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BWW Previews: CHRISTOPHER JACKSON: LIVE FROM THE WEST SIDE Virtual Benefit Concert via Hennepin Theatre Trust

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Check out our interview with the Hamilton star!

Christopher Jackson

At a time little feels safe, it's safe to say that none of us expected we'd be getting our theatre fix from the small screen even a few months ago. Since stages from Minneapolis to Broadway shut down in mid-March, Zoom and YouTube have had to suffice as artists have shared their work, raised funds and even celebrated the birthday of Stephen Sondheim. Now, a consortium of nonprofit theatre centers across the country, including Hennepin Theatre Trust, have worked together to bring Christopher Jackson to audiences live in concert from New York City on Saturday, Aug. 15 in "Christopher Jackson: LIVE FROM THE WEST SIDE," a virtual benefit performance at 7 p.m. Central time.

"The virus doesn't care that we love theatre," said Jackson during a Zoom-based press conference this week. "It doesn't care that we want to feel or hear or be provoked by a performance."

He said he's excited about the show and hopeful to help the organizations that benefit from the performance, as well as to "put a smile on faces at a time there is not a lot to smile about."

Jackson, a Grammy and Emmy Award-winning songwriter/composer and a Tony Award-nominated actor, is best known for originating the role of George Washington in the cultural phenomenon HAMILTON, which also is gracing small screens across the country since it premiered on Disney+ on July 3.

Via livestream, Jackson will be joined by a live band and perform some standards, mash-ups, some numbers from HAMILTON and his first Broadway musical, IN THE HEIGHTS and "a beautiful tribute to one my idols, Harry Belafonte," Jackson said.

Tickets to the live event have been on sale since July and you can still purchase a $40 household ticket that will cover the show Saturday as well as 72-hour access afterward in case you miss it or just want to watch it a few more times. Proceeds from ticket sales will help the Trust continue its mission of creating positive change through its lineup of Broadway shows and concerts, educational programs and community collaborations.

Jackson spoke to reporters about the fact that he's first and foremost excited about the show to get back on stage and perform again but also to help the organizations benefiting from the concert. "It was a no brainer to make this effort to help them," he said.

"I've been waking up every day thinking about nothing else, excited we can do this in a safe way," Jackson said. The band will be masked up and physically spaced out to ensure everyone feels safe and comfortable. Jackson said it was important also to not appear to be doing this recklessly.

During the pandemic, Jackson said he's like everyone else and have been driving his children crazy, making music, doing volunteer work such as outreach to hospitals and first responders, and trying to not drink too much wine as he fights off the "quarantine 15." He laughs, "It's real... it's real!"

Christopher Jackson on Zoom

Watching a concert on television or a computer is not unusual nowadays, of course, but with all the electronic communications and video calls of the COVID age, Jackson feels that we're all "in the same bowl of soup right now," and that "great art meets you exactly where you are. It meets you at the point where your need is; and that need is going to be different for everyone."

Jackson is meeting viewers on numerous screens these days. Along with the filmed version of HAMILTON, viewers can also watch Jackson on Hulu, which is airing the documentary about his hip hop improv group with Lin-Manuel Miranda, Freestyle Love Supreme. He can currently be seen starring in the hit CBS drama "Bull" he also starred in Ava DuVernay's Netflix mini-series "When They See Us" with Michael K. Wiliams, Vera Farmiga and John Leguizamo.

But the "Hamilfilm" has been an obsession for many of us this summer, including cast members. He enjoyed getting to see his fellow company members' work from the audience perspective instead of from behind, beside or not really seeing much of it as he worked. "It was a trip being able to say, 'oh wow, now I see what people were responding to,' " Jackson said.

"For me, it was a very delayed 'aha' moment," he said. "Like, oh! That's why Renee won the Tony! I think she deserves the Tony just because she's one of the most amazing women I've ever met in my life -- a sister. But, like, she's brilliant!" He added that seeing the other cast members and Lin in a show they were in together for the first time, including the intracacies and dynamics that audiences were responding to was really cool.

He also was not bothered watching his own performance as he thought he might be but found his muscle memory kicked in quickly. When watching the film the first time, "Right-Hand Man" came on and he'd forgotten there was a camera upstage where he enters, and it caught him off-guard. "Instantly my face started contorting, and I start sweating," he said. "It was a very, very strange thing." His wife tapped him and reminded him he was not doing the show and to relax.

"You have this almost Pavlovian response. Anytime I hear that (hummed the opening notes), I just sort of -- I have a reaction to it that comes from doing something for years and years and years, and working on something and having the emotional architecture that's buried somewhere in the back of my brain... That's a long way to say it was exhilarating to watch."

When it comes to this show on Saturday, Jackson wants audiences to join in and enjoy themselves, as he and his band intend to do.

"I think our goal in this show is, if for nothing else, is to put a smile on your face, to hear songs that will make you feel something and... to walk away feeling a little better than when you sat down."

More Information

The livestream, which is a co-production of Dallas Summer Musicals and Entertainment Benefits Group, is being shared by a number of nonprofit arts presenters around the country. The event will take place at New York's New World Stages, the off-Broadway venue that has housed productions of JERSEY BOYS, AVENUE Q and many others.

To purchase tickets, please visit HennepinTheatreTrust.org.


Photos: Christopher Jackson headshot, courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust. Christopher Jackson screen shot on Zoom, courtesy of the author.


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