If the sights, sounds and dance moves from the 60s rekindle unforgettable memories of days gone by, then you’re in luck as “A Bronx Tale” prepares to make its landing at the National Theatre in northwest D.C. from March 26-31.
The hit Broadway musical, based on a true story, harkens audiences back in time to the street corners and stoops of the Bronx during that turbulent yet spectacular decade — reconfigured with explosive dance numbers, original doo-wop melodies and a moving tale which examines the challenges one young man must face when forced to choose between his heart’s desires or family loyalty.
Five actors from the greater Washington area, including Jason Williams who claims the District, Bladensburg and Bowie as home, join the cast, showcasing their talents for what Williams describes as a “homecoming” he’ll remember for “the rest of my life.”
“I’ve noticed over the past 10 years, a lot of young actors who also grew up in this area and are graduates of the many performing arts schools in the DMV,” said Williams who credits his high school alma mater, Eleanor Roosevelt in Prince George’s County, as a “great place for aspiring actors, singers, dancers and musicians.”
“I started in the band playing for the school musicals and felt comfortable because it was safe and I was part of a group. I wanted to be an actor but being alone on stage frightened me. It wasn’t until I got to college and began performing at Six Flags in Largo in the main stage shows that I grew more confidant singing and dancing in front of people and eventually overcame my stage fright.”
In “A Bronx Tale,” Williams tackles the role of Jesse, as well as being a member of the ensemble. And with an impressive repertoire including the national/international tour of “Dreamgirls” (South Korea) — an eye-opening experience because of the challenge of translating the nuances of race relations so Korean audiences would understand — and being cast in the regional production of “Smokey Joe’s Café,” he feels prepared, confident and is anxious to take the stage as his friends and family root him on.
“This show is a coming of age story — a cross between ‘Jersey Boys’ and ‘West Side Story’ and we have to do it all: deliver our lines, hit those tight doo-wop harmonies and dance for all it’s worth,” he said. “With casts today much smaller as compared to back in the day, if you want to make it in this business, you have to be able to not only fit and look the part, but also have all of the skills. Directors are looking for and expecting triple threats.”
“In many ways, your success rests on whether you are ‘the piece’ that’s needed for a larger puzzle. I suppose it’s always been that way, but now it’s almost a requirement. That’s why you have to constantly work to improve all of your skills — taking dance classes or working with a vocal coach. Everybody is talented. That said, you must be able to handle rejection. It may sound morbid, but young people need to be prepared for that part of the profession — something you don’t learn in school. That’s the real world and the competition is fierce. Some find rejection jarring — others are galvanized by it. Either way, you just have to jump in because there’s no way to prepare.”
As for this production, he says he particularly enjoys being part of a cast whose task is to make the audience feel like they’ve been transported back to 1968.
“I’m part of one crew and with my best friend Tyrone, we hang out and claim authority over our neighborhood,” he said. It’s the Italians versus the African Americans and we want to exude the look, the feel and the sound of that era. I was raised on the music popular back then — the Motown Sound — singers whose songs told stories like the Jackson 5, Diana Ross and Smokey Robinson.”
One day, he hopes to realize his dream of being in the musical “Hairspray” — his all-time favorite film since first seeing it as a youth — a show he says will forever “hold a special place in my life.”
Since moving to New York 12 years ago, and given his hectic touring schedule, down time is a true luxury, he notes. During those moments, he likes to watch horror films, discover the cities where the production is on stage with headphones in tow or take a few yoga classes and exercise at the gym.
“The days are pretty much our own since the majority of our performances are at night,” he said. “But you have to give your body time to recover. It sounds great, doing eight or 10 shows, but it’s more difficult than you might imagine.”
“I owe a lot of my success to my fantastic acting coach, Matthew Corozine, who since 2011 has helped me find my point of view as a person and actor. I’ve become a better dancer with my teacher Heather Rigg who gave me my dance voice. No matter what, when you enter a room for auditions, you have to be ready, self-assured and confident. I know I’ve been blessed. I like where I am in my career these days — I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”