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

Maleah Joi Moon is making her Broadway debut in the new Alicia Keys musical. Her Franklin Township high school theater teacher coached her through the audition.

Maleah Joi Moon in front of the Shubert Theater, where she’s making her Broadway debut in "Hell’s Kitchen"

Maleah Joi Moon in front of the Shubert Theater, where she’s making her Broadway debut in Hell’s Kitchen, the new musical from Alicia Keys. Photo: Erin Patrice O’Brien

When Maleah Joi Moon was approached about auditioning for the lead role in Hell’s Kitchen, the new Alicia Keys musical on Broadway, she initially turned it down. The actor, who uses she/they pronouns, had no professional stage work to their name, and had fallen in love with acting while performing in shows in the Franklin Township public schools.

“I felt like I wasn’t enough to fulfill something of that quality,” Moon says. She had also recently left Pace University, where she’d been studying musical theater, to pursue television acting. “I didn’t want to bare my soul anymore,” she says.

Into the breach stepped Moon’s high school theater teacher, Timothy Walton, who encouraged Moon to go for the role in Hell’s Kitchen and coached her through the audition. “He’s the reason all this is happening,” Moon says.

In Hell’s Kitchen, which is loosely based on Keys’s life, 21-year-old Moon plays Allie, a teenager living with her mother in a Hell’s Kitchen, New York City high-rise in the ’90s, going through “major life events surrounding love, loss, family and individuality,” says Moon.

On April 30, Moon was nominated for a Tony Award for best performance by an actress in a leading role in a musical. The show was nominated for a total of 13 Tonys.

Cast of Hell's Kitchen

Maleah Joi Moon and Alicia Keys perform with the cast of “Hell’s Kitchen” on the March 22 episode of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” Photo: NBCUniversal

Hell’s Kitchen director Michael Greif says he knew at once that Moon was perfect for the role. “She had great instincts, great flexibility, and interpreted the musical and textual material so smartly, bravely and uniquely.”

In the sixth grade, Moon tried out for the school play, The Wizard of Oz, and landed the role of Dorothy. She was hooked and performed in every show until graduating from high school. “In Franklin Township, they fostered the arts and really cared about cultivating young artists,” Moon says. “Middle school musical theater director Terri Seggio taught me how to sing a song with emotion when I was ten years old. I was just really, really, really lucky. To this day, I’m so grateful for it.”

Moon’s youth, inexperience and overnight success, though, can make it hard for her to trust herself. “Sometimes, imposter syndrome can catch up with me and go, Why are you here?

Fortunately, the support Moon received in Franklin Township is still with them. The New Jersey native stays in touch with their teachers, and a couple of them, “who I love very much and are still like family,” came to the show’s off-Broadway premiere last fall at the Public Theater.

Moon also has the support of the Hell’s Kitchen team, including Alicia Keys herself. During rehearsal, Keys checked that Moon was doing okay, drinking water and keeping a journal.

“She’s everything you want her to be and more,” Moon says of the superstar. “She inspires me to take good care of myself because she takes good care of everybody else.”

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