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Table Talk w/James Earl Jones II of ‘Come From Away’

Powerful. Moving. Gripping. Life-changing. Funny. Spectacular.

Yes, these are all of the wonderful words (plus many, many more) we can use to describe Come From Away, Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s incredible musical that tells the true story of what transpired the week of the September 11th attacks when 38 planes were ordered to land unexpectedly in the small town of Gander in the province of Newfoundland, Canada.

Now, you would think that a show retelling the events of that tragic and horrific day would be filled with sadness and sorrow, but instead it does a tremendous job filling the air with hope and human kindness…and it’s a message that we could all use more of in dealing with today’s crazy times.

With a small tightly knit and extremely talented cast, Come From Away also portrays characters based off of the actual kind patrons who took in those diverted plane passengers, which is another fabulous reason why it will get you in all of the right places. The audience gets to actually feel the human touch laced within….and it indeed has never felt or sounded better, for that matter.

So, in a word…if Come From Away is heading to your town (check this out), you might want to grab those tickets now.

James Earl Jones II (the legendary actor’s third cousin..not his son..a question he gets asked once daily) is one of the many talented actors in the cast who helps brings it all to light with his portrayal of “Bob” and a few others…you’ll see.

So, take a little time to get to know him as he was kind enough to take a seat at the table where he broke mugs about his favorite records, what doing this show means to him, and why Come From Away is just so damn important for all of us to see…right now.

Get to know James below.

First up on our little spill, what does being in this show mean to you personally as an actor? The show is a dream come true. Sometimes you do a show that pays very well. Sometimes you do a show that has a good message. Sometimes you do a show where you work with good people. And in the midst of that, you’re looking for your big break…the show that you really feel pushes your career forward. This show is all of those things.

Given the circumstances of the plot, why do you think ‘Come From Away’ just works so well with audiences? The show works so well with audiences because it gives people hope. A lot of people say that this show is very timely, due to the current political climate. I think the show will be timely, forever. It is a true event, about good people, doing good things. With so much negativity in the news and on the TVs, seeing such an uplifting and positive show, is reason enough, for it to resonate for a very long time, with people from all over the world.

This show also resonates plenty of human emotion as well. Why do you think it’s so important for people just to let it all out sometimes? A good cry allows you to sometimes heal. You purge the sadness, the emptiness, the despair; essentially, the negativity. I think it’s sad when people say they’ve never seen their *fill in the blank* cry.. A good cry, like our show, can be very cathartic.

Okay, so….you’re stuck on a deserted island…you’re only allowed to bring three of your favorite albums with you. Which ones would they be?  Sheesh!!  They would probably be India.Arie’s Acoustic Soul,Take 6’s self-titled record, and Wu Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers).

What is one thing you personally hope audiences will take away from this truly incredible show? A renewed sense of hope in humanity. Paying it forward with simple acts of kindness. Simply being good to one another, just cuz. Becoming more tolerant, understanding and open to people who are different than you..

Lastly, define the ‘Come From Away’ experience in a couple of phrases….. Beautiful message. Beautiful people. Beautiful experience. Changed for the better.

And there you have it, kids. now, get those tickets! This is one Broadway experience no one should ever miss in a lifetime.

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Table Talk w/J. Daughtry of ‘Miss Saigon’

What’s to say about the legendary Tony Award winning Broadway extravaganza that will always and forever be Miss Saigon besides, well, everything??

Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil‘s (see also Les Miserables) powerful musical about an extraordinary Asian woman named Kim and an American G.I, Chris, who’s also the father of Kim’s child, Tam, Miss Saigon is the absolute reason why we must put all of our troubles aside and head to the Academy of Music while the national touring production is in its final week of Philly domination until this Sunday, March 31st. 

Oh, yeah, there’s also a helicopter that flies onto the stage, a feast of pearl clutching dance routines and straight up life moments you’ll never forget, so you should get those tickets just to see…all of that. And yes, that actual image in your head of a helicopter flying onto the Academy of Music stage at this very Broadway moment in time is most likely accurate..so, grab everyone you know and go. 

But of course, a brilliantly incredible cast is another reason–if not the reason–to fly away with Miss Saigon while it’s still here, and this tremendously talented (and, like, so much more) cast is no exception as they truly gel and groove on stage together while taking the audience on an explosive entertainment ride of a lifetime. 

One of those esteemed cast members (you can meet them all right here) is fine Broadway actor J. Daughtry, whom some of you may recognize from Motown the Musical and The Color Purple. However, all of us certainly know him now from this riveting traveling production (it’s the last one, too!!) thanks to his powerful (and that voice!!) turn as Chris’ best friend, John

Mr. Daughtry was recently kind enough to take a grand seat at the Philly Mixtape tea table, where he broke Miss Saigon mugs about his humble banker-to-actor beginnings, why positive energy and light is crucial in the entertainment world, and why being part of an iconic show such as this one truly a big deal….because it really, really is. 

So, get those tickets while you can…but first, get to know the finely tuned and talented Mr. J. Daughtry right..now. 

Kicking off our spill, break some mugs for everyone on how you got your start on musical theater…. It actually goes back to when the banks crashed…I was a banker before I did this. So, when [they] crashed, things went crazy and the only fallback I had was my love for the theater. So, one thing led to another and I was in New York doing Broadway a little bit down the road. 

From banker to actor…that must have been one hell of a transition… It was rough! It took a couple of years for me to actually transition, I was living in DC and I was working for what was then Wachovia bank, which turned into Wells Fargo. I was a small business banker and our quotas went crazy and people were doing all kinds of illegal stuff to just stay afloat. So, I decided to leave the bank and not do any illegal stuff….but didn’t have a new job to fall back on. [After}, I started teaching music theory at a private Christian school in Maryland. While I was there, the music teacher passed away, so the principal of the school came to me and asked me to cover the chorus class until [they] found somebody. I said yes and began teaching it…and it was a lot of work to be doing! So, one day the principal came in just to check on the class and saw me teaching and said, ‘Mr. Daughtry, can I talk to you?” I thought I was getting fired!! She then said…’You’re really good at this…good to the point that this is what you should be doing.” Then she said that she would give me three days a week off and would bring in a substitute for me but made me promise her that I would use those three days to go to New York and audition. So, that’s what I did for an entire summer and from there it’s pretty much been job after job! 

I’m always one to say..funny how life works out even in the most unfortunate circumstances… Life had to get me into a position to be aligned in order to allow a flow to happen for things to just start coming! Sometimes I look back at the things that I’ve done and just think how it’s important to do a good job in that moment. Focus on what you’re doing now, make sure you’re doing a great job and consider that to be a seed and then it will pay off in the future..it has to pay off in some way. 

And getting back the vibes that you put out is always key… Everything is energy and it will return to you in whatever way that you give it. Even in relationships..the way we treat each other. The energy that you’re giving to somebody is going to be returned to you in some type of way..you have to be mindful of all of it. 

Okay, let’s talk about…this show. How does it feel to be a part of, well, this show?? So, this is the last time Miss Saigon will be on the road with this production team..this is the last go around! It’s a big deal to even be considered to even play the role of John because I knew that it was the last showing. [The producers] really wanted people who could really tell the story the way they envisioned it to be. Even now because the show is such a big show, when you’re on the stage every night you still feel how grand this moment is and how just to be a part of something so big is really important….and is really a big deal!

Speaking of big deals, Miss Saigon is certainly just that and some as it’s completely taken a hold of the city now starting in its second week. How do you and the cast maintain the energy every night during a lengthy run like this versus a week-long showing? In any show, it really depends on the cast. This cast in particular is passionate about this show and of their ow work, so they bring that to the stage every night and it keep it all going. No person is left behind, so to speak…we’re all giving it everything we have each and every night. We all completely throw ourselves into these roles and that’s truly what keeps the show alive no matter the length of the run. It’s also going back to the energy you give out and each cast member brings what they have and we just bounce the energy off of each other. 

Last but not least…please tell me the cast will have a little time to check out the city during your run…There are some rehearsals during the day, but they’re only for a few hours so we do get to experience every city that we’re in…including Philly! 

And there you have it, kids. For much more with the incredibly talented J. Daughtry…get those tickets to see Miss Saigon during its final week at the Academy of Music this week..right here, right now

For much more Philly loves Broadway truth and beyond, own the spotlight with Philly Mixtape right here and here

J. Daughtry cover photo courtesy of Kimmel Center