Meet Mr. Cellophane: Broadway's Jacob Keith Watson
New Orleans, LA (NOLA)-- On the day BroadwayWorld.com was scheduled to sit down with Broadway actor Jacob Keith Watson ("Violet"), who is on tour with "Chicago"--bound for Manila next--New Orleans' The Times-Picayune has just showered him with praises for his latest stage role: Amos Hart, Roxie Hart's gullible, negligible husband.
Theodore Mahne of The Times-Picayune wrote, "Taking a marginal character [Amos] and endearing him to the audience, amid all the flash and sparkle, requires bringing the character truly to life. [Jacob Keith] Watson does this with sweet panache. His rendition of the overlooked, lovable loser's anthem, 'Mister Cellophane,' becomes one of the best performances of the night. It doesn't hurt that the irresistible tune drills itself into your head, where it will reside for days afterward."
"I try not to read reviews because they can get to your head sometimes," Watson, who exudes a warm, endearing persona--to jibe with what Mahne has written--was honest to us. "I believe that if you believed in the good stuff, you had to believe in the bad stuff, too."
But getting back at The Times-Picayune, "...it feels great. I'll take that," said the stocky 5'9" Southerner and former Preacher understudy in "Violet."
A relatively newbie to Broadway: he finished college at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas in the fall of 2011; won in singing competitions NATS National Theatre Competition and Lotte Lenya Competition in 2012; moved into New York City in the Spring of 2013; and only made his Broadway debut in Roundabout Theatre Company's "Violet" in the Spring of 2014, Watson believes that opportunities opened up for him because he has had the right connections.
As if God was paving the way for Watson ("Yes, you can say that," the actor said), he met his current "fantastic" agents Dustin Flores and David Krasner of The Mine; The Kurt Weill Foundation, which sponsors the Lotte Lenya Competition, also introduced him to Jeanine Tesori, the composer of "Violet" along the way.
"Having an agent is just so helpful. If you're starting out as a non-member of the Union [Actors' Equity Association], without an agent, you're barely limited on what you can audition for. So being non-Union, moving into New York City, it was so helpful in the first two weeks to have an agent to get me to audition rooms that I normally won't be able to get into," he recalled.
I also remembered, "I went to the Equity chorus call for 'Violet' as a non-Union member. I actually wasn't there for 'Violet.' I was there for a regional production of 'South Pacific' across the hall. Then my friend/agent said go put my name under the non-Equity audition list for 'Violet.' So I put my name down with 78-80 other guys. And they brought five of us in out of those 78 guys based on our headshots. Then I auditioned. Then I got a callback."
"Violet," which starred Tony winner Sutton Foster on Broadway for a limited engagement, and features music by Tesori and book by Brian Crawley, is based on the short story "The Ugliest Pilgrim" by Doris Betts. It tells the travelogue of a young disfigured woman, Violet (Foster), who believes she will be totally healed by a famous preacher (Ben Davis/Watson, u/s).
"The people that ran 'Violet': the director, Leigh Silverman; Jeanine; the music director, Michael Rafter are some of the most amazing people in theater. To get to work with them on my first go in a Broadway show was about as good as it gets. And being an off-stage cover, I got to sit back and watch the process happened. And when it was my turn to step up and be on the show, I was so ready to go because they gave me every single thing that I needed. They taught me so much," he said.
"Violet" Closed; "Chicago" Opens
Roundabout Theatre Company's limited run of "Violet" ended on August 10, 2014. It had 27 preview performances and 128 regular performances.
On the day "Violet" closed at American Airlines Theatre, Watson also got the chance to watch "Chicago" at Ambassador Theatre for the first time. Comedian Paul Vogt ("MADtv," "The Rerun Show") was Amos; while now colleague Bianca Marroquin ("In the Heights," "The Pajama Game") was Roxie.
"I had a friend in 'Chicago'; and he got me a ticket to that show. Paul Vogt was playing Amos then. He was great! The entire cast was fantastic! Bianca was in there, too. I've never seen 'Chicago' before that time. I've never seen the movie and never heard the soundtrack," Watson confessed. "But it was really great to see this iconic piece of theater, one of the most well-known musicals of all time."
He continued, "Then people would always said, 'You would be a great Amos.' I personally didn't see it. And then I kind of thought that, 'You know what, there are some stuff there I think I could connect to." Amos's confidence issue is something we connect in some way. He has this self-conscious side of him that's sad. We kind of felt that at some point in our lives.
"He's really an interesting character," he pondered for a moment. " He carries the truth throughout the whole show."
Versatile on both sides of the opera and musical theater worlds, Watson incredibly enjoys more the freedom to create and recreate characters in musical theater compared to opera.
He explained further, "The opera world is very by the book. There's not a whole lot of freedom, from my experience. There's not a lot of freedom to interpret and create. It's always like following what has been done before. In musical theater, you're taught the exact opposite. You come in to recreate and make your own new character. It's hard to switch mindsets, and follow every single rule I had to follow in opera.
"So I enjoy playing Amos because I don't know what he has always been played like. It's kind of nice coming into the material really fresh, and being able to create what I saw as him."
"Chicago," which has Watson as Mr. Hart opposite Marroquin's Mrs. Hart, will play Solaire Resort and Casino's 1,760-seat lyric theatre, The Theatre, from this Wednesday, December 3, through Sunday, December 21.
Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, David Atkins Enterprises, and Concertus Manila--the team behind "Wicked," "The Phantom of the Opera," and "Mamma Mia!"-- are bringing "Chicago" to Manila.
"Chicago," the Second Longest-Running Musical on Broadway, features music by Tony winners John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb; lighting design by Tony winner Ken Billington; choreography by Tony winner Ann Reinking, which has been recreated by David Bushman; musical supervision by Rob Fisher; costume design by Tony winner William Ivey Long; and sound design by Tony winner Scott Lehrer.
For tickets, visit ticketworld.com.ph.
Watson resides in Brooklyn with his lovely wife, Elisabeth, an actor.