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by Michael Portantiere

Jeremy Jordan: The Follow-Up Interview

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    When last (and first) I interviewed Jeremy Jordan in September 2011, he was rehearsing for the leading role of Jack Kelly in the world premiere production of Newsies at the Paper Mill Playhouse and was set to go straight from that show into Bonnie and Clyde on Broadway, in which he would play Clyde Barrow. As it turned out, Bonnie and Clyde had a very brief run, freeing Jeremy to reprise his Newsies role when that show transferred to Broadway, earning him a Tony Award nomination. Then he joined the cast of the tremendous missed opportunity known as NBC-TV's Smash, playing an extremely weird character. Then, starring opposite Anna Kendrick, he made a film of the mini-masterpiece Jason Robert Brown musical The Last 5 Years (now in post production). And then, and then....

    Well, anyway, Jeremy is currently rehearsing A Bed and a Chair: A New York Love Affair, an intriguing new Wynton Marsalis/Stephen Sondheim collaboration. Directed by John Doyle, choreographed by Parker Esse, and co-starring Bernadette Peters, Cyrille Aimee, and Norm Lewis, the show runs November 13-17 at City Center. I had a chance to catch up with Jeremy, whom I first saw onstage in The Little Dog Laughed at TheaterWorks in Hartford, CT in 2008, at City Center during a lunch break on the second day of rehearsals.


    BROADWAYSTARS: The press releases for A Bed and a Chair have been rather skimpy on details of the show, and I suppose that's on purpose. Can you fill me in without giving away too much?

    JEREMY JORDAN: It's not a concert or cabaret or anything like that. It's kind of a structured revue of Sondheim music. We're getting the arrangements as we go; Wynton Marsalis and his team are rearranging and re-orchestrating the songs. There are also some interesting changes where songs are being sung by different sexes than in the original versions, and some solos have been turned into group numbers. Basically, it's a story of four New Yorkers -- a young couple and an older couple -- and their love affairs with each other and with the city. We tell the story through song, and each of us has a dancer who's kind of our shadow. I'm not sure exactly how that's going to be done, because the dancers haven't come in yet. But it will be an interesting mix of singing, beautiful jazz arrangements, and great dancing.

    STARS: What are some of the numbers?

    JEREMY: I sing a couple of women's songs, "Another Hundred People" from Company and "Losing My Mind" from Follies. And I sing a really interesting version of "Giants in the Sky" [from Into the Woods] which is not like what it is in the show. The group numbers range from "Everybody Says Don't" [from Anyone Can Whistle] to "I Wish I Could Forget You" [from Passion]. There are a few Sondheim standards, but for the most part, they're lesser-known choices of songs that somehow relate to the city and the feelings of the people who live here.

    STARS: It sounds almost like a variation on, or a sequel to, Marry Me a Little.

    JEREMY: I don't know that show, but this one is really John Doyle's brainchild. "A bed and a chair" is a lyric from "Broadway Baby" [from Follies], and John is using it as the concept for the set and the staging.

    STARS: There have been so many revivals and revisals of Sondheim's shows over the past several years, not to mention various revues and other shows that have incorporated his songs. Aside from giving new audiences a chance to experience Sondheim's music and lyrics performed live, it's great that these productions are giving a new generation of artists the chance to work with him.

    JEREMY: Yes. I just did the reading of that revised version of Company, where they made Bobby gay, and he came to the performance. I've only worked with him very briefly a couple of times, but it's wonderful to watch him watch his work being performed. He gets very emotional. It's really cool. And, in this show, I also get to work with Bernadette Peters. I'm very honored to be given the opportunity.

    STARS: It seems like it all happened very quickly, from the first announcement of the show to the casting, the writing of the arrangements, and the production.

    JEREMY: Yes, and I think I was the last person they cast. I knew who else was in it when I got the offer; I swooped in there at the last moment.

    STARS: You don't seem to have had much down-time in your career lately; you've been going from one project or special event to another. As it happens, I re-saw Newsies last night because a friend of mine has joined the cast, and I'm happy to tell you that the show's in great shape, especially in terms of the energy and the sharpness of the dancing. That must have been such a challenging time for you: Making a huge splash in Newsies at Paper Mill, then going right into Bonnie and Clyde and not knowing if you'd be able to do Newsies on Broadway...

    JEREMY: It was one of those things. If it had happened out of nowhere, I probably would have lost my brain; I was doing Newsies at Paper Mill while I was rehearsing Bonnie and Clyde on Broadway, and those were in different states. But I knew what I had to do in advance: "This is what's ahead of you, this is what you have to accomplish." So I just did it, and my body adapted somehow. I never got sick, and I never lost my voice. I've gotten sick and lost my voice over much less than that.

    STARS: But what about the mental and emotional strain of it all?

    JEREMY: It didn't affect me that much, because I don't think I really saw any of that. I was focused on the work. By the time Newsies opened on Broadway, I was only doing one thing, so it was like, "This is a piece of cake!" My body started to relax into it -- and that's when I got a little sick and vocally tired. I had a few rough weeks when we first opened, but as we kept going, I got back to full steam.

    STARS: You and I have spoken before about The Little Dog Laughed in Hartford, but I didn't know until recently who replaced you in that show when you had to leave due to appendicitis: Jonny Orsini.

    JEREMY: Yeah. He had just done the play in Chicago, and they had to find someone who knew the part, so they found him. I was supposed to go back for the end of the run, but it didn't work out. Later in the run, Candy Buckley, who played Julie White's part, was out for a week, and they brought in the woman from the Chicago production to go on for her. So, at one point, almost half our cast was from that production. It was insane. But I really loved the show, and I got my Equity card. I had to work for it; I had to take all my clothes off!

    STARS: You said in our last interview that if you didn't have to be nude in the show, you might have been able to go back into it, because the audience wouldn't have been confused by the surgery scars. I've never had appendicitis, but I've heard it's extremely painful and very scary.

    JEREMY: Oh, it was terrifying. When I got to the hospital, I was wearing ratty pajamas, and I had longer hair then and some stubble. I was heaving and shaking and yelling, "I need morphine!!" They must have thought I was some drug addict. Then they had to do, like, 14 different tests on me before they could give me anything, so I was in pain for hours, just pacing the halls of the E.R. People stayed away from me.

    STARS: A few months ago, we had [songwriter] Joe Iconis as a guest on our BroadwayRadio podcast, and he said something along the lines of how a lot of people assumed you were playing him on Smash, because he wrote several songs for the show, and they therefore assumed the worst about Joe's personality.

    JEREMY: Really? I wasn't trying to play Joe, I was just playing what they gave me, which was: Crazy guy. Very angry young man. It was difficult. Josh Safran, the show runner, told me, "I have all these ideas for what I want your character to do, but I don't think I should tell you." I was, like, "Why not?" And he said, "Because they're probably not going to stay." With a network show, the writers bring in all these ideas that are hacked up and rearranged by the producers. Josh did tell me some really cool things that were going to happen with my character, and then none of them happened. We ended up with a mish-mash of ideas from different people, and a sort of a compromise on the character, because he was becoming too dark. Ultimately, it wasn't nearly as interesting as I thought it could have been, but that's the nature of a bunch of producers at each others' throats.

    STARS: That's too bad. And it's ironic, because don't the most successful TV shows tend to be those where one person's vision prevails?

    JEREMY: Yes. I think that's absolutely true. And those shows are usually on cable. There are some great network shows, but when a show is on a network, it can often skew that singular focus, that one person's idea of how to thread the whole thing together. I think, with Smash, everybody held it so dearly that no one wanted to let any of their ideas go. From what I understand, it led to a lot of arguments. Luckily, I wasn't privy to most of that.

    STARS: Please tell me a little about The Last 5 Years.

    JEREMY: I finally saw a rough cut of it last week for the first time, and I think it's going to be something special. It's definitely different from anything else I've ever seen on screen. It was a real challenge adapting a musical where you're standing on stage alone with minimal sets, singing solos back and forth with one other person, as a film that integrates the songs into the real world and incorporates each of the characters into the other one's songs. But the payoff when you understand the crossing time lines, and when you find where you are in the story with each song, is really beautiful. We sang almost everything live...

    STARS: Oh, really? Is that the Les Mis effect?

    JEREMY: It has nothing to do with Les Mis. Absolutely nothing to do with it. In fact, I think Les Mis did it wrong. But the idea is a good one, and the goal is the same. Both shows are through-sung. All of the character choices, everything that happens -- all of it is sung. If you have a week of rehearsals to pre-record the vocals, then you go into a studio and do the recording, and then you lip synch or sing along to those tracks while you're shooting, you can't find anything new. You're not allowed any room for creative exploration. Since we were singing live as we shot, we were able to make it more organic. I don't think it feels "performed." About halfway through the movie, it's almost like you forget we're singing. You're just in the story with these two people.

    STARS: I'm really looking forward to seeing it. Before I let you go: Since the first thing I saw you in was a straight play, although a very gay straight play, I'm wondering if you'd like to do more non-musical work.

    JEREMY: Of course. I'm very, very eager to do something non-musical, whether it's a movie or a TV show or a play. But people know me as a singer, and I wouldn't say I'm looking not to do a musical. There are a couple of things coming up that I'm keeping my fingers crossed on. We'll see.


    [For more information on A Bed and a Chair, or to purchase tickets, visit nycitycenter.org]

    Published on Wednesday, November 6, 2013

    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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