Tarleton Makes Broadway Debut

Before taking the stage for his Broadway debut, Jonmichael Tarleton ’15 expected a wave of nerves unlike ever before. But when it came time to perform, he felt surprisingly composed.

“I felt nothing different than excitement at a new opening and a calm presence of mind to tell the story as best I could,” he says. “I attribute this to the years of practice, training and dedication that have gone into my career.”

This milestone in Tarleton’s career was part of an annual benefit competition, the Easter Bonnet, which supports an organization called Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. The two-day show at the Minskoff Theatre (home of The Lion King on Broadway) celebrates the Broadway, regional and touring theatrical productions that raised money for the organization. All Easter Bonnet ticket sales went directly to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and the participating actors’ time was donated.

But how did the music grad (vocal performance concentration) find his way to the Broadway stage? “I was in the right place, at the right time, doing the right production,” he says. Tarleton was concluding a run of the musical Ragtime when its director, the founder of R.Evolucion Latina, Luis Salgado, asked the cast to perform one of Ragtime’s ensemble numbers at the Easter Bonnet.

“We, of course, agreed,” Tarleton says, and Salgado reworked reworked Lynn Ahrens and Steven Flahersty’s song, “The Night the Goldman Spoke at Union Square” from the musical Ragtime, into a modernized piece protesting gun violence in U.S. schools.

“I think any musical theater actor aspires to perform on Broadway,” Tarleton says. Following graduation, he moved to Manhattan with the goal of joining the company of a Broadway musical. “This is still my goal,” he says, “and this short performance was a small yet wonderful step in the right direction.”

Photo by Rich Kowalski, taken at Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal Park, NJ. Production: Ragtime. Actors Featured in Photo (Left to Right): Jack Sweeney, Molly Samson, Noel Houle Von Behren, Jonmichael Tarleton

Since arriving in the Big Apple, he has lived the life of an aspiring actor—which includes a few clichés, he admits. Tarleton is a waiter and bartender at a Broadway cabaret house when he’s not acting, and he attends between two and five auditions per week. Tarleton landed six theatrical contracts in 2017, but he says it wasn’t easy to achieve.

Many of the auditions he attends are open calls, which means anyone can show up. So, in order to get noticed, Tarleton says he arrives two hours early to wait in line and sign in. Another two hours later (at least), his name is called and he sings 16 bars of music—that’s 30 seconds—in front of a stranger who decides whether or not he fits the bill for a callback. “It is a world of rejection, but it’s absolutely worth it,” he says, calling himself out on another cliché.

Often times, Tarleton says he is expected to learn audition pieces of music in a matter of days, or even hours. That’s where his Gordon education comes in handy and sets him apart from the competition. Because he packed his schedule with theatre courses and productions as a student, he became comfortable with skills like sight reading, scene study and script analysis.

“Having a solid education in music theory and ear training,” he says, “has been invaluable.”

Although he says the industry has as much to do with hard work and perseverance as it does with luck and connections, Tarleton looks forward to the opportunities that have opened through his first appearance on Broadway.

“I met so many wonderful people and industry professionals during this process,” Tarleton says, “and I never know who of them may be the person I need to know to book my next gig.”

Header photo by Michael Hull, taken at Feinstein’s/54 Below