Innovative: What was it like to take your first Broadway bow?
Johnny: My first Broadway bow was pretty other-worldly. I was a Swing in Sting's The Last Ship, and luckily my first time on the stage was a planned swing-on, so I knew the date and which track it would be. Not every swing gets the luxury of knowing when their first show is. My entire company was incredibly supportive and in a weird way it almost felt like entire night was mine. I was crying the MOST happy tears when I bowed with all the men in the ensemble, and they all pointed at me and jumped on me and cheered for me. It was really special.
What are the challenges of being a swing on Broadway/off-Broadway?
So far I've done 3 shows as a Standby/Swing. One on Broadway, one Off-Broadway, and one National Tour. I will say the job is not for the faint of heart. You have to prepare 10 times as much as any other actor on stage, especially if you're covering the ensemble. In rehearsal you are constantly keeping track of multiple characters: where they go on stage, what their jobs are, entrances, exits, partnering, different vocals, lines... It can get really intense. And once you get onto the stage in the preview process, things are constantly changing. That was always the most frustrating part for me. But my advice to anyone about to be a swing is to write down as much as makes sense to your brain, watch the show as much as you can, and take it one role at a time. Choose one track that seems to be the most important and go with it. The others will fall into place as the show for a swing kind of becomes one big puzzle. The more you know one thing, the more other pieces will all fall into place. Also BREATHE haha.
While performing in a long run, how do you keep your story fresh every night?
It took me a long time to figure that out, and I still sometimes lock myself away in my own head during shows, especially long runs. But for me, keeping my show fresh every night always depends on how much I'm listening to everyone else on stage. We're all human, and no run of a show can be perfect, but if you truly listen to your fellow cast mates, you'll find your process that much more natural, fresh, and enjoyable. It opens you up to being able to make great choices, especially if its in response to something that your scene partner has done. If you're not listening, and they give you something new or fresh, or something that could amp up the scene, and you respond with your stock line delivery, the moment will sink. Theatre is alive and no show is ever the same, so listen and be open to it!
What is a lasting piece of advice you heard from a director or music director?
One of the best pieces of advice I got was from Anthony Rapp during a run of RENT that we worked on together. I was playing Roger and I always knew what I wanted the role to be. At first I was nervous and a little in my own head performing the role in front of him, but he told me to simply trust myself. I already had the job, the rest was just living in it, playing in it, honoring the words and the message of the show. As actors we can be our own worst enemies, but when he told me to trust who I was, trust what I was bringing to the table, and that what I have to offer was more than enough, it just made the experience that much sweeter.
Did you have any special pre-show routine on the road or on Broadway?
I usually do a quick workout before every show, but on tour with American Idiot specifically, my pre-show routine was a custom handshake with every single one of my cast mates. It was a tradition that started with the Broadway production, and it really solidified our bond as a cast. Even if you were having a rough day, or at odds with another cast member, that one moment to center yourself and check your baggage at the door was everything we needed to clear the air and have a good show.
Tell us one fun fact about yourself!
I'm absolutely obsessed with dogs. They are 100% my spirit animal. If I see one walking down the street I feel the most unbelievable urge to meet it and pet it. I feel crazy sometimes. I'm impossible to walk around NYC with because there are SO many dogs in this city. Every time one passes me I wave to it and say "HI!" Its truly insane.