Rebecca Naomi Jones Broadway Scrapbook: Significant Other, Hedwig, American Idiot & Passing Strange
April 21st, 2017
by Rebecca Naomi Jones
Rebecca Naomi Jones makes her Broadway play debut as Vanessa (the sullen yet hilarious friend in Gideon Glick's inner circle) in the must-see comedy Significant Other.
Scroll on as RNJ shares with BroadwayBox her Broadway scrapbook—filled with rarely seen photos and wonderful backstage stories from her Broadway career.
Passing Strange (Sherry, Renata, Desi), 2008
This photo was taken by my friend Nick Suttle. During the Passing Strange time he had this great idea, ‘Why don’t we take this cool, arty photo of your show because your show is not traditional so you should have non-traditional advertising.’ So we did it. We had a blast and it’s something that we can keep forever. I should have it framed.
Spike Lee was a big fan of Passing Strange, and I think at the time he was thinking of turning it into a motion picture. Then one of our producers said, ‘What if you also filmed the show itself so we have this beautiful keepsake of it?’ So, he filmed the final two or three performances with a bunch of cameras, then the day after we closed (and this was pretty tough) we all came back in and he set up cameras on the stage and on the sides to get closeups. Spike was a big supporter of mine and De’Adre [Aziza], so he put us into his movie at the time, Miracle in St. Anna, and included us in this article for Trace Magazine about his favorite actresses. It was a really special time. It was my first Broadway show and I was so deeply in love with that story and those characters.
This was recording Passing Strange. We recorded it live in front of an audience, concert style, and then we went into the studio after to do retakes and clean stuff up. Recording it live was kind of scary. I listen to it and think, ‘Oh, I wish I had more time.’ I feel like that about the film too, I have to admit. Spike told us he wanted us to keep our performances theatrical for the film, and I did, and I sometimes wish I hadn’t.
American Idiot (Whatsername), 2010
The first time I auditioned for it, all I knew was that I was auditioning for a workshop of something called ‘Untiled Punk Rock Project’. And I had no idea what that meant, what it was designed to be, or what the goal was. I was told to just go in and sing a rock song, and then for the call back, we were asked to sing songs from American Idiot. Then I started to understand it maybe had something to do with Green Day, but no one was telling me. I had to sing “Dearly Beloved” and “Letterbomb” and the end of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”. What was really cool about the audition is that they had someone in the room playing electric guitar—so you weren’t singing rock songs on a piano, which made all the difference. Then they said there wasn’t traditional text in the show, but they wanted to see how you worked with text, so they asked us to prepare Allen Ginsberg poems. That was the thing that made me say, ‘Oh, this is interesting. This could be something really cool.’
That whole experience was so crazy in retrospect and so magical and just an unheard-of experience. It was really collaborative. For [choreographer] Steven Hoggett, it was very important for him to have actors feel onus about the movement that they are doing, so he usually asks them to be a part of creating those gestures. Especially with this show, he didn’t want it to feel like, ‘Why are you applying this pop/punk music to musical theatre movement?’ He did such a great job of encouraging us to come up with stuff that was athletic and emotional. Every movement we did felt like it was pushing against something—and I think that was so special—because the piece is about pushing against the thing that is oppressing you. I’m proud to have been a part of that.
I remember this distinct feeling as soon as I joined the workshop that I had a crush on the piece, on the project itself. There was an excitement about it. I was excited to get up in the morning and put my outfit on and go see the show…like it was a person. The further I am away from it doesn’t take away how special it was, it just increases.
The Grammy’s was terrifying. Truly terrifying. I don’t think anything will ever be as terrifying. I was like this could come off cheesy, and they don’t know who I am, and I start the whole thing—the lights come up and it’s my ass singing alone before everyone comes in, including Green Day! But I will say there was something about it which was so cool: unfortunately, my father passed away not long before this time, and it was devastating and I was working through a lot of pain and heartache; but my dad was a really great musician, and a lot of what got me through the fear of performing at the Grammy’s was how proud of me he would have been and how excited he would have been. He would have lost his mind. I just kept thinking, ‘Do it for your dad. It’s not about you, it’s about him.’
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Yitzhak), 2015
This photo is at John [Cameron Mitchell]’s closing party in the basement of the Belasco. We all signed the box that was his ottoman for his injured leg. Performing with John was a dream come true. For years when people would ask, ‘Who do you want to perform with more than anyone?’ I would say, ‘John Cameron Mitchell.’ I just fell in love with the film version of Hedwig years earlier and thought everything about it was so brilliant and so fricking sad. The way the comedy cuts into the sadness (or sadness cuts into comedy), it’s so special and powerful and exactly the kind of art I want to make.
The relationship between Hedwig and Yitzhak changed with each one, and so I sort of got to reimagine my character and my relationship with each one. John’s version of their relationship was very abusive but very sexual—you got the sense the reason they stayed together was because they were wildly attracted to each other. Hedwig loved how masculine Yitzhak was, so I was really masculine in that version. Then Darren [Criss] was much meaner and much more dismissive of me, and so my Yitzhak became a lot sadder. With Taye [Diggs], it was less mean and a little like the meanness and abuse was an afterthought or accident. It was an interesting choice. His Hedwig was on a mission and accidentally treating this other person in an inconsiderate way…and that’s how Yitzhak got her groove back.
Significant Other (Vanessa), 2017
Being in a play is the BEST. It’s the best! I went to conservatory for straight plays. I grew up singing, and singing is my life. I wanted to be a musician first, but I fell in love with theatre and went to school for classical training; but if you sing, and if you sing and you’re brown, there’s more work in musicals—and I LOVE musicals. I’ve been happy to work in musicals but it’s lovely to work on a play on Broadway. The stress level is so much lower. It’s really incredible.
Significant Other is a blast. My job is basically to pretend to have fun with people I love, and in reality, I’m having fun with people I really love. It’s a great show to do because no matter how tired you get the show is buoyant. It lifts you up. I love this cast so much. The characters are written really distinctively and everybody has some fun comedy to work with and then some real, dropped in emotion.
You only have until April 23 to see Rebecca Naomi Jones in 'Significant Other' at Broadway's Booth Theatre.