Spotlight On

by Ed Feldman   

EF:  Which role has given you the most satisfaction?

Jessica Boevers and Justin Bohon
in Oklahoma!

Photo by Michael LePoer Trench
JB:  This one in Oklahoma!. The role has changed so much for me. It was undoubtedly the most challenging thing I've done in my career. A lot of that was learning to twirl that lasso. Starting from rehearsals in London on January 5 to when we opened the show, I cannot fathom the amount of time that I spent with that lasso in my hand. It is the most difficult thing I've done. I thought that, being a dancer and tumbler, I could just pick it up. It is more like playing an instrument and you just have to do it over and over till it clicks.

I also think this is such a great job because I had the opportunity to work with Susan Stroman and Trevor Nunn. It is miraculous when you put two people like that in a room and see what they can do. It was always so simple to give over 100% because you never doubted that she was putting 200%. She was constantly thinking of how to better the show. She always motivated every movement by her desire to tell the story. Of course, Trevor is remarkable. I approached the character of Will Parker initially as a dumb guy. In a lot of ways Will is not the sharpest of men. Trevor helped me discover so much in just a word or change in a movement. He enlightened me to learn more about the character.

EF:  What kind of input did you have in developing and interpreting the role?

JB:  I was honestly pretty impressed. I thought it would be very simple for them to regurgitate what they did in London, which was incredibly successful. I remember Trevor saying we can't ignore what happened in London because we developed a formula that worked but we also have to acknowledge that you are different performers with some similar and different gifts. He would always let you explore different ways of making choices and developing the character. I was intimidated starting out but they made me feel so secure and comfortable with what I was doing the entire time that it allowed me to let go of all my inhibitions.

EF:  There was naturally a lot of comparison to the London incarnation of the show. Do you read the critics?

JB:  I try not to but since the show has opened my agent has read some to me.

EF:  You are putting on a show that has been done a lot by some very well known people. Then you have the recent London accolades going on. Some of the reviews were positive but I think there had to be some comparison to London. What are your thoughts?

JB:  I can't attest to why that occurs because, of course, ultimately I'm very proud of this production. I saw the London production and loved it very much. I think a lot of it has to do with Oklahoma! not being as well known in London. It was sort of enlightening to them. It was something different than what they were used to. They had a very strong cast that benefited from a strong director and choreographer. I think the rest of it is up to timing. You can't ever predict what a critic is going to say and how an audience is going to react. I can honestly say when the audience leaves the theatre they have enjoyed themselves.

EF:  What kind of experience do you hope the audience has had as they walk out of the theatre?

JB:  I think before this production they would enjoy the unbelievable music and lyrics of Rodgers and Hammerstein. In retrospect and going through this process, I would hope that the message is much more clear in this show than in other productions. I think Trevor Nunn did a great job of exploring all sides of the characters. I'm hoping they would say that they learned something new about Oklahoma!

EF:  What would you say is the message of the show?

JB:  Well, I think especially in relation to September 11, it is much more relevant now. Throughout the show there are references to belonging to the land and that whether you are a farmer or a cowman, you are a pioneer. It gives you great perspective. We, as a country, are trying to reestablish the pride and patriotism and I think that is very evident.

EF:  Let's go back. How did the part come up? How did you approach the auditions?

JB:  I auditioned over a year ago. I went in the first time and sang for Trevor Nunn. I thought it went well. They asked me to come back and sing with Jessica Boevers because she had already been cast as Ado Annie. I thought that went well. I called Jessica and asked if she had any news. She said they liked one other person and me. I waited and was at NSMT doing Carousel.

I got a call from my agent saying they wanted me to dance for Susan Stroman. I was very excited. I went in and danced for her. I never felt so great about anything I had done. I got a call from my agent saying they thought I looked too young for the part. By this time, I had invested so much time and energy that it was hard to hear that. I don't give up easily if I feel something is right. I called my agent and said I would like to be involved in some way perhaps in the ensemble and maybe understudy Will. I just wanted to be in the show.

South Pacific

Lewis Cleale, David Warshofsky, and Justin Bohon
in South Pacific
  Photo by Carol Rosegg

I was by then on the tour of South Pacific and they called me in again. I wasn't sure if it was going to be for Will or the ensemble. I went back and danced, sang and tumbled. I got a call that I was to be in the ensemble and the Will understudy. Meanwhile, they had not cast the part of Will Parker yet. They did a national search and still hadn't found anyone. I wrote Susan Stroman a note requesting to come back one more time and show what I could do. They requested me to retun. This was the sixth time. I felt I did very well with a new sense of confidence. I walked out of there feeling like I wasn't able to give any more to this show.

During dinner that night the phone rang with my agent relaying the message that the company manager had told him to tear up the pink contract since they had a white one ready; a white contract indicates a principal role offer. So, I freaked out in the middle of the restaurant with my friends yelling. It was a surreal moment.

EF:  Before you came to Broadway, you appeared in shows at North Shore Music Theatre. What was your experience with them?

JB:  I loved it there. I had such a great experience and would go back in a heartbeat. The people there are great. They make you feel at home and provide a great sense of community. They are really dedicated to do great work. I admire the place and look forward to the day that I get to go back and do something else. It is on the top of my list as far as theaters go to work at.

EF:  Let me read off a few shows you were in and give me a few comments that come to mind - starting with Miss Saigon.

JB:  First Broadway show. I'll never forget it. Unbelievable to step on that stage. It was four years ago.

EF:  South Pacific.

JB:  On the road. It was a little trying because in the ensemble you don't do much in that show. I met some incredible people, though. I have some great friends from that show.

EF:  Parade.

JB:  I loved that show. That show always moved me. I think Jason Robert Brown is brilliant. The show didn't get the acclaim it should have. I was in the ensemble and understudied the role of Frankie Epps. Jason conducted in the pit. I remember going on at the end as Frankie. He sings "The Old Red Hills of Home." Hearing the ensemble behind me with Jason Robert Brown conducting the orchestra was amazing.

EF:  This year, you had the opportunity to perform on the Tony telecast. What was that like?

JB:  It was everything I could have wanted it to be. I was surrounded by the company I love. Friends in other shows were there. We benefited by doing "Oklahoma!" in the opening number and later "The Farmer and the Cowman." We had to stay at Radio City all day. Not that we were all thrilled about that but it was neat to see people who I looked up to and respected there. There was such a unity among the casts and different companies.

EF:  Was there a sense of disappointment that Oklahoma! didn't do better? Of course, Shuler Hensley won for a great performance.

JB:  I was disappointed but I try to remember that it is about the work and what you do nightly in the theater and how the audience receives you. I was happy for the people who did receive the awards. And when all is said and done, we all have to go back to work regardless if we won an award or not.

EF:  You have had a lot of validation in terms of awards for yourself. Let's see, you were nominated for the Outer Critics Circle Award, the Drama Desk Award and won the Theatre World Award (outstanding debut performer in NYC) and the Astaire Award, following greats like Debbie Allen, Savion Glover, and Scott Wise.

Susan Stroman with Justin
at the Astaire Awards
  Photo by Trisha Doss
JB:  I am so thrilled. When I started this journey, it was just "do the work." After we opened, I started hearing some reviews, which made me happy. I never thought of awards. When I went to the Astaire Award ceremony, I couldn't believe how moved I was to be surrounded by all these great people I admire. The Theater World Award was also special. I remember Andrea Martin (Aunt Eller) said she was hosting the ceremony because it was her favorite award and the most special to her. She told me that I was getting one and that she was presenting it to me. She has been so supportive of me. It meant a lot.

EF:  You are an actor, singer and dancer. How would you rank those?

JB:  I'd like to think that acting would come first. If you sing and dance without the motivation of acting, you come up short. Then it would be singing, then dancing.

EF:  How would you define success in terms of being an actor?

JB:  I think the ultimate satisfaction is when the audience is completely connected with you. You know they understand what you are trying to convey to them. You are successful as an actor when you achieve that level where you are communicating something that keeps the audience focused and on the edge of their seats.

EF:  What is Justin's vision of the future? Is there a great role or project?

JB:  I don't think I have the directing bug. I long to be in front of an audience. I'd like the opportunity to originate more roles. I'd like to look into television and film which allows you to come in and work on something new. You do that on stage but to be handed a new script weekly in a series is also exciting.

EF:  Justin, your determination and dedication have paid off. It should serve you well in the future. Many thanks for doing this interview.

JB:  Thank you!

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