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BWW Blog: A Webb-isode with Broadway's Jason Michael Webb

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Webb has clearly established himself as a force in the theater industry, but how did his road to Broadway success begin?

BWW Blog: A Webb-isode with Broadway's Jason Michael Webb
Photo Credit: Lelund Durond Thompson
for Lelund Durond Studios

2019 Special Tony Award Recipient and Drama Desk Winner for Tarell Alvin McCraney's "Choir Boy"

2020 Tony Award Nominee for Tennessee Williams' "The Rose Tattoo"

[On receiving a Tony]: "Everytime I think about it, it's surreal. It's like getting affirmation from a parent. My dad was the main one who cheered me on. He would have gotten a big kick out of this."

What do Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jason Michael Webb have in common? Both share similar last names, and both are well-acclaimed Broadway composers who have been recognized with Special Tony Awards. While Webb has been on the Broadway scene since 2005, it was in 2019 that he received a Special Tony Award for his work on the Broadway play Choir Boy. Webb is a multi-talent: composer, lyricist, musical director, producer, and arranger..

With Broadway credits including The Color Purple, Violet, and soon, MJ: The Michael Jackson Musical, Webb has clearly established himself as a force in the theater industry, but how did his road to Broadway success begin? "I started playing [piano] when I was four. There was a piano teacher that lived across the street, a friend of my dad's. I studied classical piano with him, then started playing for churches when I was nine. I developed a love for music and recognized that it was part of my purpose, and was blessed to have awesomely supportive parents who never told me that my dream wasn't valid. My dad asked me once if I wanted to get a teaching degree as 'something to fall back on'; I told him I didn't, and he encouraged me to follow my dream. That foundation set me up to experience a certain amount of success, and has allowed me to help people the way that my dad would have wanted me to".

Surprisingly, Broadway initially seemed unreachable to him. "I always loved Broadway, but I also always thought it was something I could never achieve. Early on, I played a terrible audition for Joseph Joubert, who was looking for a pianist for a touring show. Maybe a year later I went to see the original production of The Color Purple, which Joseph was playing for. Not knowing I was in the audience waiting for the show to begin, Joseph texted me from the orchestra pit asking if I would be interested in playing the show. That's how Broadway started for me. The original production was the first [Broadway] show that I ever played, and the revival was the first one that I music directed. And Joseph went on to be my mentor and big brother."

When asked about being honored with a Special Tony and a Drama Desk in the same year (2019): "Everytime I think about it, it's surreal. It's like getting affirmation from a parent. My dad was the main one who cheered me on. He would have gotten a big kick out of this."

While 2019 was a great year of recognition for Webb, 2020 is shaping up to be the same. When asked about The Rose Tattoo, which earned him a Tony Nomination this year, Webb responded, "Trip [Cullman, director of The Rose Tattoo] and I did a show together called Choir Boy the year before. When I love working with someone, I go to him/her afterwards and say, 'What else do you have that we can work on together?'. That was the conversation that I had with Trip, and with Fitz Patton, who I share the nomination with". For those unfamiliar, The Rose Tattoo is a play by Tennessee Williams about an Italian immigrant in Louisiana who withdraws from the world after the death of her husband and expects her daughter to do the same.

Where was Webb when he found out that he is nominated for a 2020 Tony Award? "I was on a Zoom. I'm working on the RESPECT film [starring Jennifer Hudson] and two virtual events, which are all happening at the same time, so I had no contact with the outside world. People just started texting me congratulations and I was like, 'Ok! For what?' and it all hit me there, at the laptop".

When asked to name his all-time favorite show to work on, Webb replied, "Of course The Color Purple is very special because finally someone trusted me to run the music department of a Broadway show. Choir Boy felt grass-roots, none of us knew it would resonate with everyone the way it did, so that's another special one. When you can work on something because you believe in it and you just want to make a good show. [Pasek & Paul's] Dogfight is my favorite piano book I've played, even though we ended our journey with the Off-Broadway run. I have faith that the show is going to make it to Broadway. I hope somebody [reading this] is going to make that happen."

In Webb's 2019 Tony Award acceptance speech, he shared with the world that he creates music to heal and to help. "Spending so much time working for churches, I've seen how powerful music can be. And not only in a positive way; we've seen music used in ways that aren't positive, or encouraging, or uplifting. So there's a choice that we as artists make. The stronger choice, the better choice, is to use that gift to help someone else. Finding how that manifests is part of the excitement for me. 'When I help somebody else, I receive my healing and my help', so it's a win-win-win. Our job as creatives is to stay speaking, stay creating, and stay using our gifts to help people.".

When I shared with Webb that I booked an ensemble role in John McDaniel and Scott Logdon's new musical Sticks and Stones, Webb told me, "when I first moved to New York, I would look at the people who had already 'made it' and think, 'How can I become part of that circle?' And as we [my generation of Broadway artists] hustled, we've become that circle for the next generation, who I hope are inspired by what we've done. When I hear you talking about your [Broadway] dreams, I think back on how passionate I was when I found it and how thrilling it still is to be a part of it. I'm excited for whatever's coming for you in the Broadway world. Soon shows will be going back into theaters, and your generation is going to help create that world. I'm looking forward to being a part of whatever that journey is."

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