It usually takes years of toil and sweat to land a role in the biggest Broadway show in New York, especially when that show is a pop culture phenomenon like "Hamilton."
But J Quinton Johnson was such a die-hard fan of Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical that he saw an opportunity to land a role in "Hamilton" that most wouldn’t have even known existed.
This chance was presented to Johnson when he was working on the 2017 remake of "Dirty Dancing" alongside Andy Blankenbuehler, the Tony Award winning choreographer on Miranda's "In The Heights" and "Hamilton." Johnson recalled the incident to me back in September when I spoke to the actor over the phone about his work in Richard Linklater’s "Last Flag Flying."
“It was incredible. It was incredible working with Andy, and to be close to the thing that I have admired since watching ‘In The Heights’. ‘Hamilton’ was the first Broadway show that I ever saw. So I was only able to hear from a far what Lin [Manuel-Miranda], director Tommy [Kail], and Andy were doing. I was in high school at the time of 'In The Heights'.”
During production on "Dirty Dancing" Johnson quickly decided that he was going to show Blankenbuehler exactly how much he adored "Hamilton" by giving him an impromptu audition.
“I was so close, so there was no way I was going to finish that shoot without telling him how much his work has meant to me over the years.”
Then, one night, Johnson saw the perfect opening to do just that.
“I was off one night, but Andy was doing choreography with Colt [Prattes] and Abby [Breslin] for this big mambo scene. Andy was walking down the stairs, and I was just playing around on the piano for some reason, something that I had learnt from ear instead of being taught.”
“He was walking down, and in my head I was like, ‘Do I do it?’ Because I know the songs so well. And then I was like, ‘Let’s go for it.’ So I started. I thought I would stop after like 8 bars. But then we was into it as I was rapping it. So I was like, ‘I am all in now. I have to finish it.’ So I did.”
Clearly Blankenbuehler was impressed, because on January 6, 2017, J. Quinton Johnson made his Broadway debut in the dual role of Hercules Mulligan and James Madison in "Hamilton" at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
But while Johnson is clearly reveling in his role in "Hamilton," the actor is already looking to the future. And as well as working as a producer on an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" Johnson admitted that he wants to mimic the career path of Miranda.
“I want to write musicals. I like where film and musicals meet. I love it when music meets story meets cinema meets theatre. My time on 'Dirty Dancing' was some of the most fun I have ever had. Just because I got to play piano or guitar and singing and bringing the acting into it.”
“I have a few projects that I am working on, including some animated musicals. I love things like Disney and Pixar, which are seemingly meant for kids, but those musicals clearly resonate with me. I am trying to find my position in that.”
“Things like Lin is doing currently. I mean to have written 'Hamilton' and have it to coincide alongside something like 'Moana.' I would love to compose for a Disney film like that. I have some movies in that style that I am currently writing and doing music for.”
And considering how Johnson managed to land his role in "Hamilton," only a fool would bet against the actor reaching the heights he has set.