Despite the seeds of confusion Jennifer Hudson's musical cameo at this year's Tony Awards ceremony may have planted, Jeremy Jordan (not the pop diva) will be starring in the new musical adaptation of the popular Johnny Depp film Finding Neverland. And although its coming-out party was hosted by the Great White Way, the production isn't on the schedule for the new Broadway season — not yet at least.
Best known for his Tony-nominated turn in Broadway's Newsies and his role on the NBC series Smash, Jordan will star as Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie in the production at Cambridge, Massachusetts' American Repertory Theater. Beginning performances July 23, the story follows Barrie's developing relationship with the family that inspired his most famous fictional character.
Tony-winning director Diane Paulus (who is also the artistic director of the A.R.T.) and Emmy-winning choreographer Mia Michaels have teamed up with composers Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy and book writer James Graham on this imaginative production — hopefully giving it the running start it needs to follow in the footsteps of the A.R.T.'s former residents, which have included the Tony Award-winning productions of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, Pippin, and All the Way, as well as this past season's celebrated revival of The Glass Menagerie.
Jordan took some time in the middle of the tech-week craze to speak with TheaterMania about the new musical, which he could only tentatively describe as "Seussical-meets-Spring Awakening" brand of of quirky storytelling mixed with a contemporary pop score.
Were you familiar with the film before you auditioned?
I had seen the movie a long time ago when it first came out, though to be honest I remember liking it but I didn't remember much about it. When I read the script I got really excited to get to play a fun, strange, quirky character as opposed to the sort of charming leading straight man that I tend to play a lot…He's a little more odd — more like me. [laughs] It is a big testament to Diane and the creative team's faith in me, not having seen me take on that sort of character before. I'm having a blast. I love it.
I saw on Instagram that you're currently occupying Bryan Cranston's old dressing room from when the A.R.T. was doing All the Way. How does that feel?
I guess it is his old dressing room. There's a little dry-erase board sitting in the corner on the floor with a message. It's pretty surreal. I don't know if somebody left a message for him, but I definitely think I'll do it when I leave. Even if he started it, hopefully it will become a tradition. No matter who leaves you a message…but the fact that it was Bryan Cranston is pretty awesome.
Both the director Diane Paulus and choreographer Mia Michaels are known for their extremely out-of-the-box creativity. How has their partnership affected the piece?
It's fantastic. They're two of the most creative people I've ever met. You don't really see many musicals going to the strange places that we're going to. And because we're telling a story about Neverland, which is this land that has no real rules and is make believe, a lot of that energy is getting put into our show — especially during musical moments. We're allowed to take risks and go to strange places and delve deep into J.M. Barrie's mind and see what kinds of weird things are happening inside there.
Is there any one particular aspect of J.M. Barrie's character that you and Diane have been focusing on in rehearsals?
His brother died when he was eight and as soon as that happened, his mother began to detach herself emotionally. He always remained sort of stunted from that point in his life on. He was very short [and] he was asexual…at least outwardly. He had to grow up too fast and all these childhood notions still lived inside of him. What we're really focusing on in the show is how that's brought out of him when he meets this family that becomes the inspiration for Peter Pan. If you read some of his plays before Peter Pan, they're very intellectual and funny and really smart but when you finally get to Peter Pan, it's like another person. He suddenly begins to use his imagination in ways that most people can't even begin to tap into once they enter adulthood or pass the age of fourteen. He finally gets to live his childhood through this family.
How has all of this informed your performance?
All of that stuff is at the core of it, but then we get to play and do fun things because there is so much that we didn't know about him. There are no video archives of him in the early 1900s. Nobody really knows what he sounded like or what was really going on inside his head. We're given freedom to create all that for ourselves.
Why do you think J.M. Barrie and his Peter Pan character are so endlessly fascinating to people?
[They] really encourage people to use their imagination and to remember what it was like to be in that place in your life when anything was possible. Although I will say that I probably watched a lot more Hook than I ever did Peter Pan. Maybe that will be the sequel to Finding Neverland. [laughs]
What was it like watching Jennifer Hudson sing your song at the Tony Awards?
That was at the end of the first week of rehearsals, so it was still very new. It was really exciting to watch the boys and Melanie [Moore] from our cast do the choreography and get to play around on the Tonys. Of course I was a little sad that I wasn't up there with them. But at the same time, it's a lot of pressure to go on the Tonys, especially when you've only been with a role for a week. So I was fine with just getting to sit back and watch and hope people get excited about our show. Although I hope people don't get the idea that Jennifer Hudson is in our show. We would welcome her if she wanted to join, but I think she's probably got other plans.