Jeremy Jordan is one of the fastest rising stars on Broadway—so fast, in fact, that he has managed to headline back-to-back musicals, Bonnie & Clyde and Newsies, this season. Since making his Broadway debut in Rock of Ages in 2009, the 27-year-old actor has played Tony in West Side Story and debuted on the big screen alongside Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah in Joyful Noise. In the past six months alone, he originated the role of rebellious newsboy Jack Kelly at the Paper Mill Playhouse, opened on Broadway as outlaw Clyde Barrow and returned to Newsies, which begins previews on March 15 at the Nederlander Theatre. Broadway.com caught up with the ultra-busy actor to discuss his quick ascent to fame, his relationship with fiancee Ashley Spencer and his film aspirations.
You’ve starred in two Broadway musicals in a single season. Can you sum up what that emotional roller coaster has been like?
It’s been crazy. Generally you don’t have the same person starring in two new shows in a season, because the first show stays open [laughs]. The only way this came about is that the first one [Bonnie & Clyde] had to close, which is very sad. As exciting as is to do Newsies again on Broadway, it was [from] sacrificing an equally wonderful show. It’s a bittersweet feeling.
Did the fact that Newsies was in the wings help cushion the blow of Bonnie & Clyde closing?
I suppose, if only financially. You get settled into a show and think, “OK, I’m going to be making some steady dough,” and as an actor, that’s important. Then suddenly it’s gone. Knowing that I had something coming relatively soon, I certainly felt more stable.
What have you learned about yourself after everything you’ve been through?
I’ve learned I am stronger than I think I am—both emotionally and stamina-wise. It helped prove to me that I could get through an ordeal as daunting as that and still come out relatively unscathed. Maybe my sanity was a little bit broken, but that was it.
Returning to Newsies, what do you love most about your character, Jack Kelly?
I love his charm. He has this great swagger about him—it’s genuine and at the same time it’s totally put on.
Why does Newsies work as a stage musical?
When you see the movie, you'd think it would instantly work as a stage musical, but it never has. The reason it works now is because we altered the telling of the story a bit and added a romantic element, which I think is very important. The movie had a lot of flaws, and discovering those flaws and eliminating them made it possible to put [Newsies] on stage successfully.
What changes have been made since the fall 2011 run at Paper Mill?
The dancing has been amped up to the next level. The dancing is going to blow your mind—get ready!
Everyone assumes that Newsies will run longer than the announced limited engagement of 101 performances. What do you think?
I’m with them. I think it’s going to be a big hit. Once people start to catch wind of this great new show, I think it’s going to run for a while.
You’ve done classic musical roles, rock, pop—which style do you feel most comfortable singing?
I don’t know. I don’t like putting myself into a singular style. I love all of it. There are different elements in each one that are exciting. In rock music, it’s the screaming; in classical, it’s the beautiful quality; in the country, it’s the riffing; in this, it’s the heart and soul that’s really exciting.
You starred as Tony in the revival of West Side Story. What was it like working with Arthur Laurents before he passed away?
It was an experience! [Laughs.] It ran the gambit emotionally. It went from excited to frightened to proud to upset to elation. It was really a journey.
Getting back to Bonnie & Clyde, do you feel that the show was unfairly treated by the critics?
They thought what they thought, but the fact is, almost anyone who saw the show found nothing but great things to say about it. While people would concede it’s not perfect, I don’t think that many shows are. I think the critical response was not in any way, shape or form reflective of the audiences’ response to the show.
You and Laura Osnes had amazing on stage chemistry…
[Interrupting] That’s the thing I had trouble with: From day one, all the way to opening night on Broadway, the most consistent compliment about the show was the chemistry between Laura and me. If everybody is saying that, then clearly there must be something there! The fact that most of the critics didn’t catch on to that was a little bit bizarre. The fact that many critics didn’t agree with that debunked, in my eyes, a lot of the other things they said about the show.
What’s the key to making a stage romance believable?
Friendship in real life, and trusting someone. The second Laura and I met we became great friends. We found what we connected on, found what made each other laugh and just charmed the pants out of each other. The same thing happened with Kara [Lindsay in Newsies].
What about your real-life romance? How did you and and your fiancee, Ashley Spencer, meet?
Ashley and I actually met via Facebook. She was looking for advice on an audition for Rock of Ages and ended up sending me a message on Facebook. It was a little flirty for a while but I was trying to mack on some other girl, and that wasn’t really working out. One day Ashley and I had been messaging back and forth, and I had given up on the other girl, so I decided, “Hey, lets get a drink or something.” In one day, Ashley and I connected more than I had ever connected with that other girl in three months of trying, so I figured that was a good sign [laughs].
How did you propose?
It’s not anything special. I had had the ring for a couple of months and it was sort of burning a hole in my pocket. It was all I could think of as I was working out one day, so I put down the weights, went to Target and got some poster board and a bunch of roses and made a pathway through our apartment to the back porch. When she came home—we live in New Jersey overlooking the city—I beckoned her out to the porch and took her over near the river and that was it. Just in front of the city at night.
What’s the key to a successful relationship between two actors?
We are there to support each other in the good times and the bad times. If she has an audition, I am there to support her, and vice versa.
In the midst of this madness, you also made your film debut in Joyful Noise alongside Dolly Parton. Were you able to take time to enjoy it?
I did. The red carpet was thrilling, but at the same time it was a lot. At the premiere, I just got swamped. People were grabbing and trying to turn my face for pictures. I was like, “This is ridiculous. Get me back to Broadway where people are civilized!”
What’s your favorite memory of working with Dolly Parton?
She is the sweetest, kindest person in the whole world, and she’ll give everybody the time of day. To know someone who reached that level of fame and is still a normal person and is still kind and generous—it’s the best lesson you can learn from someone like that.
So, any thought of going to L.A. to pursue film and TV full-time? What’s your dream career path?
After Newsies, I’d like to do another film or TV spot. I’d like to get back into that world. I’m anxious to start growing as a film actor, but I will always come back to Broadway!
See Jeremy Jordan in Newsies at the Nederlander Theatre.