Jordan Dobson has had one hell of an ascent.
After making his Broadway debut as the understudy for Tony in the pre-pandemic revival of West Side Story, Dobson hit a hot streak starting in 2022, starring on Broadway as Orpheus in Hadestown, Shilo in A Beautiful Noise, and Prince Sebastian in Bad Cinderella—all over a period of 15 months.
Soft spoken and intelligent, Dobson is a shining example of the new model of “musical theatre leading man,” whose skills go beyond the classic triple threat. A multi-instrumentalist, Dobson’s arrangement of Neil Diamond’s “Shilo” serves as a highlight in A Beautiful Noise, and his deft approach to character creation has made him a hot commodity in the development phase of numerous projects where his artistic voice can serve as a guiding light.
After such a productive whirlwind, the early closing of Bad Cinderella forced Dobson to step back and reflect. "It's been really nice to have the past few months of living a normal life," Dobson smiles, his speech relaxed and easy. "There were no breaks since the pandemic. I'm so grateful, but having the break after Bad Cinderella has been the biggest blessing. It takes a lot to put up a new Broadway show, and to do that, and then have the critics really just knock it down...it's a hard feeling. And I understand that there are issues with the show 1,000 percent."
Dobson takes a breath before continuing on, carefully considering each word. "But the critics, in my opinion, are no longer sharing the experience that they're having in the theatre. They're only sharing their sole opinion. And in my opinion, their job is to share their opinion and their experience in the theatre. I feel like we have lost sight of that, especially in an industry that is still struggling to come back with the full force that it had before the pandemic."
"I hope the critics rethink how they celebrate theatre and rethink how they critique, and remember that we're all in the same community. We have a responsibility to uplift our community while being honest. There have been several shows now that I've seen or been a part of where the audience is having the time of their lives, no matter if the material needs help or needs work. And I've yet to see a review saying, 'Yes, the show wasn't for me, I had these issues. But those around me were having a great time. So if this floats your boat, by all means this is the show for you, even though it wasn't for me.' I think that's something we're very much missing right now."
Dobson's sense of community, coupled with his desire to reconnect with his artistry without the pressure associated with new work, has led him to a reimagining of Galt MacDermot, James Rado, and Gerome Ragni’s boundary pushing musical Hair.
The Two River Theater production, directed by James Vásquez, breathes renewed life into the 55-year-old counter culture musical. Most notably, in the precedent-breaking choice to cast both Claude and Sheila as young people of color living in the immediate aftermath of the American Civil Rights Movement.
“The concept of ‘make love, not war’ is different coming from a biracial person of color, with a white mom and a Black dad creating love in the face of everything.” Dobson states emphatically. Throughout the show, Claude struggles to break free of the strictures thrust upon him by society. “Claude’s journey is more so a spiritual one than one on a human level,” Dobson explains, contrasting Claude’s arc to that of the other members of the tribe. “His journey is figuring out where spirituality meets humanity. As a spiritual Black person, that's a lifelong journey. You have to operate on this realm that is higher than Earth and the issues that we have here, while also understanding how important it is to fight for equality and equity in this life.” The show culminates in Claude’s death at the hands of the American military industrial complex, after he willingly submits to societal expectations.
“Black people were sent [to the Vietnam War] without any thought or any regard. They have sacrificed so much for this country and that sacrifice continues. Every part of this country was not only built by us, but protected by us. It’s why we still fight, because it's our country as well.” Dobson straightens his spine, his voice taking on a steely strength. “So much of Claude’s spiritual journey in this show is about being invisible. ‘If he's invisible, he can perform miracles.’ That's all he wants to do. When Claude is killed, it is almost like he had to be sacrificed for his message to get across, and for the battle to continue.”
In a world where the progress of human rights is often written in blood, the symbolism is at the forefront of Dobson’s mind. “It’s a sacrifice in two different ways: in a spiritual, almost biblical way as a Christ-like figure sacrificing himself for others to be able to move forward, and then as a Black person being sacrificed to protect this country. It is beautiful and layered, and I hope this production can inspire a new generation to pick up his message.”
When Dobson looks back on the intensity of his ascent, his regrets are few and far between, with one particular lesson looming large as he moves forward with purpose.
"I wish I had fought harder to make my artistic view a priority from the beginning. I'm someone, in the process, who does share my opinion on the material, and does share my point of view with the creative team and the producers." Dobson chuckles quietly to himself, thinking back to some unspoken memory before continuing on. "Specifically on Broadway, there are so many cooks in the kitchen. Now that I understand that, I wish I had shared my point of view with every single cook in the kitchen, just to make sure that I was fully heard, and that my company was fully heard. Luckily, I've been in a leadership position quite a bit on Broadway. And my only regret is not fighting even harder for my company's opinions, and for my own as well."
He then adds, determined: "Next time, I won't stop fighting."