Today, we’re excited to share a fun interview with the wonderful Jesse JP Johnson! Mr. Johnson is currently portraying the role of Boq on the 1st National Tour of WICKED, but he previously was an ensemble member and understudy for the role on Broadway. Before WICKED, you may have seen him on Broadway in XANADU, ALTAR BOYZ, or GLORY DAYS, or on the national tours of 9-TO-5, GREASE, or OKLAHOMA! Check out his thoughts on WICKED and performing below!
Tell us a little about yourself outside of performing – what kind of hobbies do you have; where did you grow up, etc.
Well… I was born and raised in Colorado! I miss both my family and the city of Colorado almost everyday. Besides performing, I grew up playing hockey and skiing…a lot! I Love the winter and all it has to bring (although maybe not so much in NY….wha wha). In New York, you probably saw me riding around midtown to work on my longboard. I have had it for 7 years in the city and am lost without it. Also, I would be late to many things without it. I have a little Yorky/Chihuahua (Yohuahua) named Jack. He is currently my tour buddy and the love of my life! If I’m not outside enjoying mother nature, I am the biggest couch potato EVER! I LOVE just chillin, snacking and watching Netflix!
What made you decide you wanted to pursue being a performer as a career?
I was a very spacey child with a lot of energy. My parents put me in just about every extra curricular activity that they could think of. When I was home, however, my Nana would put on old movie musicals. My little bro and I used to memorize all the songs and dances from them and occasionally made up our own. I totally wanted to be Gene Kelly. I started out at a children’s theater when I was three. It was called Younger Generation Players and it was after my first show I did with them that I decided, Theatre was the life for me. My Mom says that after my first show I came out upset because I noticed “not everyone was looking at me when I spoke”. It was at that point she knew that the monster had been created…and it did not stop there!
What was your first professional performing job, and what did you learn from the experience?
I believe my first professional gig was in Colorado at an Equity Dinner Theater called The Country Dinner Playhouse. It was a production of The Sound of Music. I was at the ripe age of 12 and played Friedrich. Annaleigh Ashford, who was a former Glinda on Broadway played Liesel in that production. She and I happen to both be from Colorado…Small world for sure!!
What was it like to get to originate an ensemble track in the national tour of 9 to 5?
9 to 5 was a very unique and special experience. From start to finish there was just so much love and support within the cast and crew which was felt both on and off stage. Jeff Calhoun was such dream to work with along with Richard J. Hinds and Lisa Stevens. Not to mention getting a monthly visit from Dolly! She is the sweetest ever and always had a fresh batch of her home made fudge waiting for us the day she arrived! I have never performed alongside such a strong and ridiculously talented, not to mention, well-seasoned group of actors. We were a strong family! It was AWESOME!
How did you come to audition for Wicked? What was your process like?
I think I had auditioned for Wicked about 8 times before actually booking it. My first audition was about 6 or 7 years ago, where they brought me in for Boq. They had brought me in for a universal swing because of my dance background. I was a mess then and obviously it was not in my cards at the time but ever since the show came out I knew I had to be a part of it. My “dream show” as you will. I had naively thought that I was more of a Fiyero, but for obvious height challenging reasons, Boq was ultimately the part for me. The last audition that got me to Broadway was the ending week of 9 to 5. I flew in mid-week, went in to sing and do the Boq sides and got called back for a dance call with one other guy. I then flew back the next morning to finish out the week with 9 to 5. It was that night of the audition that I found out that I had finally booked the show!
When you got word that you would be joining the ensemble of WICKED on Broadway and covering Boq, what was your initial reaction? Who was the first person you told, and how did they react?
It was all such an overwhelming experience. Initially, from exhaustion and the lightning speed of it all, I thought I had no chance in getting the part. I could not believe it when I got the call from my agent that night. I was so stoked!!! I think I went through just about every emotion. The best was the reaction from my mom, who was the first person I had called after I found out! I had just called her like 5 minutes before all defeated and convinced I had not gotten it. She was at work and the minute I told her I had gotten it I heard a loud scream and “thump” in which the phone had dropped from her hands. About 10 seconds later one of her colleagues picked up the phone telling me that, out of her excitement, she had first jumped on the first person she saw and then, after dismounting, she fainted. Although dangerous, that was the exact reaction I could have ever hoped for! I love that Lady!
Tell us a little bit about your first performance in the ensemble on Broadway. What about as Boq?
I just about pooped myself (can I say that?) the minute the curtain came up in the opening. Along with ‘Glory Days’, getting the chance to perform on Broadway is an experience like none other. A true dream come true. I don’t quite remember the first time I played Boq. I think I blacked out because I was so nervous. I do know that it went well and I didn’t mess up so that’s good. I had my family and friends in the audience who kindly reassured me of that.
What is/was your favorite part of the show to perform in the ensemble? As Boq?
My fav part in the ensemble was probably the whole Shiz and Dancing Through Life section. Getting to dance the brilliant choreography on the stage and set of the Gershwin is so fun! I loved everyone in the ensemble and we had so much fun playing during those scenes! Professionally of course.
My fav part as Boq is probably the whole transition into the Tin man. I mean it’s such an iconic part and its then that Boq really gets to go crazy! Although there really isn’t a part I don’t love about playing the role.
How did your move to principal Boq on the tour come along? How has that experience been so far?
It has been such a blessing and I am so honored that they took a chance on me and gave me this opportunity. The creative team had approached me in the past and asked me if I was interested in going on tour as Boq, but due to personal circumstances and just settling into my part on Broadway, I was not ready. Life and paths change, however, and this time around I was more than ready to take this journey. The transition has been smooth so far. I love playing this role and being a part of this show wherever it is. I must say that it was very hard to leave my friends and Wicked family back in New York. That being, I was ready for a new chapter in my life and going on tour again seemed like a fun option.
What do you find are the advantages/disadvantages to touring vs being in a sit-down production? Which is your personal preference?
Getting any job is definitely a blessing for an actor. It’s hard to compare because Broadway is the “ultimate goal” but I am playing a lead here out on tour. I love the freedom that tour provides as I thrive off of spontaneity and I LOVE a good adventure, but I can tend to be a homebody and prefer being in one place. It’s hard to be able to have anything stable while on the road. I guess I am lucky in the fact that I have my dog (Jack) with me. He helps make life and things so much easier and the greeting I get whenever I come home is always the BEST…even if it is to a hotel room.
Do you have any memorable or humorous onstage bloopers from any show you’ve done you’d like to share?
Apart from the many clumsy spills on stage and occasional unzipped zipper, I would say the most humorous but also embarrassing moment on stage was when I fainted. I was doing a brand new show at a new theater in Colorado call “The Rock Odyssey”. I was playing Telemachus, Odysseus’ son. It was the scene where he tries to string the bow to prove to his mom that he is man enough to take over for his father while he is gone. Well the night before this unfortunately amazing accident, was our opening night party. I hadn’t eaten much that day cause we had two shows and I knew they would have so much food there. They had food, but it was all Greek pastries and a huge cake. I mean I didn’t complain, but my blood sugar definitely was. the next day during the show and the part where I had to string the bow, I took one breath to pretend I couldn’t do it and the next thing I know I wake up on the stage floor with the women playing my mother above me with the most terrifying look on her face! I remember getting right back up and starting off where I thought I left off but it was an epic fail for sure!
What advice would you give to aspiring performers?
I would just say never give up and always make sure you love what you do. I would also tell young performers to maintain a positive attitude throughout. This business can get you down and if you let it, it will get the best of you. the only way to fight through it is with a positive attitude. The minute that goes away you probably should think of something else to do. It’s not fun for you or anyone else if you aren’t loving it.