For L.A. cabaret show, Jeremy Jordan is nervous about being himself

Actor and singer Jeremy Jordan
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Even guys who have starred on Broadway, been a regular on a TV series and have a few films under their belt hit that moment in their career where Jeremy Jordan was recently.

“Honestly, I didn’t have anything to do,” Jordan said. The actor, who quickly progressed from understudying multiple roles in “Rock of Ages” to a lead actor Tony nomination for the hit “Newsies” (along the way, he created the role of Clyde in a short-lived musical of “Bonnie and Clyde), decided to branch out into cabaret-style performing. “It seems that I am constantly busy, but most of that stuff has already happened.

“I have a little bit of free time and no way to make money, so I am going to knuckle down and do these concerts everybody tells me I should do,” he said. Jordan unveils the show in a four-night run in San Francisco, then moves on to the Catalina Bar and Grill in Hollywood on Monday evening for two shows and a third on Tuesday.


But the engaging 29-year-old with the vast vocal range — just check out the YouTube video of him singing “Let It Go” — admits he’s nervous about being himself onstage.

“I am not really keen on the concert scene,” Jordan said last week on the phone from his home in New Jersey. “I am so much more interested in playing characters than going out and being myself. It’s a really scary thing to go up onstage and be yourself. How will people think that’s interesting?”

Jordan doesn’t want to divulge too many details of the show but says he will be performing songs from the Broadway musicals, TV and films he’s done as well as personal favorites and tunes he’s sung at auditions. He will also perform with his wife, Ashley Spencer (“Grease,” “Rock of Ages”), on a few numbers, and sing his own compositions for the first time in front of an audience.

In addition to his theater work, Jordan played Dolly Parton’s character’s grandson in the 2012 movie “A Joyful Noise,” was a regular on the second season of NBC’s “Smash” and is starring with Anna Kendrick in “The Last Five Years,” the upcoming film version of a Jason Robert Brown (“The Bridges of Madison County”) musical about the relationship between a struggling actress and an up-and-coming novelist.

Born and raised in Corpus Christi, Texas, Jordan was young when his parents divorced and he grew up in low-incoming housing with his mother and two siblings.

“I always knew I liked singing, and my mother convinced me to try out for the choir. As soon as I got into the choir, I found a place where I belonged. I stuck with it all through high school.”


And he soon began acting. “My grandmother did a little bit of community theater, and I got roped into every one in a while,” said Jordan. “I ended up playing a role where I didn’t have to sing. I played the Mute in ‘The Fantasticks.’ Suddenly, I discovered this new world of becoming somebody else. Immediately, I decided that’s what I wanted to do.”

After graduating from Ithaca College, Jordan went to New York where he worked the usual waiter jobs until he landed regional theater work. His big break came in 2009, when he was hired to cover different roles in “Rock of Ages.” When the lead took sick, Jordan went on with little rehearsal.

“It was my Broadway debut essentially,” Jordan said. “I never stepped foot onstage and I was the lead. My family came to surprise me.”

Also in the audience that night was director Todd Graff, who would later cast him in “Joyful Noise.”

But Jordan really came into his own in 2011, starring in the premiere of “Newsies” at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey and in “Bonnie and Clyde” as Clyde Barrow. In fact, for a month he was doing “Newsies” at night in New Jersey and rehearsing for “Bonnie and Clyde” during the day in New York.

“I didn’t know how I made it through,” he said, laughing. “I was just singing all day every day. I actually never lost my voice.”

Both musicals were directed by Jeff Calhoun, who first met Jordan at the “Bonnie and Clyde” audition. “It was immediately clear he had something special,” said Calhoun, via email.

“In addition to Jeremy’s star quality, he has amazing instincts as an actor,” noted Calhoun. “These instincts prohibit Jeremy from ever creating a false or disingenuous move onstage. I’ve also been enormously impressed with his ability to stay humble while experience success at such a breakneck speed. He understands the responsibility that comes with privilege.”

“Bonnie and Clyde,” though, ran only 36 performances in December 2011. “It was really sad,” Jordan said. “It was something that was really dear to us. I was fortunate enough when it closed, ‘Newsies’ was already coming to Broadway, and I got to do ‘Newsies.’ It was the show that really skyrocketed my career to the next level. I can’t help but be thankful for that, but it was bittersweet.”

His role in “The Last Five Years” was vocally demanding, said Jordan, because “we shot almost everything live. The whole film is pretty much a musical.”

Richard LaGravenese (“Beautiful Creatures”), the writer and director of ‘The Last Five Years,’” said it was his good friend Graff who suggested Jordan.

“I had this one particular song, ‘If I Didn’t Believe in You.’ I had him sing it over and over,” LaGravenese said. “I knew he could do it vocally, but it was acting, his ability to connect with it that made me want to cast him. We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg of what he can do.”