Through Nov. 25
The Kennedy Center
2700 F St., N.W.
‘As You Like It’
Through Dec. 2
1742 Church St., N.W.
Untraditional casting and breaking gender stereotypes on stage aren’t new concepts. And for younger out actors like Broadway vet Stephen Brower and local up-and-comer Jade Jones, it’s all part of the job. In recent interviews, the talented pair share their respective experiences.
As Dmitry, the young con man turned princely love interest in the national tour of “Anastasia” now at the Kennedy Center, Brower adds an unexpected vulnerability to the part that other actors might not. Still, as the leading man in the Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Aherns’ musical about the mystery surrounding the last tsar’s fabled daughter, Brower brings the chemistry and romance.
In his program bio, Brower, 25, thanks the production’s producers and creative team for their trust and open-mindedness.
“The guys who played Dmitri before me, Derek Clena and Zach Adkins, are traditional leading men — masculine, tall strapping guys,” he says. “Unlike them, I’m tall and skinny with bad posture. So when I auditioned for the part, I went in with my bag tricks. I was quirky and making jokes, but unafraid to show sensitivity. And they trusted my take on the role.”
Traditionally actors have been taught that leading men need to be sexually appealing to be successful, Brower says. “I’ve seen a lot of naturally sexy people get cast over more talented actors. I guess it has to do with ticket sales. As an actor, you face a challenge in being marketable while trying to be honest with yourself. My upbringing and background — being an opening gay man raised in conservative Tulsa, Oklahoma — has a lot do with what I bring to the part.”
Fortunately for actors who might come across as somewhat less than butch, things are changing Brower says. “We are currently in an age where can challenge those perceptions and I feel great to be a part of that. I honestly don’t think I would have been cast as Dimitri 10 years ago.
“Still,” he adds, “there remains a lingering fear that when you walk into an audition room that you have to put on that swagger to make them fall in love with you and casting directors only fall in love with guys who are hypermasculine. Most actors are plagued by insecurities. It’s important to me that stereotypes of leading men are changed.”
Growing up in Tulsa, Brower came out at 15.
“My family was very supportive and I think I knew they would be. What’s more I attended a diverse school. Magnet school for general education that created a loving and supportive environment.”
He went on to earn a degree in musical theater at Texas State University in three years before heading to New York City. Soon after, he landed a professional gig and has been employed ever since.
Prior to playing Dmitry, Brower toured with “Pippin” and “An American in Paris.” Luckily, he enjoys life on the road. His boyfriend, an actor/dancer, is touring with “Wicked.”
“We get together when our schedules permit. It’s tough but we manage. It’s part of what actors have to do.”
Jade Jones, 28, has played a hippy in “Hair” at Keegan Theatre, a munchkin in Ford’s Theatre “The Wiz” and recently that notorious meat piemaker Mrs. Lovett in Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Sweeney Todd” at Rep Stage in Howard County, an experience Jones describes as her principal accomplishment to date.
Currently Jones is playing Senior Duke in Keegan Theatre’s “As You Like It,” a pop/rock musical take on the Bard’s romantic comedy by New York singer/songwriter Shaina Taub. It’s the third time Jones has been cast in a role written for a man.
“It’s really interesting casting and makes me realize that the sky is the limit,” says Jones, who sums up her attitude in a quote attributed to African-American ballet dancer Lauren Anderson: “Do I fit this mold? No. There is no mold in art.”
In the spring, Jones tackles Little Red Ridinghood in Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” at Ford’s. Her future working wish list includes playing Tennessee William’s iconic creations Blanche Dubois and Stanley Kowalski (though not in the same production).
Like Stephen Brower, Jones is familiar with insecurities.
“I never believed I had what it took to be a musical theater actor. I initially felt that I needed to separate my acting and vocal careers,” says Jones who’s often singled out for her magnetic stage presence and powerful, soulful voice. “But then fellow actors explained to me how I could, and really should, do both together. I also had a fear of dancing. Fellow actors helped me with that too. I’ve been fortunate to work with some very supportive people. I consider them my mentors.”
On Monday at Keegan Theatre’s annual gala held in their charming performance space on Church Street in Dupont, Jones will receive the company’s Emerging Artist Award given to younger artists who have performed on the Keegan stage and shown particular promise and demonstrated a collaborative spirit, a dedication to their craft, an exceptional work ethic and an ever-deepening love for the art form. Keegan Theatre Associate Artistic Director Susan Marie Rhea says, “Jade is a true triple threat, a performer of the highest caliber. But she’s more than that — she has passion, vision for her career and a love for life and her fellow artists that makes her a true joy to be around.”
Jones, who is single and lives in Dupont, says receiving the award is like “coming full circle.” As a Fairfax County high school student, Jones was introduced to the works of Tennessee Williams with Keegan’s “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
“I was blown away. It’s the reason why I’m an actor. After graduating from Ferrum College in Virginia, my first professional acting job was at Keegan in ‘Hair.’ That they’re celebrating my work is very exciting.”
Coming out to her religious parents wasn’t easy. Being gay was condemned from the pulpit and her parents agreed with that.
“But they’ve changed since then. When I look at them now and the way they have accepted me and other family members and my friends, it makes be believe that there is positive light in this world despite everything. It’s not hard to be LGBTQ in the theater community,” she says. “I don’t think there’s any profession that’s more accepting. It’s where I’m most comfortable.”