Believe it or not, American Son is taking Jeremy Jordan back to his roots.
His fans may be surprised to hear that, since the show is a new Broadway play and not a musical. Jordan made his name singing and dancing, earning a Tony nomination for Newsies, appearing on the cult-favorite musical TV series Smash, and starring in the film adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years. Even his nonsinging role on TV’s Supergirl has a heightened quality that makes it feel as if a number could start any second.
American Son, meanwhile, is a searing and suspenseful play about two parents who arrive at a Florida police station anxiously looking for information. As a police officer on duty, Jordan is part of a highly naturalistic world. There are no tunes and no dancing, just the fireworks of people in crisis.
“I’m excited to do this because it’s a facet of my acting that people haven’t really seen,” he says. “I didn’t want to be known as just the guy who sings. I wanted to prove to myself and my community that I had more to offer. And it’s not that I don’t love musicals, because I do. But I want to exercise the muscles you use as an actor when you don’t have a song to help you express the depths of what you’re feeling.”
This is where he can reach to his own theatrical past. Because despite his status as a musical-theater star, Jordan made his debut in a play — a 2008 production of The Little Dog Laughed. “That was my first professional show, so I’m kind of coming full circle here,” he says.
Jordan is enthusiastic about American Son — which begins performances at the Booth Theatre October 6 — because it explores frankly how people talk about race in this country. “It lets everyone lay their cards on the table,” he says. “We have characters who generally don’t talk about this sort of thing finally speaking about it. Every character can provoke both empathy and frustration. We can see that none of them are perfect by any means, but we can look at them and say, ‘Oh, I like them, and I understand them.’”
Though details about the production — which also stars Kerry Washington, Steven Pasquale, and Eugene Lee — are being withheld to preserve suspense, Jordan says he’s eager to dig beneath his character’s instinctive politeness. “I want to explore when his ‘nice-guy quality’ actually keeps him from being honest,” he explains. “At some point, he’s forced to exit that mechanism and deal with things for real.”
He hopes audiences are inspired to have honest conversations too, after they’ve gasped their way through the pulse-rattling plot. “We usually don’t want to talk about these issues,” Jordan says. “And if people are talking about them, we don’t want to listen because it’s uncomfortable. So I hope the play is unifying in some way. I hope it at least gets people to start talking more openly about race and openly speaking to people they might not normally speak to.”
He adds, “I think sitting in the theatre for those 90-or-so minutes could offer one of those opportunities for a transformative moment. It forces you to listen and take into account what people are saying and how they’re dealing with things.”