Matt Blank, Contributing Critic - New York City
It’s been said that the era of the great Broadway leading man has passed. While this bizarre claim generally emanates from the fingertips of those who relish living in their memories and fail to provide any hard evidence, it does leave a person periodically flipping through old Playbills for great examples to the contrary.
How fortunate are we that we need not look too far when one Mr. Jeremy Jordan is heartily emoting on the stage. A man who truly needs no introduction to the readers of this publication, the Tony-nominated tenor occupies one of very few spots in the stratosphere of the elite and, indeed, reigns supreme among those leading men under the age of 40. Hailing from Corpus Christi, by way of Ithaca College, Jordan not only cleaned out the inventory at the Handsome Store, but clearly ransacked the Talent Warehouse en route to Broadway.
With a strong jawline and effortless, soaring voice that seamlessly blends the best elements of pop, legit Broadway, and R&B, it is no accident that his rise to the top has been a rapid one.
I first became aware of Jordan when he was announced as the two-show-a-week “Tony” in the most recent revival of West Side Story. Soon enough, it seemed that he was occupying every coveted cast list to pass through my desk. It wasn’t until his leading man One-Two-Punch of Newsies and Bonnie & Clyde, one of which I absolutely loved, that I fully realized just how special a talent this guy is.
Since then, he’s proven a man after my own heart by taking on choice starring roles in one-night-only presentations of Parade and Sweet Smell of Success and found a broader appeal with his onscreen performances in “Smash,” “Supergirl” and the film adaptation of The Last Five Years.
This Monday, fans and admirers got to enjoy highlights from Jordan’s career and learn more about this likable young Jewish guy from Texas when he headlined this season’s third installment of the Seth Rudetsky Broadway @ Town Hall series. The first two concerts featured Audra McDonald and Kelli O’Hara, respectively, so the guy is no stranger to swimming with some fairly big fish.
Instantly likable with an easy confidence that is magnetic but stops well short of reading as cockiness, this was Jordan’s night to shine and he eagerly took up the challenge. He entered to a packed house with a fun version of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” reworded as “Look Who’s Come Here To See Me.” In the bridge, he sang:
Am I dreaming?
You skipped Netflix for this.
I’m just beaming,
Now validate me with your screaming.
And we did. The audience, which spanned all ages and genders, could be described as “thirsty” by any stretch of the imagination, and Mr. Jordan came equipped with vocal acrobatics and anecdotes to satiate that thirst. Dispensing with these irritating modern-day slang terms, let’s look at some highlights from the evening.
Over the course of two hours, Jordan delivered about 10 songs from his repertoire, broken up by short conversational segments and a two-minute pee break. Rudetsky - spritely, tangential and comically elitist as ever - presided over the evening as both interviewer and musical director.
Some fun tidbits from the conversation:
● Jordan was forced into choir by his mother in fifth grade after she heard him singing 90s pop songs in the shower, in the original female key.
● He didn’t play a lead role until junior year of college, when he was cast as Danny Zuko in Grease (which he displayed onstage with an impromptu bit of “Summer Nights”).
● For his senior showcase at Ithaca College, he sang the Bobby Strong part in “Run Freedom Run,” with all of the other students singing backup. He booked an agent immediately.
● He had two notable survival jobs in New York. He worked as a caterer who would sneak bites of hors d'oeuvres when no one was looking. Later, he booked a Hell’s Kitchen waiter gig by completely making up his resume with fake serving experience, then singing “Anthem” from Chess for the overly-friendly head maitre d.
● While “technically Jewish,” he is not religious.
● Arthur Laurents started crying when Jordan sang “Something’s Coming” at his West Side Story audition.
● Toward the end of his run in WSS, Laurents singled him out for a particularly brutal note session in front of the entire cast. Feeling unfairly targeted, Jordan actually stood up to the legendary writer-director, told him he was contradicting himself, then “kind of” apologized later.
● His character on “Smash” was apparently based on Joe Iconis. Maybe that isn’t news. I never saw the show.
● Jordan never had a traditional audition for Newsies. After being overlooked at first, he was brought in for consideration for the developmental reading after "they couldn’t find anyone." When it came time for the pre-Broadway production at Paper Mill, he was offered the role, having then already worked with Jeff Calhoun on the pre-Broadway production of Bonnie & Clyde.
● After a grueling series of auditions for Last Five Years director Richard LaGravenese, he took it upon himself to send a personal email (a heartfelt letter?) detailing some of his ideas and emphasizing that he would be great to work with. The gesture was appreciated, and he got the offer a few days later.
● Jordan has twice notably been nearly nude at the workplace, save for some awkward paper-thin flesh-colored booty shorts: once during the bathtub scene in Bonnie & Clyde and once during the sex scene in The Last Five Years (about which he had to say, “I was married, and [Anna Kendrick] wasn’t interested”).
● He had previously seen future wife Ashley Spencer on the Grease reality show and as Amber in Hairspray but they didn’t meet until she slid into his Facebook to ask for advice on her Rock of Ages callback. Their first date was awkward at first, but after some drinks and a karaoke marathon, turned into 48 straight hours together.
Oh, by the way, he sings, too! When not shooting the light-hearted shit with Seth, Jordan took center stage and dazzled the crowd of 1500 with his unparalleled vocal magic.
Some musical highlights. Note that these clips are from other performances. I don’t have any footage from the concert.
● We went on a journey through his most notable roles, including effervescent renditions of “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story; “Broadway, Here I Come!” from “Smash;” “Santa Fe” from Newsies and “Moving Too Fast” from The Last Five Years.
● When he sang “Bonnie” from Bonnie & Clyde, Seth brought up a young lady from the audience to be the subject of Clyde’s affections. It was soon discovered that she was only 16 years old, which immediately injected the song with a wildly awkward, mildly upsetting tone. Before the racy final verse, Jordan asked her to put on her “hand earmuffs” before the lyrics about “making love to Bonnie.” As the audience cheered, he quipped that luckily no one was recording it “because THAT is what they call evidence!”
● It must be mentioned that his version of Sara Bareilles’ “She Used To Be Mine” was nothing less than spectacular. No cheekiness, no pronoun adjustments, just a gorgeous and real performance that had folks in the orchestra on their feet.
● An understated, emotional delivery of Carole King’s “So Far Away” shattered expectations of endless “money notes” and showed his adept handling of a stunning folk ballad.
● The evening closed with a sumptuous Dorothy Mashup of “Over the Rainbow” and “Home” that was both subtle and riff-tastic.
● We were left wanting more. So much more. And it came, at 10 PM, in the form of an unamplified “Bring Him Home.”
With a luscious, full tone that is simultaneously rock-solid and unpredictably whimsical, he is a rare performer who truly takes the audience on a journey with every phrase and every inflection. Necessary straight tones and a Sinatra-eque lilt delivered from the back of his hearty throat, smoky vibrato, surprising riffs that hit you like an Allen Iverson crossover, and the kind of indulgent high notes that make a grown man want to suck on his own finger while his best friend chokes him out in an abandoned stairwell. THAT is why I showed up last night.
What’s more, he just seems like a good guy. If I had even a portion of his talent, I think it’s safe to say I would spend my day abusing wait staff and engaging in horrible, degenerate sex at tremendous risk to myself and everyone around me.
It seems that we, as a culture, are always searching for the next big story, the next trailblazer, the next breaker of new ground. We want an endless parade of firsts and onlys. Jordan need not fulfill that space. In keeping with my weird NBA analogies that nobody is asking for, Jeremy (like Steph Curry) is simply GOOD.
Natural talent, a hard worker, and that little (intangible) something extra that creates a supernova without actually being “extra.” In conversation, he emphasizes that he isn’t “even remotely close” to reaching his full potential.
I don’t think that there is a peak. As an artist, in general, you should never stop growing.
I don’t feel successful. I know that I have had successes, but there are so many things I haven’t done and heights that I haven’t reached yet. I think that it’s a process that is ever growing.
Well, if the man ever gets anywhere close to what he considers “successful,” I think we are in for a good many decades of thrilling work. Whether play, musical, movie, or TV show, this stellar talent had cemented his place in the conversation of the Broadway elite.
I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens next. However, I do not envy the cleaning crew tasked with the job of mopping up the seats after the show.
In closing, a song he did NOT perform on Monday, but always worth a look:
Keep an eye peeled for the busy singing actor. His non-singing turn in Broadway’s American Son will soon be available on Netflix, and he hints that something big is in the works for the foreseeable future. Visit jeremy-jordan.com.