Long before Nick Jonas became a teen idol as part of the Jonas Brothers, he was a Broadway baby.
On January 24, when he starts a six-month run as the indefatigable J. Pierrepont Finch in the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical comedy How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on Broadway, it will mark a return to Jonas’s first love.
How to Succeed ends a nine-year absence from the Great White Way for Jonas. He first trod the boards when he was eight in A Christmas Carol, while growing up in Wyckoff with his parents and three brothers. Roles in Annie Get Your Gun with Reba McEntire, Beauty and the Beast and Les Miserables followed.
Shortly thereafter, Jonas shifted his focus to a recording career and signed with Columbia Records, initially as a solo artist before the label brought in older siblings Joe and Kevin to form the Jonas Brothers. The group then moved to Disney-owned Hollywood Records and, with the power of the Disney hit-making machine behind them, including their own show on the Disney Channel, the brothers became global superstars. Among other achievements, they were the first group ever to have three albums simultaneously in the top 10 of the Billboard album chart.
The siblings, who last toured in 2010, are taking a break, although Jonas, who released a solo album in 2010 as Nick Jonas and the Administration, says they may record again.
At 19, Jonas has the poise and intensity of a seasoned performer. All those years of giving interviews and being on stage have served him well; there’s never an “um” or “like” in his conversation, and he speaks extemporaneously with ease. Even though Jonas is young to play the part made famous first by Robert Morse and then Matthew Broderick, the show’s director and choreographer, Rob Ashford, believes he has the right actor, especially since this new production is built around a younger Finch. The current run began last year with Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame in the role of Finch, a fresh-faced go-getter who strives to climb the corporate ladder by following the dictates of a self-help book.
“Nick fits the bill perfectly,” says Ashford. “You can imagine his Finch at the moment in his life when he wants success and has the determination to follow the book’s advice at almost any cost.
Finch also needs to be able to sing and dance, as well as act. Nick has all those talents and the charm to get the audience behind him on his journey.” Also, says Ashford, given Jonas’s history, “he knows the amount of work it takes to prepare for the role and how much it takes to sustain an eight-show week. I think he’s very excited by that challenge.”
Indeed, Jonas looks forward to being a song-and-dance man. “There’s something to be said about being able to act, sing and dance all on one stage, where you can put it all together in front of an audience that is gripped by the show and the story,” he says. “It’s such an amazing and fulfilling thing as a performer.”
Jonas’s path to Broadway began at the age of three, when his family moved from Dallas to Franklin Avenue in Wyckoff after his pastor father was offered a position at Wyckoff Assembly church. A few years later, his parents came home from seeing Les Miserables and remarked that they knew he was capable of a similar role. That passing comment planted a seed with Nick. “My whole attitude from the time I was young was I want to do this, and it felt like it was already a part of me,” he says.
A little while later, the natural performer was singing away in the beauty salon as his mom was getting her hair done. A fellow patron heard his strong voice and gave Jonas’s mom the name of a talent manager. Next stop, Broadway.
An early misstep only made Jonas more determined to succeed. His roles in A Christmas Carol included Tiny Tim’s understudy, and he had to step in one night with minimal notice and only one short rehearsal. “The first couple of chords of music start, and I’m standing there waiting to sing, and it’s the only moment of my entire life and my entire career where I had stage fright and I just froze,” he says. The incident lasted for exactly 32 bars of music—but it left an impression that will last a lifetime. “I was basically so humiliated that I decided that I would never ever have stage fright again, and from that moment on I didn’t.”
For the first few years as he moved from one show to the next and before his mother began home schooling him, Jonas balanced his Broadway duties with his regular elementary school schedule at Eastern Christian Academy in Midland Park. On Mondays and Tuesdays, he would attend school full time. On Wednesdays—matinee days—he’d leave school at 10 am, and then go back to full school days on Thursday and Friday. “It was a pretty good schedule. I’d have to be in the city every night by about 7:30 for a 8 pm show,” Jonas recalls. “I was not tired. I think a lot of that was because I enjoyed what I was doing.”
Plus, it was “pretty fun” getting paid at 8 years old. “I’m not going to lie,” he says. “I was aware of finances and trying to be a good steward of my money at a young age,” although he admits the mammoth Times Square Toys “R” Us, which he passed on the way to the theater, got its fair share of his hard-earned money.
Jonas still found time to hang out with his friends at the local Dairy Queen and Boulder Run shopping center and to play sports, including participating on a T-ball team and in a soccer league. “I played two or three years,” he says of his soccer career. “My dad coached the team [even though] he’d never played a day in his life or watched a full game. He did a great job. We were actually undefeated three years in a row.”
When Jonas was 13, the family moved to Little Falls. “In that house, we basically wrote the first record we released on Hollywood. It has a special place in our hearts,” Jonas says. “We were living in a three-bedroom home—four boys, our parents and an uncle.” That self-titled disc became the first of two platinum albums for the brothers, signifying U.S. sales of more than 1 million copies each. As the brothers’ career soared, the Jonas family relocated to Los Angeles. They have since returned to a family home in Texas.
Jonas’s oldest brother, Kevin, 24, has moved back to New Jersey; he lives in Montvale with his wife, Dani, who is originally from Denville. Jonas, who has rented an apartment in Manhattan for his Broadway tenure, says he looks forward to “enjoying the quiet” with them in Montvale on his days off.
As far as making New Jersey his home again, Jonas would never rule it out. “There might come a time and I want to settle down and be in a peaceful place,” he says. “It depends on the season in my life…. I consider [New Jersey] where I grew up. I love New Jersey with all my heart.”
Melinda Newman is the Hollywood correspondent for New Jersey Monthly.Click here to leave a comment