Today we are talking to the 2012 Tony Award-nominated Best Featured Actor In A Musical who has set Broadway ablaze with his much-talked-about portrayal of Judas in Des McAnuff's spectacular revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's seminal rock opera, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR - the electric and charismatic Josh Young. Tracing his journey with the Biblically-themed musical from the hallowed grounds of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada - where he first made his mark on the theatre world with his acting of another iconic Lloyd Webber/Rice anti-hero, Che, in EVITA; as well as appearing in THE GRAPES OF WRATH - all the way to the La Jolla Playhouse in California, and, now, to eight performances a week at the Neil Simon Theatre on the Great White Way, Young shares his overflowing enthusiasm for the theatrical form and details his life as a performer; a verifiable dream come true for the self-proclaimed Broadway baby. In addition to all about his perspective on Judas and his thoughts on the daring and innovative new SUPERSTAR, Young also describes working with Tony-winning director Des McAnuff and how his training at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival prepared him for the rigors of a Broadway hit - as well as the new challenges that the Broadway grind poses. Plus, Young looks back on past performances and his favorite roles to date as well as shines a light on some of the parts he would consider taking on in the future, both near and far - two Sondheim roles among them. Additionally, Young reacts to his Tony Award nomination, fills us in on genesis of the many new lyrics for the heavenly SUPERSTAR revival, expresses interest in appearing on GLEE and/or SMASH - and much, much more!
Josh will be receiving a Theatre World Award today in the ceremony at the Belasco Theatre. More information is available here.
More information on JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre is available here.
Heaven On His Mind
PC: Are you enjoying the Tony Awards season or is the promotional aspect a bit draining at this point?
JY: Oh, no - I'm still very excited by it all! Honestly, I am.
PC: At any point in your SUPERSTAR journey have you gotten to work one-on-one with Andrew Lloyd Webber or Tim Rice?
JY: Not at all, really - unfortunately. All I have gotten from them is basically, "Great job!" and, "We love what you are doing - keep it up!" Or, "Yes, it's OK to change that lyric," and "Yes, it's OK to change that rhythm," and, "Yes, it's OK to do that riff."
PC: Your performance of "Superstar" on THE VIEW was fantastic - it's great that there is a permanent record of your performance of it out there now. Were you pleased with it, all in all?
JY: I saw it; I saw it - I'm pretty hard on myself, so I thought it was just OK. I mean, I am never happy with what I do, so I try not to watch stuff that is filmed with me in it because I am always like, "Oh, I could have done that a little bit better," or, "I could have done that differently - that riff could have been a little better."
PC: A perfectionist streak, would you say?
JY: Yeah - but, I know that the filming there went really well and everybody on our team was happy with it, so that's good. I hope it brings some positive attention to the show.
PC: The new lyrics at the end of the title song work so well - from where did those new lyrics derive?
JY: [Laughs.] I made them up!
PC: No way! How did that come about?
JY: You know, there's a whole chunk of the song at the end that just says, "Vocal Adlib." So, I basically watched every YouTube clip of the song that I could find and I saw all of these guys singing, you know, "Yeah, yeah, yeah - Jesus," or, "Jesus, who are you?" over and over again; they were just singing random stuff, basically. So, I thought, "Why not sing something that actually has meaning - musically and dramatically?" So, I made up this verse and Tim Rice ended liking it.
JY: Yeah, so if we do end up doing a cast recording, I think my lyrics will be in the liner notes, too - so that will be really cool.
PC: You can say that again. I'm glad I asked - if only for the record.
JY: I mean, I'm not broadcasting it like I made any major contribution, but, it said, "Vocal Adlib," so, I took that to heart. Tim Rice said it was fine how I had it and then he gave me some additional new lyrics throughout the piece, as well. I was really pleased that he liked the new lyrics I put in there at the end of that song, though.
PC: What other alterations did Sir Tim implement? Did "Heaven On Their Minds" have any changes?
JY: Yes. In "Heaven On Their Minds" it's normally, [Sings.] "Nazareth, your famous son / Should have stayed a great unknown / Like his father carving wood / he'd have made good." Then, originally, it was, "Tables, chairs and oaken chests / Would have suited Jesus best," but, Tim changed it - and I don't know why he made this slight change from the plural to the singular, but he did - to, "Table, chair and oaken chest." So, that's a slight change there.
PC: It is cleaner the new way - less chance for marble mouths.
JY: Yeah, yeah - definitely.
PC: What other changes were made?
JY: Well, there's actually another slight change that I made that they accepted in Act Two - during "Judas's Death".
PC: What changed?
JY: The original text reads, "Don't believe. Our good. / Save him if I could." Do you know where in the score I am talking about?
PC: Yes, of course - during the suicide.
JY: Right - OK. I changed it to, "I acted for our good / I'd save him if I could," which makes more sense to me - and they approved that, as well; which is a slightly different meter.
PC: It makes more sense that way - definitely. What else?
JY: Tim changed another lyric - "Christ, I'd sell out the nation / For I have been saddled with the murder of you, " and, he changed it to, "Christ, I'd sell out the nation / Not to be spattered with the murder of you." That's what we do now.
PC: I believe the first major recording with the slightly revised lyrics reflected in this production originated in the mid-90s West End revival as then seen in the 2000 video - but all of these changes we are discussing are brand new.
JY: Right. Right. They are.
PC: What is your personal history with the show - you were raised Jewish, correct? Were you aware of the score at all growing up?
JY: Yes. My parents had the brown double-album of the show, so I grew up having heard that. I had never seen the show, but I had seen the movie. I had never seen a production of it or done a production of it before this - I really didn't know anything of the New Testament at all, either.
PC: So it was a completely fresh experience, then?
JY: Oh, yeah. I think that that probably served me a lot in doing this, as well - you know, I didn't have any preconceived notions as far as who Judas was or who had done the role before me. I mean, I had only seen the movie once or twice, but I really loved the work in it. I just had to decide from the beginning that, "I am nothing like these guys - I am nothing like Carl Anderson and I am nothing like Ben Vereen and I am nothing like Murray Head. I have to approach this as something new; something that has never been done before."
PC: A wise approach to take.
JY: So, I think that that served me really well - and Des certainly promoted that every step along the way.
PC: Playing Judas so soon after Che in EVITA must have been baptism by fire in a way for you - that was a fantastic EVITA at Stratford and you were excellent in it, by the way.
JY: Oh, thank you so much! That's so nice of you. That was really fun.
PC: Che is an even bigger role, text-wise, I believe, isn't it?
JY: Yeah - I think it is.
PC: How do you personally compare the two scores?
JY: Well, I think that SUPERSTAR is more difficult, but I think that playing Che got me more vocally ready to be able to handle a role of this size - Judas is definitely much more vocally demanding to do on a daily basis.
PC: It's treacherously high - particularly with your riffs.
JY: The one thing that I have to say I really prefer about Judas as opposed to Che is that he is really a character - he's not just the narrator. He introduces the show with "Heaven On Their Minds", so he kind of sets the whole show up as the narrator, but, then, he becomes a character along with everyone else - with Simon and Jesus and Mary and everybody - and he gets to have interactions with the other actors, too, which, for an actor, is really preferable; really great; as opposed to just being the narrator, you know?
PC: You have a lot more to work with and play off of as a performer.
JY: Exactly. So, yeah - I am really enjoying working with all my fellow actors; in this production, especially.
PC: What is the context of the actual title song and the staging of it in this production? It's meant to be a modern hi-tech revival meeting of some sort, correct? Jesus leads an almost inaudible prayer under your vocalizing, as well. Could you put it in your own words?
JY: Well, the number is meant to be set today and I think that it's essentially Judas speaking from today. What Paul [as Jesus] is saying during the song is Jesus's Sermon On The Mount. So, he is actually saying a sermon, and, since we can't actually build a mountain out into the audience, we have that thing that we call the diving board out and he is preaching from that. Obviously, it's a pretty cool spectacle, as well.
PC: You can say that again!
JY: But, really, what he is doing is appealing to the people and that is where I get to basically run up to him and accost him and confront him and ask him, you know, "If you really are God, then why didn't you come back today? Today you could have Tweeted everybody and friended them on Facebook - it would have been a much better time to come back than in 4 B.C. when we had no mass communication."
JY: In fact, when I was thinking about those adlibs that we put in, I wanted to put in things about Twitter and Facebook and we actually messed around with doing stuff like that.
PC: How inventive! What were some lyrics you tried out?
JY: Oh, let me think. [Pause.] We tried some stuff about, "Put it up and tag me in it [on Facebook];" we basically said, "You could have had millions of people re-Tweeting your Word." I mean, sure, it could go the other way and you could be made a laughingstock and sent to the loony bin, but we are making the opposing argument here: that Jesus could have reached more people today. So, I think that that is what it is all about: if his goal was to reach all these people - as many people as he could - then, had he done it today, he could have literally reached the whole nation.
PC: Have you had primarily young audiences at the show or is it a mix?
JY: Well, in Stratford, certainly, we had a significantly younger audience, I think - you know, SUPERSTAR really isn't standard Stratford fare. [Laughs.]
PC: To say the least!
JY: I guess EVITA was their first big "rock musical" - even though I don't really consider a rock musical; it's just on that border of contemporary American musical theatre and popular music. Before that, they did WEST SIDE STORY and that was about as out-there as their things got. I think the audience there is mostly used to seeing Shakespeare and CAMELOT and things like that - they are a much more traditional audience.
PC: The old guard classics.
JY: Right. So, I think we felt that if people would even come then we would be happy. So, in our audience there, we had a lot of people in their 80s seeing the show, but, then you realize, they were in their 40s when they show came out and they still love it. So, it's great that it appeals to everybody. I would say that, now, on Broadway, we have a big demographic of girls between 12 and 20. We actually have this group of fans that come and see the show three or four times a week, so that is great to see. That's actually our biggest demographic, I would say - girls 12 to 20 - which is completely unexpected.
PC: Was EVITA how you first became involved with Des McAnuff or had you worked under his artistic leadership previously up at Stratford?
JY: Well, he was the artistic director of Stratford and Gary Griffin was the director of that EVITA. Technically, I really owe Gary all of this recent success because, had he not brought me up to Stratford for that, I can tell you pretty much for sure that I would not be doing Judas on Broadway right now.
PC: Why is that?
JY: They apparently couldn't find the right Canadian for Che - he had a really specific vision of what he wanted - so, they came down to the States and looked all over. So, thank goodness that I was the one that they chose. Really, I had such a great time doing EVITA and I really loved that production.
PC: It was a very good production.
JY: I loved that role and I really, really loved that Hal Prince version of Che - Che Guevara. I haven't seen the new production yet and I know they are handling it differently, but I just think that they needed to create more dramatic tension in the original production and that's where the decision to make him Che Guevara came from. I know that, originally, the narrator was, at first, her hairdresser - that's who sang all of Che's stuff. Eva's hairdresser was the narrator.
PC: I never knew that. How fascinating.
JY: And, then, Hal Prince said, "There needs to be more tension between the narrator and Eva," so, his idea was to make Che actually Che Guevara. They are two great historical figures, and, although their paths never actually crossed, I think it was a really interesting choice that works really well for the show.
PC: It really does - it seems almost impossible, if not futile, to attempt to do it otherwise.
JY: I think it definitely worked amazingly well in our production.
PC: Are you planning to see the new revival at some point?
JY: Oh, yeah - I am going to see the new revival very soon. I am very close friends with Christina DeCicco, so I am very much looking forward to seeing her go on.
PC: The Hal Prince production is so unforgettable - it's hard to compare anything to it, I think.
JY: Yeah, it was a really amazing production.
PC: When Andrew Lloyd Webber did this column, we spoke quite a bit about his desire to film as many of his shows as possible. Would you be open to the possibility of appearing in a filming this production of SUPERSTAR?
PC: Has the possibility been mentioned to you yet?
JY: Nobody has mentioned it, but I know there is talk about a remake of a film version. I'd certainly love it if they considered capturing the live production, though - I think it is very focused and specific and detailed, so I think it would lend itself well to being filmed.
PC: Totally. What do you think of the new era of movie musicals and GLEE and SMASH and the meta-musical age we are in?
JY: Well, I think we are all waiting to see what the backlash of it all will be for Broadway and live theatre - I mean, if they promote live theatre and we discover that that is what comes of it is more interest in live theatre? Then that is fantastic. But, if it becomes, "Oh, we'll just wait until it goes to the movie theater to see it," then, obviously, it's not as good for our particular industry.
PC: That's a very smart point.
JY: I think that we'll just have to see if there continues to be an upswing in sales due to GLEE and SMASH and those things. But, like, with the new LES MIZ movie musical, we will be able to see the direct effects of that in the next few months and the next year, so that will be interesting to see.
PC: What are your thoughts on live simulcasts of performances - direct from Broadway, even?
JY: Well, what I think really matters with that is: are any of the profits going to the actors and the crew and all of the people who work backstage? If so - and if it still makes people go to the shows live - then, it's great. You know, as long as everyone is benefiting from it, then I think it's cool - it's fantastic.
PC: It's good exposure to a wider audience, as well - needless to say.
JY: Oh, yeah - obviously; of course. But, you know, if the producers are collecting all of the residuals from it and everything, then I don't think it's good and I am not so cool with it! [Laughs.]
PC: Expectedly so.
JY: I just think that as long as everyone is benefiting from it, then I think it's a really cool thing.
PC: Since your Tony nomination and various TV appearances and such, have you experienced a certain newfound celebrity? Do people recognize you on the street?
JY: That's so nice of you to say, but no, not really - but, I have to say, when I am not in the show I am usually on my way home, so I wouldn't really know! [Laughs.]
PC: You give it all to the show - every day.
JY: Yeah, I mean - I just go home and go to bed! You know, when we did the show in Stratford and we were in rehearsals, I just wasn't thinking, "Oh, this is the amount of energy and the type of vocals I can give eight times a week," I was just giving it everything all the time and thinking, "How can I best tell the story? How can I best sing the music? How we do we make this the most amazing show?" - knowing we only have to do it four or five times a week.
PC: The Stratford schedule.
JY: Right. So, we put 150% of ourselves into it every performance and went all-out because we knew we had a day to rest afterwards - or, in the case of another actor and I, we were doing GRAPES OF WRATH in rep at the same time; so, for me, I knew that I only had a few lines every night, even though I was onstage the whole time in GRAPES OF WRATH. I knew I could do four shows singing JCS and then do four shows of GRAPES and be able to handle both. So, really, I just did not prepare myself for an eight-show-a-week performance as Judas. What I am trying to do now is exactly what I was trying to do in Stratford - give the absolute best performance - except, now, to do it eight times a week. So, what I have learned I have to do is to do the show and then go home and rest - sure, it kind of cuts out all of my social life, but it's the role of a lifetime and I am on Broadway. This is my dream, so I am more than happy to do anything to continue doing it as long as I can.
PC: And a Tony nomination along the way doesn't hurt, either!
JY: Definitely not! [Laughs.] That's just a miracle that that happened - I still can't believe it. You know, I felt really good about the work that I was doing up in Stratford and in La Jolla, but, then, I got very sick for two weeks prior to and two weeks after our opening night - which was my worst nightmare ever come true - so, I basically gave up on any hopes of getting any recognition from anyone. I was really just hoping that this would be a huge stepping stone for me in terms of being embraced by the Broadway community and furthering my career. While I was sick, it looked like that wasn't even going to happen, so getting that Tony nomination really meant a lot to me because I know that the Tony nominators only had a week to see me - I only came back a week before the nominations had to be in.
PC: Thank goodness you made it back in time and they could all see you.
JY: They only had a week to see me and I had already missed nominations for the other awards - the OCC and the Drama Desks. I was just so grateful and so, so happy that the Tony nominators took the time to come back during that week - I was told all the nominators came back to see me specifically during that week, so, even with that nightmare the month before that, it totally makes up for all of that to me. I am so appreciative of them doing that, and, then, for them to nominate me just makes me even happier - so, it all worked out in the end.
PC: What is your daily ritual to be able to do the show eight times a week and keep yourself in top condition?
JY: Well, I try to take a class everyday at Mark Fisher Fitness - I'm sure you know a lot of people from Broadway who are doing his classes now. I actually went to school with him. For instance, I know that Jerry Mitchell and a bunch of people train with him now.
PC: What does that class consist of?
JY: Well, he's basically a personal trainer, but they have classes with kettle balls and stuff. I used to run three miles a day, but now I do class with him everyday instead. I've found that I need to get my body going with a class everyday and then after that I do a specific vocal warm-up three hours prior to the show that my teacher, Katie, created for me; she is the same coach who teaches the Jersey Boys. The Dodgers are very supportive in giving Paul Nolan and I those lessons, too, so I owe them a lot for doing that for me. So, I do that vocal warm-up that she gave me, and, I'm only going to talk about this totally because you asked, but I am starting to get really superstitious about something else…
PC: Which is? You have to tell me!
JY: Well, there is this one restaurant right down the street from the theatre, and, prior to the Tony nominations, I had been eating a specific meal there every day before the show and now I am really worried to change it up! [Laughs.]
PC: What is the meal?
JY: I've been eating the chicken curry at Choppa's Vietnamese Restaurant before every performance and I will admit that I am too afraid to change it up now - so, that is part of my routine now, too, I guess. [Laughs.]
PC: Do you have a warm-up on your iPod you sing along to?
JY: Yeah, I have a digital recorder with scales and vocal exercises that my vocal teacher gave me that I always do.
PC: Besides scales: what is on your iPod? When Stephen Sondheim first did this column he said, "Wrapping paper."
JY: [Laughs.] "Wrapping paper!" Actually, Stephen Sondheim is on my iPod, since you mention him - he certainly is.
PC: What else do you enjoy listening to or singing for pleasure?
JY: Oh, well, usually if I want to just listen to something or sing along to something I'll put on some Gavin DeGraw or some Billy Joel. Occasionally, if I am feeling vocally in really great shape I will sing Jean Valjean's Soliloquy from LES MIZ or something. [Laughs.]
PC: Are there Sondheim roles in your future, do you think?
JY: Oh, I hope so! I would love to play Bobby in COMPANY. Also, I would love to play George in SUNDAY.
PC: Are there any Andrew Lloyd Webber roles you've wanted to play beyond the two big ones you've already done?
JY: I think I may have done the two Andrew Lloyd Webber roles that I wanted to do, but you never know.
PC: Are you familiar with WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND? You'd be a very good choice for The Man in that - a similarly-themed religious piece, actually; with a rock score, too.
JY: Oh, really? No, I don't know that score at all. I'll have to check it out.
PC: What is next for you after JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR? Are you committed to six more months?
JY: Yeah, it's six months and then after that I have no idea. I don't have any specific projects lined up, but I am going into the studio to work with Lucy Simon on ZHIVAGO - I am doing that in the next few weeks - but I am not in any way attached to anything past that demo as of right now. I haven't been in any talks for anything else yet. Basically, right now, I am just trying to get through this role and get through this Tony season and then we'll see.
PC: As we were talking about when we began.
JY: Yeah - I mean, I just had no idea what came along with being nominated for a Tony in terms of promotional appearances and interviews and things, so I've essentially talked to my agents and told them, you know, "Let's hold off on all interviews and appearances until after June 10 so I can really focus on giving the show the attention it deserves and giving my all to the appearances I do."
PC: I am particularly priveleged to be talking to you, then! So, you'd consider replacing Ricky in EVITA when you are done with SUPERSTAR, would you say? You have a handle on the role already.
JY: [Laughs.] Sure! I'd definitely be open to that - I love that show. Of course, as I said, I haven't seen this new production yet, but I love the show, so I would love to do it again if I had the chance. I would assume if he were leaving the show, they would get someone like Marc Anthony or Enrique Iglesias or something, though - but if they were open to me I would certainly take them up on it. I think that, in terms of roles, it's a really good fit.
PC: Would you be open to appearing on GLEE or SMASH sometime in the future and perhaps show off your considerable skills in a New Medium?
JY: Oh, absolutely! I think that would be really fun to do - definitely.
PC: We all can't wait to see what you do next! All my best luck at the Tony Awards, Josh - this was wonderful and I really appreciate it.
JY: Yeah, this was great, Pat - thank you so much. Have a great day! Bye.