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Interview with Newsies, Smash and Supergirl star Jeremy Jordan
Jeremy Jordan is an actor who has excelled in musical theatre, film and television and over the past five years has developed a loyal and dedicated fanbase. Having appeared in Broadway productions of Rock of Ages and West Side Story, his breakout lead role came in the form of Frank Wildhorn's short-lived 2011 musical Bonnie and Clyde, in which he created the role of Clyde Barrow in what would go on to be regarded as a cult favourite. In 2012 he landed the lead role in Disney's stage adaptation of Newsies, bringing the character of Jack Kelly, famously created in the film by Christian Bale, to the stage for the first time in what would go on to be an unexpected musical theatre phenomenon.
Four years since leaving the Broadway production, which ended up running for 1004 performances at the Nederlander Theatre and amassing a huge following, he is since known for musical screen roles, not only in the infamous second season of SMASH but also the big screen adaptation of Jason Robert Brown's musical 'The Last Five Years' in which he starred alongside Anna Kendrick. Currently starring as Winslow Schott, Jr. in TV's smash hit 'Supergirl', I recently caught up with him mid-filming to talk about his return to the role of Jack Kelly for the upcoming film release of Newsies that hits cinemas around the world next month.
“It was cool, it was crazy, the character was still in the back of my mind”, he laughs, talking about the whirlwind experience of returning to his most famous stage role. “It had been four years since I left the Broadway show so I was a little out of practice, but after a day or two it fit like an old glove. Luckily we had a couple of original cast members returning so the chemistry really clicked into place for those characters, and the tour kids were super excited and fun.”
Returning to a role that you've previously played is always a challenge for any actor, especially given the intense rehearsal and performance conditions surrounding the filming of Newsies. “It was just a really fun project, but it was also one of the hardest things I've ever done” Jordan comments. “You turn up and have four or five days to rehearse an entire show that you're going to do without stopping by the end of that week and a half period – it was pretty intense. Lots of cramming and throwing it all together. It was really gratifying and a really fun role to do – I loved every second of revisiting it, I wished that it could have lasted a bit longer than a couple of weeks!”
Having time out from a role can often change your perspective on a show or experience as a whole, and having since expanded his musical and dramatic reach I wonder if Jeremy came back to the role of Jack Kelly with a different perspective on the character.
“Parts of it were falling right back into place and parts of it were really trying to rediscover”, he explains. “Having an outside perspective and jumping back into it meant you got to think about how you were saying the lines or if the energy should be slightly different. After a while you fall into a bit of a routine when you do a show over and over again and you stop finding new things because the show is in your body. It's great to rediscover things and find out where he can be a little bit more relaxed, where he can fire up the intensity a bit more and also vocal choices.”
The intensity of the rehearsal and filming period made the show feel less like a live theatre performance and more of a film or TV show, he explains. “We didn't have a great deal of time to do it – we rehearsed for three or four days then filmed it over five days in little segments, a lot like how you film a movie before the big live show. We had one big performance at the end so we could get audience reactions but you can only film a few angles like that. The cameras were up on stage, filming it really intricately, especially with the dance numbers. I haven't seen any of it so I'm excited to see what they've done with it".
The Broadway production was enjoyed partly due to the Tony Award-winning score by Alan Menken, but also because of the energy and execution of choreographer Christopher Gattelli's extraordinary routines. The musical was never expected to transfer to Broadway following its initial run at the Papermill Playhouse, but extreme reactions to the production came as a shock to both cast and creative team.
“I think honestly it was that first opening night out of town” Jordan comments, trying to come up with his favourite memory of the original run. “We did the first production in New Jersey outside of New York and it was really meant to be mounted and put on tour. It was requested to be licensed in schools, and in order to do that you need to mount a full production. That first audience that we had was so electric we just thought there's something going on here that's much bigger than what we anticipated. That was sort of the first spark.”
As word of mouth grew exponentially and fans flocked to the show in New Jersey, New York and now on US Tour the musical took on a life of its own and helped cement Jordan's status as a modern Broadway leading man. Despite having now crossed over into the realm of TV and film, he is confident that he will be back in musical theatre in the near future. “I've been doing this television show for a couple of years now, it's great and a different thing for me but I miss the theatre” he explains. “I'll be back as soon as I can, I don't know when I'll get the opportunity to do it. I'll be back to the theatre 100%, it's certainly not something that I'll put behind me.”
Musical theatre fans around the world became obsessed with NBC's 'Smash' which Jordan joined for the second and final season in the role of troubled genius musical theatre composer Jimmy Collins. With such a strong fanbase the show continues to attract new viewers and fans of the show continue to push for a third season. “Yeah right – maybe Netflix will pick it up in ten years” Jordan laughs as I talk about the obsession surrounding the troubled TV show. “The problem is most of the actors are busy. I'm not saying that I've heard anything because I certainly haven't! I think it would be difficult because there were so many cooks in the kitchen that had 'ownership' of it, it would have to wait for them all to get back together or someone to relinquish it, and that would be pretty astonishing.”
For now Jordan remains happy to continue the Newsies journey and is excited at the development of musical theatre excelling on film. “It can provide access to people who might not have access in the first place and build interest beyond the reaches of Broadway”, he explains. “There are so many people who can't even see a show on tour – it's expensive. To see something that costs the same as a movie, I think it can only help Broadway and inspire other young people to take that step if they want to. It's a good way of reaching out. I really think that musical theatre is an incredible form of entertainment that has certainly had a revival, it's good to reinvent that world even if it's going back to its roots and showing people what a musical can be – what it feels like when you're really there. I just feel like the world is moving to becoming a bit more accepting of the genre.”
For London audiences who never got to see the production there is great excitement surrounding the upcoming screen version. “Newsies never made it to London, there was always talk of putting it on the West End but it never made it” he explains. “It's an incredible show, it's got a lot of heart to it, some great history, something for the entire family. It's got great dancing and story, really catchy music – something really for everyone. If you're a theatre fan or a fan of seeing something good and exciting then it's definitely the show for you.”
Newsies is screened in the UK on February 19th 2017.