having fun, that's for sure.

    Published on Sunday, September 18, 2011

    Michael Portantiere has more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has interviewed theater notables for NPR.org, PLAYBILL, STAGEBILL, and OPERA NEWS, and has written notes for several cast albums. Michael is co-author of FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: BEHIND THE MYLAR CURTAIN, published in 2008 by Hal Leonard/Applause. Additionally, he is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several major websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.) He can be reached at [email protected]

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