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InDepth InterView: Jeremy Jordan Talks NY Pops THE WIZARD & I Schwartz Gala, SMASH, LAST FIVE YEARS Film, NEWSIES & More


Last week I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Broadway headliner and SMASH Season Two Breakout star Jeremy Jordan about a wide range of topics, covering the vast majority of his career thus far in anticipation of the upcoming New York Pops Stephen Schwartz concert event, THE WIZARD & I: THE MUSICAL JOURNEY OF Stephen Schwartz on April 12 at Carnegie Hall. So, today, in this all-encompassing conversation, Jordan and I discuss his preparation for the sure-to-be sensational Schwartz event and provides analysis and ideas on the songs he will be performing as well as Schwartz's oeuvre in general. Also, Schwartz reveals a plethora of information about Season Two of NBC's musical drama series SMASH and what we can expect from the series over the next several weeks as the drama heats up and HIT LIST hits the stage. Also, Jordan reveals preliminary information about the forthcoming feature film adaptation of Jason Robert Brown's celebrated Off Broadway musical THE LAST FIVE YEARS, co-starring fellow Broadway/Hollywood crossover Anna Kendrick, and he shares some initial impressions of the project, as well as new details about what we can expect from the highly anticipated Richard LaGravenese-directed movie musical that is set to start shooting in June. Additionally, Jordan reflects upon his time playing Tony in WEST SIDE STORY under the direction of Arthur Laurents, in addition to remarking upon roles he would enjoy pursuing in the future, near and far, as well as much, much more!

More information on THE WIZARD & I: THE MUSICAL JOURNEY OF Stephen Schwartz, conducted by Steven Reineke with the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall on April 12 is available here.

Broadway, Here He Is

PC: You have an upcoming appearance everyone is looking forward to with THE WIZARD & I: THE MUSICAL JOURNEY OF Stephen Schwartz, on April 12 at Carnegie Hall. Will you be singing any WICKED material in the show? Have you ever considered playing Fiyero?

JJ: You know, I won't lie: I have never actually auditioned for WICKED, but when I first got to New York I think they were auditioning for male ensemble singer tracks, but I really never auditioned for it - nobody has ever called me in for it, either; which is interesting!

PC: You would seem an ideal fit for Fiyero, I would think.

JJ: I think so, too - I imagine I could play Fiyero. Who knows, though? But, to answer your question: no, I unfortunately will not be singing anything from WICKED at the Carnegie Hall concert. The girls get all the WICKED songs.

PC: Like always.

JJ: Like always!

PC: What can we expect from you in the show?

JJ: Oh, I am really excited to just sing Stephen's stuff - especially at Carnegie Hall! Oh, my God. I mean, I have never gotten to sing Stephen's stuff professionally, either, so I am excited about getting the chance to do that. I mean, I don't even know him, so I am just excited that I will be getting to know him a little bit doing this - I am really looking forward to that.

PC: What will you be performing?

JJ: Well, I am going to be singing "Lost In The Wilderness" from CHILDREN OF EDEN.

PC: A perfect fit for your voice, no doubt. A gorgeous song.

JJ: Yeah, it really is - and we are doing it in the original key, which is the key of A. The sheet music is published in G, but I am doing it in the original key because, you know, why not?!

PC: Would you be open to doing CHILDREN OF EDEN someday? It has never been on Broadway and it is one of Schwartz's best scores, I think.

JJ: Oh, yeah! I totally agree - I love CHILDREN OF EDEN, too. I'd love to do it someday. It's never been on Broadway - you're right. That could be really amazing.

PC: You are the right age to do it, too - especially if they triple-cast it like they often do with that show.

JJ: I love that idea - and I love that song. I love singing it.

PC: What else can we look forward to in the concert?

JJ: Well, I am also singing "Morning Glow" from PIPPIN, which I am really excited about.

PC: Another expect selection for you. Are you familiar with the Jackson 5 cover? It's a pretty funky version.

JJ: Oh, yeah - of course, man! I'm definitely going to be channeling a little Michael Jackson for this. Definitely.

PC: Will you be singing anything else?

JJ: Yes, I am also doing a song that Stephen Schwartz did the lyrics to and Alan Menken wrote the music for - "Out There", which is from THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME.

PC: If anyone's voice can nail those crazy high money notes...

JJ: Oh, yeah, that one is a little tricky, let me tell you! [Laughs.]

PC: That was such a big movie when we were growing up, don't you remember?

JJ: Oh, yeah, man - totally; for guys, especially, I think. THE LION KING, ALADDIN - oh, and NEWSIES, too, of course!

PC: Are you under consideration for ALADDIN onstage coming up, as far as you know?

JJ: Well, I haven't heard anything if I am. I'd imagine that they are using who they tried it out-of-town with, though. Honestly, I don't think I would want to subject myself to a role where I would have to have my shirt half off the whole time, so... [Laughs.]

PC: It's a big gym commitment - ask the cast of AIDA!

JJ: Yeah, that's just too much pressure, man, you know?

PC: What about HUNCHBACK? That is another great Schwartz score never to grace the Broadway stage quite yet. There are some fantastic new songs they wrote for the stage score, too.

JJ: I've heard that, too. That score is ludicrous - ludicrous! I mean, who do you expect to be able to sing that score? It's insane!

PC: And insanely beautiful.

JJ: So, so beautiful. It's a great score and I'd love to do it. I keep hearing that they are trying to redevelop it, so I would be onboard for that. I have talked to Alan about it - last year. I mean, why not? It could be amazing.

PC: You can say that again!

JJ: I mean, I already have a crappy back, so now I just need to find a solution for the hunch! [Laughs.]

PC: In speaking of another concert showstopper you recently did: your duet with Jonathan Groff on SMASH's "Let Me Be Your Star" at MCC's MISCAST gala was so sensational. Had you two ever performed together before?

JJ: Well, I actually met him for the first time doing that together - I also met Cheyenne [Jackson] for the first time doing that. It was really, really fun to get to work with both of these iconic modern musical theatre stars and get to work hand in hand with them and sing those great songs - and they were incredibly sweet and kind and funny. God, I miss doing funny stuff! I mean, really funny stuff... Jimmy on SMASH is so dramatic.

PC: You can say that again.

JJ: I mean, when I first started doing theatre in college I always did character roles because I never learned how to stand up straight and I was a little heavier then, so I really have missed comedy - I am looking forward to doing more soon. I think LAST FIVE YEARS will be a nice switch for me because there is definitely some great funny stuff in that, too.

PC: Would you be open to appearing on Glee someday - perhaps even with Jonathan?

JJ: I'd be open to a guest spot, I think - I don't know if being a series regular on Glee after having already been one on SMASH would be a sort of lateral move for me or upwards. But, I'd love to do a guest spot, though - definitely.

PC: THE LAST FIVE YEARS on film could be the launching pad for your rising star to rise even higher. Do you anticipate that?

JJ: Yeah, I hope so! I mean, while it is still a musical, it is really next-level material - it's hardcore, heavy, intense and fun, too. I am so excited about it. I can't wait to get started.

PC: So, filming starts in June? Where will you shoot?

JJ: Yeah, we are scheduled to start shooting in June and we will be filming mostly in New York, as far as I know. That's the plan. I have my first rehearsal on Sunday, actually.

PC: A Happy Easter it will be!

JJ: Yeah, Anna [Kendrick], the director and I will be having rehearsals all through April. So, we are starting off and then she has to go film a movie or something and then when she comes back we will hit the ground running.

PC: Have you two worked together before at any point?

JJ: No, no - I've actually never even met her in person yet. We've spoken on e-mail and stuff, though. We were trying to get together recently, but I guess she doesn't live in New York so it is a little difficult. Hopefully, we will get a drink before we start rehearsals and everything and, I don't know, get to know each other's favorite colors or something. [Laughs.]

PC: You will need to have quite a rapport for these two roles, don't you think?

JJ: We will. I can't wait to get started on rehearsals.

PC: Will there be any other actors in the movie?

JJ: Yeah, it is not going to be just us - the whole movie, at this point, is about ninety-five percent sung-through with a few lines of dialogue here and there. A couple of people get to say other things, though - you'll see Elyse, the girl that Jamie ends up leaving Cathy for. And you will see Jamie's agents. You'll see all the people at the summer stock theatre in Ohio, too.

PC: No way! Even Wayne the Snake?

JJ: I think that's that plan! You know, it's the real world, though - it's taking place in the real world. When we do our songs, even if they are solos, when we do the songs in the scenes I will be singing to her and she will be there in the scene and reacting but I will be the one singing and vice-versa. But, that's just the way that it is right now - things could change. That is the sort of concept that we are going for at the moment. I think it is going to be incredible.

PC: It sounds revolutionary.

JJ: Yeah, it's kind of experimental in the way that it is structured, though - you know: solo, solo, solo; for a movie, that's kind of weird and different.

PC: The score is so remarkable. Have you ever sung Jason Robert Brown's music before?

JJ: I haven't. I haven't ever sung it in a professional setting, at least. So, I am totally, totally pumped. I think the album came out right before I went off to college, so I remember it being a huge, huge thing at the time.

PC: You can say that again - I'm 28, too; I remember.

JJ: Of course! Of course! Yeah, man, it was this huge thing! You know! I just remember everyone being like, "This is the holy grail of musical theatre recordings!" I was actually talking to Anna about it, too - she's the same age as us. So, yeah, it's just amazing we're doing it. THE LAST FIVE YEARS is this quintessential piece and every song is an actor's song and every song is incredibly difficult and incredibly powerful and incredibly amazing. It was one of those things in college where, like, you gauged how good you were by how well you were able to pull off a song from THE LAST FIVE YEARS.

PC: That's so funny - and true, too.

JJ: Yeah, I mean, if you could do "Moving Too Fast" and "Nobody Needs To Know" really, really well, you kind of knew you would make it someday, somehow! [Laughs.]

PC: Have you discussed if the profanity will stay in or not? To qualify for a PG-13, a f-bomb or two might have to go.

JJ: [Pause.] Wait, this is supposed to be PG-13? [Laughs.]

PC: I assumed so. Is it?

JJ: Well, I don't know - the script that I read actually had quite a bit of nudity in it, but I think they ended up taking a lot of that out. I think that it can still be PG-13 how it is, though. I don't think there are that many "f*cks" in it, are there?

PC: At least three or four.

JJ: Yeah, he says it once or twice and she says it twice, I guess, so I guess you are right - but, that's not a lot, really. There is no way I can foresee them changing any of it because of that, though.

PC: Are you considering live singing for any of the film?

JJ: Well, I think that some of it needs to be sung live - at the same time, I think that a lot of it can't, though. Some of the production numbers would be too difficult to do live onset, I think - especially on something with a low budget like this.

PC: Can you give any examples yet, even at this early stage of the game?

JJ: I think some examples would be "If I Didn't Believe In You" - something like that - or "A Miracle Would Happen"; some of those sort-of spoke-sung songs you kind of almost have to do live because they are so spontaneous and in The Moment that to focus on lip-synching and trying to get the exact perfect placement of every word in while also getting to that emotional place that you have to get to to bring off the song, you're not going to be able to commit one-hundred-percent to the scene and the action and the emotion of it if you are thinking about getting the lyrics properly placed just like when you recorded it two months ago.

PC: So, pre-record can be perilous on a movie musical, too.

JJ: Yeah, I mean, I think that with things that are more sort of rhythmically in place - songs like "Shiksa Goddess" or "Moving Too Fast" have a really rhythmic through-line and so those songs are a little bit easier to follow along to on a recording as opposed to some of the songs that are more spoken and have more freedom or more legato, which is a lot of the score, too. So, I think we will be doing lots of stuff live, but not all of it.

PC: The SMASH experience has prepared you well, no doubt. Baptism by fire, in a way, would you say?

JJ: Oh, yeah - it really has. And, also, the fact is that when you are filming something and you are doing fifty takes of a scene, some of that stuff you can really only sing through three or four times a day and then your voice is done. That's another thing about live singing.

PC: Particularly with some of these tricky LAST FIVE YEARS songs.

JJ: Exactly. You have to think logistically as a singer at all times, and, you know, to give a one-hundred-and-fifty-percent performance over and over and over and over again - multiple takes, from multiple angles - that can be too much to ask of somebody sometimes.

PC: The director can use it to the vocal's advantage or disadvantage, as well - "Bring Him Home" in LES MISERABLES was reportedly the final take, number nineteen or thereabouts.

JJ: And, also, with LES MISERABLES, a way that they sort of cheated all of what I was talking about was by using the ultra-close-up shots of everybody - so, you know, the director could pick and choose among shots and not have to worry about the people in the background matching up or whatever. If you are stacked tight on somebody like that, in ultra-close-up, you can cut back and forth from it and use multiple takes and it all works better. The way that they stylistically did it made it all feasible to sing the whole thing live, I think, though, which was a great choice for them.

PC: Did you enjoy the film?

JJ: Well, I haven't seen the whole thing, but I have seen bits and pieces of it and I have liked what I have seen.

PC: REEFER MADNESS is a masterful little indie movie musical along the lines of LAST FIVE YEARS, budget-wise. Have you happened to see it?

JJ: [Laughs.] Oh, yes, I have!

PC: It's a perfect little gem - just like LAST FIVE YEARS could potentially be.

JJ: Totally! Totally. I think that's true.

PC: Have you begun work with Richard LaGravenese one on one yet?

JJ: Oh, yeah - we've met multiple times. We had a Skype meeting and then I had a couple of auditions with him - he's a really, really cool guy. He's very, very insightful and knows that score better than anyone. It's ludicrous - he's just so into it!

PC: Do you anticipate the score will have a similar sound to the original orchestration or will it be opened up and/or contemporized at all?

JJ: I don't know for sure at this point. I mean, it's not a big budget film, so I imagine they will probably keep it all fairly simple. I don't see why they would change it too much - I mean, if it ain't broke...

PC: Precisely. The original sound is pretty classic.

JJ: It's totally classic - they were incredible; Sherie [Rene Scott] and Norbert [Leo Butz] are just so amazing.

PC: Norbert appeared on SMASH last season, as well, so you share that kinship.

JJ: Oh, yeah - I know. I watched the show last year, of course, you know! He was fantastic. I've never gotten to meet him, but, God, I hope I do get to meet him at some point during this whole process - he's such an inspiration to me. I am such a big fan of his.

PC: Let's hope for some Norbert and Sherie cameos in the film. Maybe somewhere in the park for "The Next Ten Minutes"?

JJ: [Laughs.] Yeah, I think that would be really wonderful. I mean, I don't see why at least Sherie wouldn't make a little cameo appearance at least.

PC: Especially since her incredibly talented husband, Kurt Deutsch, is involved on the producing side of things.

JJ: Yeah, Ghostlight is an amazing label. I mean, just that original recording they did is so incredible. And, I worked with Kurt when we recorded NEWSIES.

PC: Of course.

JJ: Kurt was actually there at one of the auditions I had with the director [for THE LAST FIVE YEARS]. So, I know him fairly well now and I look forward to getting to know him even better now that we are doing the movie. He's a really, really great guy and I am so excited about all of it.

PC: Do you think LAST FIVE YEARS has an added hurdle to navigate since it is not a Broadway title and it originally had a short run?

JJ: Well, I wouldn't say LAST FIVE YEARS was unsuccessful, I just don't think it was ever a Broadway show - it wasn't trying to be. It never had that sort of scope or feel, I don't think.

PC: Have you seen the new revival yet?

JJ: I think we are all going to go together, so I am waiting to hear from them about it. I have worked with Adam [Kantor] before, so I am excited to see him do it.

PC: Has Jason Robert Brown written anything new for the film? A new song perhaps?

JJ: Not that I know of - there isn't one in the script. I haven't gotten to meet Jason yet, so I am really excited to get to meet him and sort of pick his brain about all of it. Not only is the music so great, but the lyrics are just so relatable and so incredibly moving. It's pretty special.

PC: It's autobiographical to a point, as well, clearly.

JJ: Right - that's true. And, I think that is one of the reasons that it is so relatable and so touching and moving - I think that everybody can find something to relate to in it, if not multiple things to relate to, in both characters. I mean, I've never heard a song before where a guy is cheating on his wife and you still feel for him like that [in "Nobody Needs To Know"] or a guy with a wandering eye can still at the end of the day be seen as a good guy [in "Moving Too Fast"].

PC: Such rich characters - and such a detailed score.

JJ: It's going to be an interesting line to walk - to keep Jamie relatable and likeable and have people still feel for him while he does these crappy things. But, at the same time, Cathy isn't not to blame, either, for her various shortcomings. So, it will be very interesting to see how people react to all of that. I am very excited to explore it all. And, Anna is an incredible, incredible actress and I can only hope to try to meet her at her level.

PC: The news of your casting was received extremely well judging from the overwhelmingly positive comments on BroadwayWorld.

JJ: [Laughs.] That's really, really nice to hear. I am so honored to have fans that are so supportive and cool.

PC: Jeff Calhoun spoke so favorably of working with you on BONNIE & CLYDE and NEWSIES last year and I was curious if you could tell me what your first audition for him was like?

JJ: Oh, my God! I'm trying to think of my very first audition for Jeff. Hmm. [Pause.] Well, I guess it was for BONNIE & CLYDE. He had seen me in the very first reading of NEWSIES - he wasn't actually onboard to direct at that point - and so he saw me in that and then I auditioned for him for BONNIE & CLYDE's out-of-town run in Sarasota to replace Stark Sands, who was doing AMERICAN IDIOT. And, so, they were like, "Oh, we need to find somebody," and I had never met Frank or Jeff or anybody [involved with BONNIE & CLYDE] at that point and it was very informal - he has always been a big supporter and very nice to me from the get-go. So, that was the only time I ever auditioned for Jeff was for that first audition for the out-of-town tryout of BONNIE & CLYDE.

PC: Had you seen the show in La Jolla prior to auditioning?

JJ: No. They did the show in La Jolla and I never saw it there myself, though I did see some clips from it and I read the script. It was a little bit more showy - our version became a bit more gritty, I think.

PC: Was that the main difference, in your estimation?

JJ: Yeah, I think that was the key difference between the two versions of the show, at least just in terms of reading [the first version] and doing the final version.

PC: It is Frank Wildhorn's best score, I would say.

JJ: I agree. He did amazing work on BONNIE & CLYDE.

PC: It's a shame it only ran for a few weeks like it did.

JJ: Sixty-nine performances, I think it was. It's very unfortunate that Frank has developed this stigma with Broadway critics that I think is just ludicrous, really. And, anyway, you should judge each work individually and not try to put a label on someone just because of one or two things, I think. That's a whole other issue, I guess, though.

PC: Among the controversial elements of the show was the violence and also the nudity out of town: was it ever discussed that the show would retain the full-frontal nudity for Broadway?

JJ: Yeah, I don't think so. [Laughs.] They never suggested it to me. But, you know, when you do that sort of thing they generally tell you about it before you sign your contract and it is in your contract and all of that. I remember that when we were in Florida during the rehearsals for the out-of-town run Jeff was showing me set pieces and what the staging would be like and he was like, "Oh, and here's the tub - don't worry, you're only naked for half a second." And, I was like, "What?! Naked?! Nobody told me about that!" [Laughs.]

PC: It was a surprise, then, I take it!

JJ: Definitely. So, yeah, we eventually just ended up giving a butt-shot for a second, I guess, and that's it.

PC: The soap bubbles used onstage are sometimes known to be cumbersome. Did you have any bizarre moments using it? What did you use?

JJ: Oh, God, we tried so many things! So many things.

PC: Like what?

JJ: We tried real soap, we tried stage soap, we tried fake soap - the fact that it was a quick-change made it so I had to strip off my clothes immediately and then run and jump into the tub. And, then, they had to move the tub on in like twenty seconds, so there was no way they could move a tub full of real soap-water onstage in that time - and, then, my change out of it was maybe thirty or forty seconds going from totally naked to a three-piece suit, so there was no way I could have dried off and gotten all the bubbles off myself in that amount of time, so what ended up working best was just having this sheer cloth with bubble wrap and little silver sparkle paper pieces on it - and it really looked like water with soap from the audience!

PC: You finally found something that worked!

JJ: We did. From the audience, it really looked real. So, then, we just put a little bit of suds on my arm and my leg and that was enough to make it look real.

PC: It pulled off the illusion.

JJ: It did, but, you know, it was really awkward because we didn't have anything in the tub when we first did it, and, so, in the scene Laura is kind of sitting in the tub with me, like, looking down on me, so the last thing I wanted was to have that moment be incredibly uncomfortable for both of us by having me sitting there right below her totally naked in an empty tub, so we had to develop this little cloth cover thing that I could put on. It was pretty hilarious. [Laughs.]

PC: What a great memory. When Laura did this column, she relayed what an enjoyable time you two had together. Has it been exciting for you to see her career explode like it has since BONNIE & CLYDE?

JJ: Oh, I love Laura - I mean, she's one of my dear friends now. When we did the out-of-town run of BONNIE & CLYDE they actually called us there a week earlier than everybody else, so it was just Laura and I in Sarasota, Florida, and, so, we spent the week sort of getting to know each other because there wasn't anybody else around to hang out with, really.

PC: You clicked.

JJ: We instantly became very good friends. One of the best things when working onstage is to really like the actor you are working with and that is very true of me and Laura.

PC: Have you ever had to work with somebody you did not necessarily get along with and find a way to make it work anyway?

JJ: No - thank God! I've never had that. [Laughs.]

PC: You can never be too sure!

JJ: I know, I know - but, honestly, I stay away from those situations. I really do. I mean, it's not a good environment to have argumentative kinds of conversations - maybe outside the theatre, but never in the theatre; that's where you need to feel safe.

PC: I believe Laura auditioned for SMASH originally, so I was curious if you two had discussed her experiences prior to your involvement with the show?

JJ: I'm not sure when she was involved with being on SMASH, but I know that they contacted her since I've been on the show to see what her availability was like and she wasn't available - but, no, to answer your question, we did not talk about it before I got it as far as I can remember. There was a moment when it looked like she was going to be able to do a guest spot, though, this year, but I guess CINDERELLA or something got in the way.

PC: It would have been a great reunion.

JJ: It would. I'm sure there will be reunions in the future!

PC: How did you originally become involved with SMASH? Was auditioning for the part and eventually getting the role a particularly big moment in your career, do you think? Especially while starring in a Broadway show that was the hit of the season at the same time?

JJ: Oh, I don't know that I would necessarily say that - it was pretty hellish, actually, in reality! [Laughs.]

PC: How so?

JJ: I'm just kidding - but, still! I mean, you know, I got SMASH literally two days after the Tony Awards, which is in June. So, NEWSIES began in March and we hadn't really been running that long at that point, so, I was like, "I can't just up and leave a Tony-nominated show," and I had gotten a nomination and everything, too, so...

PC: How did you work it out?

JJ: Well, I talked to the people at NEWSIES and they were OK with it and then I talked to the people at SMASH and they said, "NEWSIES has to be in second position, but you can still do the show and we'll try to work around your schedule." So, then, I was like, "OK. Great! I will do this for as long as possible - maybe I can do both for the whole three or four months." [Pause. Stage Laugh.]

PC: No way! You can't star in two things simultaneously for a long period of time and stay totally sane, can you?

JJ: No, you really can't - and I didn't. I got about a month and a half into it...

PC: And you had to choose one or the other.

JJ: Yeah, we started shooting in late-July and I ended up leaving NEWSIES right before my wedding, which was in September.

PC: So, you were really starring in three shows, then!

JJ: Yeah, I guess! [Laughs.] So, yeah, I had about a month and a half of doing both NEWSIES and SMASH. Every day off of NEWSIES I was onset and I was doing weekend shows of that and then I would go and do SMASH. There were days where I got up in the morning and did ten hours on SMASH and then did NEWSIES on Broadway that night and then did a two-show day the next day after that.

PC: That's insane.

JJ: It was pretty nuts. It was Hell, more or less.

PC: What did your fiancée, Ashley, think of all this?

JJ: I actually don't even know because we never saw each other! [Laughs.]

PC: Strangers in the night, right?

JJ: It was pretty crazy. Luckily, she was working at the time, too, so she just wasn't, you know, sitting at home with the dog wondering where I was or whatever.

PC: Will your dog be appearing on SMASH? Katharine McPhee's dog is a big cast and crew favorite, I have heard.

JJ: No, no - though I think it would be hilarious to see Jimmy with a fluffy white Maltese poodle; it would be quite the juxtaposition, don't you think?

PC: To say the least! So, what did you sing at your first audition for SMASH?

JJ: Well, they made me sing two songs for the series openers they were considering - "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", which we didn't use, and, then, they gave me Elton John's "Your Song" and I sang that.

PC: And they didn't use that.

JJ: Right. They didn't use that either. Then, I sang my own song which is this pop song that I always sing called "More Than Anyone" by Gavin DeGraw.

PC: A great song.

JJ: Yeah - I love it. I don't think I've ever sung it publicly, though. I sang that for my JOYFUL NOISE audition; I sang that for SMASH; it's kind of like my go-to pop number, I guess.

PC: Have you actually filmed any musical numbers that did not make it onto the show?

JJ: No, I don't think so - not yet at least. I mean, for us, the only thing that we ever cut that we actually filmed was the very first opening number for the season - we had two different things we tried out; we kept changing things around for that. We had a different song for Jennifer Hudson in that at one point, too, because they changed her musical. That's it, though - everything else has made it to the air.

PC: That's very impressive. Will you be singing anything by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman on the show coming up?

JJ: Yes. I actually sang a little bit of one of their songs before, when I was tooling around on the piano trying to help Tom get onboard with the song I was writing for Jennifer Hudson's show - I sang a snippet and Kat [McPhee] sang a snippet. Those were actually two little songs that Jimmy was supposed to have written and those were by Marc and Scott. But, in Episode 14, I think it is, I sing a hopefully very, very heartfelt and emotional and moving song that was written by Marc and Scott.

PC: What great news!

JJ: Yeah, it's really great, I think. That's the only song, too, that I've sung live onset on SMASH.

PC: No other moments allowed for that all season?

JJ: Well, in the episode we were just talking about - Episode 4 - I actually was singing the little snippets live, so I guess everything I have sung by Marc and Scott on the show was recorded live, which is interesting because you usually don't get to do live stuff because of all the intricate camerawork and all of the angles and everything.

PC: Expectedly so.

JJ: Especially with background singers and background dancers, too - you just can't do it in an expediated time like television calls for; it's just impossible.

PC: It's arduous enough to get everything done economically.

JJ: With a solo like this song is I think you can get away with it, though. It's a very emotional moment. I am excited to see how people react to it.

PC: In shooting the numbers to pre-recorded vocals, has syncing been an issue for a usually live performer like yourself?

JJ: Yeah, I have had a little bit of difficulty with it sometimes. But, you know, my difficulty isn't really with the timing of it, mine is with not looking like I'm really singing - I always sing longer than I think I do and people have pointed out to me that I really don't move my mouth a lot when I sing, so I don't know... [Laughs.]

PC: It's a delicate art.

JJ: Yeah, it's really funny to me because I have this huge mouth and people always say, "Oh, it looks so effortless when you're singing!" And, I say, "Really?! I don't feel like I'm not putting any effort into it." And, then, I realized that it's because I don't move my mouth very much. It doesn't look like I'm working hard, I guess.

PC: Make it look harder, Jeremy!

JJ: I know, right?! [Laughs.] So, throughout the season, that's been something I have been trying to fix as much as I can. I am trying to make it look better for television while still singing along to myself as realistically as possible.

PC: It's an evolving process.

JJ: In "I Heard Your Voice In A Dream", for example, I learned it in the studio and recorded it before I learned the dance, so when we got to the studio I just thought, "Oh, I'm going to sing this beautiful song and it will be amazing," and I didn't know anything about how it was going to be staged. I didn't know I would be running and jumping and all over the place!

PC: It was a pretty athletic number. Was shooting it tough?

JJ: Well, not only was I trying to sing along to it right, but I was deathly ill the day we filmed it - horribly sick - and it took us nine or ten hours to shoot that day, of course. So, there I was, trying sing along to myself and I realize, "Oh my God, there is no way I could actually sing this song the way that we recorded it!" [Laughs.]

PC: You had to make it work, though!

JJ: I did - while being lifted up and dragged around the stage and running around and everything. I will be honest, there were a few moments where I was running around and I couldn't actually sing while I was doing it because I couldn't really breathe.

PC: You were prepared well by Christopher Gattelli and his Tony-winning NEWSIES choreography, no?

JJ: Oh, well, Chris was pretty easy on me for the most part - except for a couple small parts of NEWSIES I got to take the safe route when it came to the choreography, pretty much.

PC: He let you off easy.

JJ: Yeah, I had to dance a little bit but not a lot. Actually, I think that ["I Heard Your Voice In A Dream"] is the most dancing you see me doing on SMASH this year. I mean, I have a couple of other songs coming up with some movement and stuff in them, but nothing quite on that level.

PC: Will there be more modern dance elements coming up, too?

JJ: Yes. There will be more modern dance stuff coming up for sure. It's kind of ensemble-moving-as-one choreography and stuff coming up, too, which is pretty cool.

PC: The HIT LIST visuals so far have been really unique.

JJ: And, I mean, going back, think about it: it's kind of hard to really believe that Jimmy would be an amazing dancer, right?

PC: Definitely not.

JJ: I think that's a good reason why we try to keep him away from the big dance numbers as much as makes sense. [Laughs.]

PC: It was a great effect to mirror the Season One SMASH poster and have you climb up the people in that song.

JJ: Yeah, but what you can't see is that I am standing on their hands and stuff and they are all trying to help me get up! Any way to get there is the motto we took with that! [Laughs.]

PC: Whatever works.

JJ: Yeah, whatever we could do to get me to the top on time - I mean, I was stepping on people's backs and hands! I was like, "Sorry. Sorry. Are you OK? Sorry," as we did it.

PC: Was it an outright homage to "Contact" in RENT - as HIT LIST is to RENT, in general - I take it?

JJ: Oh, yeah - totally, totally. The whole idea was to put the emphasis on people and off of staging and extravagant sets because I think that those are the sorts of things that help build up cult shows for a Broadway audience - the focus being on the story and the people.

PC: The use of video is very compelling in HIT LIST, as well.

JJ: I think so, too. You'll remember that a few weeks ago "Rewrite The Story" had all those video screens in it and you see that Derek's grand vision of the show is very LA BOHEME/WOMAN IN WHITE/GHOST with using projections and stuff like that, but that is not what the show is intended to be, as you'll see coming up.

PC: I have heard rumors that somebody will be killed off this season. Is there any validity to that rumor as far as you know?

JJ: Well, you see, it could be a character in the show as well as a character on SMASH, too - you never know. I don't know. [Pause.] Rumors are rumors and I don't like to give spoilers, but obviously there are going to be some pretty dramatic things that happen as the season progresses. We've only sort of touched on the level of drama that's upcoming. The sh*t hits the fan over the next few episodes, though - believe me.

PC: What exactly was in that bag Jimmy got from his dealer? Coke? Meth? Heroin?

JJ: It was somethin' white! [Laughs.]

PC: Plot to music: will you be doing any cover songs coming up?

JJ: I don't really sing many cover songs, but I do sing a cover of "High & Dry" by Radiohead, I can tell you that.

PC: Andrew McMahon, of Jack's Mannequin fame, wrote "I Heard Your Voice In A Dream", of course.

JJ: Yeah, he's actually a friend of Josh Safran, the show runner. So, Josh brought Andrew - who was the front man for Jack's Mannequin - and he did three songs this season. He did another song recently, as well, ["Reach For Me"] and he has another one coming up, too. So, HIT LIST is really getting to showcase a lot of great, young songwriters - "Heart Shaped Wreckage", too; there will be more HIT LIST songs by Lucie Silvas coming up. Of course, Pasek & Paul wrote a couple of HIT LIST songs and we have Joe Iconis and Drew Gasparini. The one that I am singing later, at the end of this season, that we already talked about is one that Marc and Scott wrote, of course, so that's in HIT LIST, too.

PC: Will there be a HIT LIST album - either an actual CD or maybe a special download package?

JJ: I hope so. I haven't heard anything about it, but we sort of discussed doing a concert - we just chatted about it; nothing serious or anything actually in the works yet. All the songs from HIT LIST are going to be released, though, as the episodes air, so hopefully they will all be put together and released in one package at some point. It just depends, I guess, on whether or not the people involved with the show want to invest in producing a full album of it. It would be great if they did.

PC: "Broadway, Here I Come" made it onto iTunes, you know - it made it into the Top 30, actually.

JJ: I know! Isn't that so cool? That's so awesome, man. I am so happy about that.

PC: When was the last time a real Broadway song made the charts, anyway?

JJ: I know, right? The first night we aired, one of my fans on Twitter posted a picture that my name was trending on Twitter - I mean, who can say that?! That's pretty cool, right?

PC: Indeed. You have a lot of fans. You have made the IMDB Pro Top 5 lists, too, right?

JJ: Oh, yeah, that was when I was in JOYFUL NOISE. It was the top five actors who've had under five roles, I think - which I think I am just starting to get out of now, actually! [Laughs.]

PC: The credits are stacking up.

JJ: Yeah, I think I have five or six now on IMDB, so I don't qualify for that list anymore. [Laughs.]

PC: SMASH has been amping up the romance between you and Kat McPhee's character - are love scenes fun to film or tricky? You two have had quite a few now at this point, after all.

JJ: A little of both. Everyone is cool when we do that kind of stuff onset, so the main thing to do is just cover up the private parts and get through the scene.

PC: Kat McPhee has been topless on the show recently - or full-back, as it were.

JJ: I know! I know. For that scene, we were facing towards the back wall of Jimmy's apartment when she got up and everything and I had to have my eyes closed, actually, so I looked like I was sleeping, so at least she didn't have to worry that I was looking at her. [Laughs.] I think she might have been a little nervous doing that scene, but I think the fact that is was a sort of fantasy sequence made it easier for everyone to do it.

PC: From screen to stage: what's next? is there a revival role you are dying to do someday soon? You'd be sensational in either part in MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, I think.

JJ: Oh, I would love to do MERRILY. I've actually played Charley before. I think I'd rather play Charley rather than Frank - especially having played Jimmy on SMASH now already, a musician, even if it's a little bit different sort of character.

PC: They have some similar traits. Do you see Jimmy as a villain or villain-esque?

JJ: Well, I wouldn't necessarily say he is a villain, but I would say maybe the antagonist - I'd say that's what Jimmy is. [Pause. Sighs.] I mean, c'mon, Pat, give him some credit here! [Big Laugh.]

PC: Hey, I don't know if he's OD-ing and leaving HIT LIST in the lurch or what coming up!

JJ: I know! I know! That's true - I get what you mean. To answer your question seriously, though, I think I'd love to play Bobby Strong in URINETOWN. I think that that is a great show. I'd love to play another Bobby, too, someday when I am a little older - in COMPANY.

PC: Of course.

JJ: That would be really, really nice.

PC: "Marry Me A Little" would be great for your voice, too.

JJ: Yeah, I love that song. I'd really like to do something legit soon, too - something classical. You know, I got to touch on it doing WEST SIDE [STORY] - but even WEST SIDE is contemporary for its day and a little jazzy. I'd love to do something just straight-out Rodgers & Hammerstein - something old-school.

PC: What about Billy in CAROUSEL?

JJ: Oh, yeah! I think I'm a little young for it now, but eventually - definitely. I mean, I would totally love to play Billy, are you kidding?

PC: Speaking of WEST SIDE STORY, do you have any Arthur Laurents stories to share? There will only ever be one Arthur Laurents.

JJ: Ohhh! [Laughs.]

PC: He was a genius - with the temperament to match.

JJ: He really was - he was brilliant; brilliant to a fault, I would say.

PC: Why so? He had quite a wicked reputation, of course.

JJ: Well, you know, I think that the older that he got, the more his brilliance kind of got in his own way because he would have these new ideas and they would contradict the ideas on the notes that he gave you the week before and stuff like that. So, if you were on his sh*t list, it wasn't good - there was always one person in every single notes session who just got the sh*t ripped out of them. I thought it was - pardon my French - f*cking ridiculous myself because I think that is the exact opposite way that you should treat your performers because it doesn't garner their respect, it garners their disrespect. You might think, "Oh, at least they'll respect me because I'm this way," but I don't think it works that way - it just makes them loathe you; I think that's how most people felt about him, honestly.

PC: Acting that way can result in a lot of collateral damage.

JJ: Of course, he gave me a wonderful opportunity by being in WEST SIDE STORY and at times he would give me praise like no one else - when he loved you he loved you and when he hated you he hated you and there was not a lot of gray area. So, it was difficult sometimes.

PC: What was the last interaction you had with him?

JJ: I remember the last time that I spoke to him was during my last few shows at WEST SIDE before I went to do BONNIE & CLYDE out-of-town and he was giving a notes session and I knew he was going to be there that night and it was going to be the last show he saw of me, so I gave it everything I had - I put as much heart and soul into it as I possibly could and I just felt great about it - and after the show he said to me, "That was the worst performance that you have ever given. You've already left the show. You've checked out early."

PC: How devastating.

JJ: Yeah, it hurt. I was pretty devastated. So, I ended up talking back to him, though - nobody ever did that!

PC: Uh oh. What happened?

JJ: Well, I kind of stood up for myself and said, "Actually, I think I did a really great job and everybody else does, too. I was really trying to perform my absolute best for you because I knew you were going to be here tonight and I really don't appreciate being ripped apart like this on my last performance," and, so, then, he said, "Oh, please - you're just trying to assert your masculinity," and stuff like that, and I just said, "No. You're just being an as*hole."

PC: If the shoe fits...

JJ: Yeah, everybody around during this was just like, [Slow.] "What is happening?!" And I ended up going up to him afterwards and I apologized and we ended things on, hopefully, a little bit more of a positive note.

PC: He probably respected you more after the incident.

JJ: Maybe! I don't think he was really expecting it - especially then when I was almost done with the show anyway. I think he was a little too old to have any respect for me after talking to him like that, honestly, but I could be wrong. [Laughs.]

PC: Wow. What a vivid memory.

JJ: Yeah, I don't think I have ever talked about that before. And, also, another memory I have of him, actually, is when we were walking together and we had had dinner with a few other people and he told me that he was going to put in his newest book that I was the best Tony he had ever seen onstage and he actually really said something like that to me that night and I was so honored and enamored by that - I imagine by the end of the run his opinion of me probably changed, though. [Laughs.]

PC: What was your first audition like? Do you remember it?

JJ: Well, for my first audition they gave me "Maria" to sing but when I got in the rehearsal room he said to me, "Do you know 'Something's Coming'?" and I said, "I kinda know it - I've never really sung it for anybody before and I don't really know the words perfectly, though." And, so, the accompanist had the score there and so I looked over the music for a few minutes and then I sang through it for him.

PC: How did it go?

JJ: He was crying at the end of it, actually - and he hired me on the spot. He said, "That was perfect," basically. It was pretty cool.

PC: What fantastic stories. Lastly, I was curious what your thoughts are on HD filming of live theatrical performances? Particularly from someone who has done SMASH and is filming a movie musical as we speak, both of which are much different mediums.

JJ: I think you have to take care with that, but I think it can be a wonderful showcase for theatre. It can be difficult to film a theatrical performance, but as long as you have actors who are aware of the cameras and the angles and the staging and lighting and everything reflects that, I don't think there are any problems with it and it can be a good thing.

PC: This was such a fascinating and insightful conversation. Thank you so much for this today, Jeremy.

JJ: Oh, thank you, too, Pat. I really, really appreciate this today, man. Bye bye.

Photo Credits: Walter McBride, NBC Universal, etc.

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Pat Cerasaro contributes exclusive scholarly columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Theatrical Throwback Thursdays, Flash Friday and Flash Special as well as additional special features, (read more...)