Spotlight On

by Ed Feldman   

Justin BohonA year or so ago, Justin Bohon was relatively unknown. Some folks may recognize him from his past work in Broadway's Miss Saigon, the tour of South Pacific or his regional work. It wasn't until his widely acclaimed performance as Will Parker in the current revival of Oklahoma! that Justin catapulted into the mainstream. His exciting performance has been validated by nominations for the Outer Critics Circle Award as well as the Drama Desk Award and wins for both the Theater World and the Astaire Awards.

Justin now finds himself in the middle of the excitement surrounding the creation of Trevor Nunn's and Susan Stroman's production of Oklahoma!. I had the opportunity to speak with Justin a few weeks ago about this eye opening experience.

Ed Feldman:   Let's start with your family and where you grew up. Are you the only one with the acting bug?

Oklahoma
Photo by Michael LePoer Trench
Justin Bohon:  I grew up in Missouri. My parents are both educators; my mom teaches second grade and my dad teaches vocal music. He studied opera at the University of Missouri. My sister is a musical theatre major and just finished her junior year at the University of Cincinnati Conservatory (CCM) where I went to school. I sort of grew up surrounded by music in my family.

EF:  CCM has a great reputation. I know Matt Bogart went there.

JB:  Also Jessica Boevers and Shuler Hensley. It is a good school.

EF:  Considering how risky this profession is, did you get support from your family?

JB:  Yeah, it is very risky. I'm so lucky because some of my friends are less fortunate in that their parents and families are not as supportive of their choices and decisions. I didn't really know I wanted to do this my entire life. I didn't think of it as a career until my final year in high school. I actually wanted to be a doctor.

EF:  What kind of doctor did you want to be?

JB:  This will sound silly but I volunteered a couple of times at a neonatal intensive care unit. I wanted to be an obstetrician for a while. The acting bug bit me though. My dad directed lots of the shows at my high school. I knew I wanted to go to New York but my parents were adamant that I go to college first. I auditioned at several schools and luckily I got a really good scholarship at Cincinnati. My dad talked to several places and heard that it was a good place to be for musical theater. I learned so much about the business there. You can have all the talent in the world but if you don't understand the business aspects, sometimes it doesn't matter.

EF:  That brings up a good point. There has always been discussion in terms of attending or not attending school to study acting. Some people choose not to go to school and do quite well. They say the real education comes from being in shows. Others choose schooling because they feel it would really benefit them. What are your thoughts?

JB:  I would definitely say that in many cases there is an element of raw talent in successful performers. I don't think there is an exact rule or science for how you can get a great opportunity like this. It can happen a lot of different ways. I have friends who left school or didn't even go and it just happened for them. You can't discount being in the right place at the right time.

I left school to do Miss Saigon on Broadway. I did it for six months and felt that it was important to me to have a degree for my future. I knew being in the ensemble wouldn't ultimately fulfill me. I chose to go back, get well versed in acting styles and build a repertoire. I don't think that direction is right for everyone.

EF:  Picture your best friend now. If he/she were sitting right next to you and I asked them to describe you, what would they say?

JB:  Oh my gosh! I guess she would say she admires how much I work to achieve something. I set my mind to something and I don't give up. I strive to achieve it in any way possible.

EF:  Sounds like a very strong work ethic.

JB:  I like to think so.

EF:  So, what is a little known secret about yourself? What is a story your parents might tell about you?

JB:  I'm trying to think of something good. This is not very juicy, but before I was in musical theater I was involved and competed in gymnastics for eight years. I won the Bart Connor invitational gymnastics meet and was very successful in state and national competitions.

EF:   Wow, is that something you thought about pursuing at the time?

JB:  I did! I was in Columbia, Missouri and with that kind of career you have to go somewhere where there are better coaches and facilities. It just costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

EF:  Did you have a specialty?

JB:  I was always best at floor and tumbling.

EF:  Did you do that in Miss Saigon? Were you one of the tumblers?

JB:  It isn't why I got hired but I did cover those acrobatic performers.

EF:  What or who inspired you to be an actor?

JB:  I just love standing on stage, performing and communicating a message to the audience. When I experienced that feeling for the first time, I was hooked. How can anything compete with that feeling? I'd love to do TV and film at some point but I'll always come back to that single moment when you have the audience in the palm of your hand and they are right there focusing and understanding what you are trying to communicate. I enjoy that response.

I'd also have to say that my younger sister is a brilliant actress. I learn just by watching her. She inspires me to an unbelievable capacity. Her acting is always truthful and right on the money. She doesn't have to try. She just gives so freely of herself. It has always been a gift and is inspiring to watch.


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