Broadway Star Jelani Remy Says Jersey Roots ‘Shaped Me’

The Cedar Grove native got the call that he'd nabbed his current role in Broadway's Back to the Future musical while working with students at his alma mater.

Headshot of Jelani Remy

Jelani Remy, who has previously starred in The Lion King and Ain’t Too Proud, currently plays Mayor Goldie Wilson and singer Marvin Berry in the Back to the Future musical on Broadway. Photo: Paul Morejon

Jelani Remy, 36, is no stranger to Broadway musicals, with star turns as Simba in The Lion King and the Temptations’ Eddie Kendriks in Ain’t Too Proud. But in his current role in Back to the Future, based on the 1985 movie, he’s an original cast member, which is a new creative experience.

In the musical, which opened last August, the Cedar Grove native plays Mayor Goldie Wilson and singer Marvin Berry, singing the lead in three numbers: “Gotta Start Somewhere,” “Deep Divin’,” and the doo-wop classic “Earth Angel.”

“It’s a small role, but I’ve gotten to breathe life into it. I’m the comedic relief of the show. I get to be silly and crack up the audience,” he says.

Cedar Grove native Jelani Remy dances with the cast of "Back to the Future" on Broadway

Jelani Remy (center) and the cast of Back to the Future on Broadway. Photo: Courtesy of Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

Remy began rehearsals with a sense of the characters as he knew them from the movie, and expanded them to be “lovable and memorable,” he says.

“I used the cast and the creative team’s leadership to try different approaches until I found what felt right.”

Bob Gale, who wrote the movie’s screenplay and the musical’s book, comes to the Winter Garden Theatre often to watch the show. When he does, he and Remy occasionally get together for dinner in the theater district. “He’s a wealth of information,” Remy says. “He remembers every [movie] detail, the why and the how. I think it’s beautiful that he is freely sharing his knowledge.”

Like Gale, Remy is also generous with his gifts. When he’s not performing on Broadway, he leads choreography and audition workshops at his alma mater, Cedar Grove High School. In 2022, he helped with choreography for their production of The Prom and was part of the team that pushed for it to continue after it was tentatively canceled due to concerns over LGBTQ+ themes.

In fact, Remy got the call that he’d nabbed the role in Back to the Future while he was at Cedar Grove, working with students and the chorus teacher who had pushed him to do his first musical. “I got to tell them first,” he says.

[RELATED: Broadway’s ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ Star Fell in Love With Acting at NJ Public Schools]

“Cedar Grove is my roots. You never forget where you come from,” he says. He also credits the district’s longtime theater director, Jennifer Jessen-Foose, for “pushing me into my passion.”

Remy explains: “My entire heart is in New Jersey. I grew up here and it shaped me. It’s important to keep going back and helping the next generation of performers.”

He also credits his performing experiences at Pleasant Valley Productions, Paper Mill Playhouse’s Rising Star program and the Montclair Operetta Club for helping to get him to Broadway. At Montclair State University, where he studied musical theater, the “legend” Clay James, associate professor of theater and dance, “gave me that collegiate-level tough love.

“I had some fantastic teachers throughout my life, which made me want to become one,” he says, of his aspirations to someday work behind the scenes directing, choreographing and teaching.

“I love giving an education or sharing something with the next generation. It’s important for the kids to see someone from their community to show them that it’s possible.”

<strong>Cedar Grove native Jelani Remy (center) and the cast of <em>Back to the Future</em> on Broadway.</strong> Photo: Courtesy of Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

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