‘Marvel Universe Live!’
Sept. 4-7 at Verizon Center
Sept. 12-14 and 19-21 at Patriot Center
Growing up in Channahon, Ill., Joshua Johnson discovered the amazing adventures of Spider-Man, Captain America and Daredevil and spent endless hours sorting through his comic books. Even today, the 22 year old considers himself a “comic book nerd” and especially loves the X-Men.
These days, instead of reading about superheroes and their battles with notorious bad guys, he gets to act them out as part of Marvel Universe LIVE!, a new live-action production that will be headed to the Verizon Center in Washington starting Sept. 4 and the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va., from Sept. 12-21.
In the high-energy production, Johnson plays one of Loki’s minions and helps the Norse God in his plan to take over the world. But with some of Marvel’s top superheroes on the case — including Iron Man, Thor and Wolverine — things aren’t that easy for him.
“I get hit by a car, fall from high above and have all sorts of things happen to me. Captain America knocks me from the catwalk twice,” Johnson says. “It’s a lot of cool stunts and incredible action and I think everyone is really going to enjoy what they see.”
Johnson came to the show from the famous “Alegria” by Cirque du Soleil, so he knows a thing or two about high falls and acrobatic showmanship. He also worked some shows at Sea World and perfected the “Russian Swing,” a circus skill that not many can do.
“One of my favorite things to do is learn new circus skills and train for new things to do in the show,” he says. “I’m hoping to learn as much as I can in the industry.”
He first developed skills as a diver in college and his coach encouraged him to audition for the circus because of the high aerial tricks he could do. The Marvel Live show is his first transition from the circus and Johnson is loving every moment of it so far.
“I don’t do any diving but I am on the high bar and in the air a lot, and I really enjoy performing in front of people,” he says. “This experience is helping me to learn different things. It’s a brand new show and storyline, so things are changing every day and we’re really sharpening our skills.”
While Johnson wears some padding under his costume for protection, he and the rest of the cast underwent intensive stunt training for three months, learning how to fall over and over up to three shows a day without getting hurt.
With 53 people in the cast, Johnson says everyone is like a close family. He is, however, only one of two gay men in the show, but he says everyone is very accepting and there have never been any issues with his sexual orientation.
“It’s a very diverse cast, with everyone coming from different backgrounds, so people are accepting because you have to get close to people very quickly,” Johnson says. “We spend a lot of time together and have a lot of fun.”
Johnson is a supporter of the Human Rights Campaign, believing everyone deserves the right to be treated fairly and to have access to the same benefits as others. In his opinion, that’s a trait that all superheroes should possess.
Speaking of superheroes, Johnson is quick to list his personal Avengers-type wish-list, choosing Beast, Colossus, Daredevil, Elektra and Hulk for the squad.
“These are characters who represent strength, compassion and fairness for all,” he says. “Marvel is well known for creating complex and compelling characters and you’ll get to see many of the greatest ones in this show.”
The show opened in Brooklyn, N.Y., last month and stops are scheduled for all over the country. Johnson says getting to see more of the country is one of the biggest appeals about doing this for a living.
“We usually work from Thursday to Sunday and then there’s a few days for travel and to explore where we are,” he says. “When we are in D.C., we are there for a couple of weeks, so I am going to get out and see a lot of the area, which I am definitely looking forward to.”
Johnson hopes to stay with the Marvel Live! show as long as possible, but understands it’s not a long-term career because of the strain it could put on your body. Still, he doesn’t foresee leaving anytime soon.
“After this ends, I would like to get into show promotion and continue in the entertainment field,” he says. “But for now, I am just going to continue to enjoy every day and bring the excitement of the Marvel universe to its legion of fans out there.”