BWW Interview: James Hayden Rodriguez is Electrified for Lightning Thief Reunion Concert

BWW Interview:  James Hayden Rodriguez is Electrified for Lightning Thief Reunion Concert

This Monday, August 28th at 7 pm the original Off-Broadway cast of "The Lightning Theif: The Percy Jackson Musical" will reunite for one night only at the Green Room 42 for a special concert event. Lightning Theif Composer and Lyricist Rob Rokicki will host the celebration in honor of the cast album reaching the #3 spot on the Billboard Cast Album award.

I was lucky enough to chat with James Hayden Rodriguez, Shenandoah Conservatory alum and cast member of "The Lightning Theif Musical" about his experience being a part of a show whose subject material has such a cult following, and hear about his career.

Tell us a little bit about where you're from and where you went to school

I was born in the Bronx, but my mother and I moved to Northern Virginia when I was about five years old, so I spent my school years in Virginia and summers in New York. Then I ended up going to college at Shenandoah Conservatory, I studied Acting there. Originally I was majoring in Musical Theatre, but I transferred to Acting. It was always my plan to studying performing, I started doing theatre when I was about fifteen, I knew right away that it was my life. I dropped everything and made that my main focus. I was supposed to graduate college in 2010, but I actually left school and toured and then came back to graduate in 2011.

What was the tour? How did that come about?

It was the Spring Awakening First National Tour. It was kinda crazy [Laughs]. It was sophomore year of college, and Spring Awakening had just come out on Broadway, getting all this buzz: nominated for all these Tony-Awards. Because the cast is so young, they're playing teenagers, the creative team had this nationwide search to find the next cast of Spring Awakening. They went to LA, to Chicago, all over the US and some parts of Canada as well. So I drove from Shenandoah to Chicago because that was the closest place they were having an audition that I could make it to. My best friend and I drove 12 hours from Virginia to Chicago and stayed with one of our friends who went to school there. It was very spontaneous, we actually decided to go the night before. It was pretty insane. I did that audition, they called me back the next day and I went back to sing for them again, and then they let me go. I drove back to Virginia and didn't hear anything for seven months. My friend and I were like 'Oh well, we just kinda wasted our time on that, but at least it was fun and we had a good experience together. We'll always remember that." Cut to seven months later, they called me and said "James can you come back to Chicago? We're doing another round of calls." So my sister and I drove back to Chicago, they didn't realize I had come all the way from Virginia, otherwise, they wouldn't have asked me to make that trip, but I was nineteen and wanted to do whatever I could to get that job. Then they flew me to New York for a week of final callbacks, there were 50 of us from all over the country. We did this insane week of finals, they put us up in a hotel, and we had these reality show cameras around; they were planning on making a TV show at the time, which never happened, but it was a fun experience. Then 15 of us got the call.

BWW Interview:  James Hayden Rodriguez is Electrified for Lightning Thief Reunion Concert

Were you in the cast with Anastasia's Christy Altomare?

Yeah, I was. It was awesome. Anthony Lee Medina, who's doing Hamilton now, was in it. Perry Sherman who's been in Fun Home and Amelie when it was out of town. It was a pretty incredible cast.

What was it like going back to school after performing in a big national tour?

It was hard. It was hard because I didn't have a lot of support from some of the faculty at the University, even though it sounds like such a cool opportunity. So taking the job was not as joyous as I would've thought. I remember thinking 'I'm 19 and I have an incredible opportunity that so many people long for and I've been lucky enough to get it now. I'll come back to school when I'm done.' And I did. I'm really happy I made that decision, I think the faculty were nervous and thought I would never come back; missing out on my education. Which I didn't do, I'm proud of myself for coming back and finishing my degree. I think I'm much better for it.

BWW Interview:  James Hayden Rodriguez is Electrified for Lightning Thief Reunion Concert

How did you get involved with "The Lightning Thief"? Were you in previous readings?

This is my first time doing this show, "The Lightning Thief" has been doing readings and workshops and concerts since 2014, I believe, if not earlier. I had never heard of it, I had actually never heard of the book series. My agent calls me, and at the time I was doing a 29 hour reading of a new musical, so I was in rehearsal, and my agent said 'The creative team wants to see you for this new musical, but it's your first day of rehearsal for this new show.' So I thought I couldn't do it, but they let me send a tape, so I did a video audition and didn't hear anything after that. [Laughs] Cut to a month and a half later, they had actually cast the part and were in rehearsals for two weeks in January, but on the month of February they took a hiatus and were planning on starting again at the beginning of March. During that hiatus, they guy who played Luke got another job so he left the show and I got a call five days before rehearsal started saying I should come in and read for Luke. It was a day long of auditions, singing, dancing, fight choreography. It was very last minute and unexpected, I didn't really think anything was going to happen, but a day later I got a call saying 'Congratulations, you got the job, you start rehearsal in two days.' So they sent me the script, and I was trying to be as prepared as I possibly could because everyone else had already had the material for six weeks, and been in rehearsal for two weeks before. It was very intimidating, I didn't really know what I was getting myself into. I was just kinda blind, jumping into this. I then found out how huge the following is for this series and I am very proud of all of us and what we did. But it was tough getting myself up to speed and not disappointing the fans because they are hardcore. They are very smart and know everything about these characters.

Did you ever worry about disappointing these hardcore fans?

It was never something I thought about while I was on stage because I did prepare so hard for that part and did my research on the books. I felt like I had really nailed that character, however in the book series, Luke is portrayed as a caucasian male who's blonde, so there was a bit of self-consciousness on my part being an ethnic actor, but I'm so excited that I got to play that part and show it doesn't have to be a white guy that plays this person, it's more about portraying characteristics that all kids go through. We all have these feelings during this time of our life, regardless of our ethnicity.

BWW Interview:  James Hayden Rodriguez is Electrified for Lightning Thief Reunion Concert

How do you connect most with your character Luke?

Luke has a lot of daddy issues, [Laughs} as do a lot of the characters in the show. I've had a very difficult relationship with my own father. I spent some time with him growing up, but as I got a little older we had a falling out, we didn't speak for almost ten years. So a lot of my personality flaws and anger issues stemmed from my relationship with my father, it was easy to connect with this frustration that Luke was going through: trying to decide if doing the right thing is the best thing for you, but obviously, the stakes are a lot higher for Luke since he's a demi-god, and his father's a god. But the human emotions that's all relevant and what I was trying to portray.

You are getting one more chance to step back into Luke soon at the Green Room 42 concert. What are you most excited about?

I love this cast more than anything. We always have a good time, we're very good friends outside of work so it's always good to see them and perform with them. It's insane group of people, we all act like children [Laughs] There's never a lack of fun. When we did our show it was for a very short run, we wished it could've been longer. So I'm just excited to get back on stage and hopefully people who couldn't come see our show could come see this concert and relive that moment for one night. The fans can come by and get a CD signed, or just see their favorite characters on stage again and enjoy the music. The music is so great, Rob Rokicki wrote a really amazing musical.

BWW Interview:  James Hayden Rodriguez is Electrified for Lightning Thief Reunion Concert What's your best advice for someone's who getting ready to make the big move to New York and start the grind there?

That is a good question, and I asked the same question when I was about to be here. One of the things I was nervous about moving to New York when I was still in college, I had a lot of friends who moved here and for whatever reason stopped doing theatre, and for me, that was never an option; this is what I was meant to do. It's hard, and I knew it was going to be hard, it never ceases to amaze me how hard it is, and when you get here you just have to keep going. I know that sounds so cliche, but you really have to pound the pavement and be prepared to work hard. One of the things I promised myself when I moved here--I may not be the most talented guy in the room but I want to make sure that I'm the hardest working guy and when people are in a room with me they're confident in what I'm going to bring to the table the life I'm going to give to my characters. I think that's very important.


The cast recording is currently available at BroadwayRecords.com and at all major music retailers. The album is produced by Michael Croiter and Rob Rokicki, Executive Produced by Grammy Award winner Van Dean and released by Broadway Records. Off-Broadway, The Lightning Thief was produced by Theatreworks NYC in arrangement with Rick Riordan and the Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency.

The concert is produced by Yael Silver on behalf of Broadway Records. Silver's previous credits include "Queer Composers for Orlando," "Bobby Cronin and Friends," "Kate Rockwell - Back To My Roots," and she has served as a Co-Producer on Artists for the Arts "With A Little Help From My Friends." Stephen Brackett directs the concert with Wiley Deweese as Musical Director.

General Seating. $30. No food/drink minimum per person. For tickets and more information, visit OvationTix.com.

Be sure to follow James on his Website, FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Lightning Theif Photography by Jeremy Daniel

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From This Author Christopher Castanho

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