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Meet the Tony Nominees: Funny Girl Star Jared Grimes Pays Tribute to His Tap Ancestors

Find out why it's important for Grimes to honor the likes of John W. Bubbles, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and more, through his performance.

Jared Grimes is a scene-stealer in everything he's in, whether performing the "Tap Mathematician" in After Midnight or acting as the charismatic villain in the NBC series Manifest. In the new Broadway revival of Funny Girl, Grimes takes the stage as Eddie Ryan, and dazzles the audience with his insane tap skills, all choreographed by his longtime mentor, Ayodele Casel.

Now nominated for a Best Featured Actor in a Musical Tony for his work, Grimes tells us about why it's important for him to use this opportunity to pay tribute to his dance-legend forebears, whose names are getting lost to history.

Jared Grimes
(© Tricia Baron)

How does it feel?
Man. It still feels like I'm dreaming. I'm super grateful and blessed to the highest power. It makes me want to get better. I want to get back in the lab and start to work on things. I instantly felt like it was my duty to grow and evolve from the news. I couldn't celebrate. I was like "I have to work on something. What are my weaknesses? Where do I need to get better?"

Tell me about putting together the tap sections of Funny Girl.
Ayodele Casel. Tap dancer, choreographer. She was one of my first mentors. I worked with her from when I was 14 to about 17. I used to drive to New York from North Carolina just to take her classes. When I knew that she was on Funny Girl, I was like "I gotta get in there and at least show face!" The Eddie Ryan character, I was like "Oh, cool. I know it will be different if he's African-American this time, but it would make sense."

Working with Ayodele, she choreographed my moments in the show to a T, based on the history of the guys who paved the way for me: William Henry Lane, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, "Buster" Brown, John Bubbles, the Nicholas Brothers, Sammy Davis Jr., Gregory Hines. She crafted it and reorchestrated the music to tell the story and history of all those guys. I fully trusted her, still trust her to this day, will always trust her. As you know, I'm having the time of my life on stage.

I watched a lot of John Bubbles clips recently. Unreal.
They're all superheroes, but he's a wiz. He's responsible for…Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, his syncopated style was on the balls of his feet, which is closer to what you see in an Irish jig. John Bubbles was known for dropping the heels. He started syncopating with the heels and it broke wide open in a different way with him. Guys like that, we gotta know who that is, because we wouldn't work the way we work without him saying "You know, I'm gonna drop the heels here." It gave us a larger voice.

Why is it important for you, as an artist, to recognize those figures?
My responsibility as a tap dancer is to shed light on a lot of performers from the early 1900s who didn't get the same opportunities that I got, to let the world know that they were geniuses and virtuosos. They sacrificed a lot for me to even be in this position to have a conversation with you. That's my sole goal in life: to shed light on their voices and abilities. Hopefully one day, their stories will carry over and their names won't be forgotten.

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