As a child, Taylor Iman Jones noticed “The Lion King” on the Hollywood Pantages Theatre thrice. She and her household as soon as sat within the first row of the mezzanine the place, throughout the opening quantity, a colourful “hen” broke off from its pole, flew from the stage and settled at Jones’ ft.
“I screamed — that factor may have landed wherever, and it landed proper in entrance of me,” she recalled excitedly, her expressions as vibrant as her iridescent make-up. “I wished to maintain it so badly, however then somebody got here up behind me and requested for it again. It was such a cool second of real-life theater, like a glitch within the matrix of this large, spectacular present.”
We have been chatting within the higher foyer of the Pantages, the place “Hamilton” was scheduled to play an eight-month run. She had simply packed up her place in New York Metropolis’s Washington Heights and, residing in Los Angeles for the primary time and with no automotive, moved into an condo simply steps away from the venue. Hours earlier, she had examined out the manufacturing’s turntable stage for the primary time. Jones — billed as each the harmless Peggy Schuyler and the sultry Maria Reynolds — was the manufacturing’s solely new solid member.
Days away from opening evening, her greatest concern was delivering the track “Say No to This” for an viewers of two,700 individuals. “I’ve but to do it to the place I really feel pleased with myself, as a result of I’m so nervous each single time I get to it,” she confessed. “It’s a really troublesome present to do. The language is heightened and particular and rhythmic. It’s like doing Shakespeare on steroids. Different casts make it look simple, and being a newcomer, I need to make everybody proud.”
Largely, she wished to impress her dad and mom, who’re primarily based within the Bay Space and hadn’t been capable of witness any a part of her meteoric rise within the New York theater scene during the last three years. They deliberate to fly down later, as soon as the summer time climate cooled off and he or she was loads settled into the position. After the run, she was to relocate to Chicago to star within the Broadway-bound musical adaptation of “The Satan Wears Prada.”
“It’s essential for my mother to see me carry out right here, as a result of she’s one who at all times drove me down and introduced me right here all these years in the past,” she mentioned, tears forming in her eyes.
“Oh my God, I’m getting emotional. However that’s the way it makes me really feel. It’s extraordinarily particular to me. It’s a dream come true.”
Jones by no means made her “Hamilton” debut. To curb the unfold of COVID-19, American theaters shut down on what would’ve been the manufacturing’s opening evening and have remained darkish for a yr and counting — the final word glitch within the matrix.
Amid so many unknowns, the 29-year-old actress safely visited her retired dad and mom in Fairfield, situated between Sacramento and San Francisco. Her journeys dwelling turned longer and longer, so she vacated her Hollywood Boulevard condo in September (although she hadn’t actually stayed there since July). She watched loads of TV exhibits and flicks whereas sheltering in place however has not but watched “Hamilton” on Disney+.
“I really love watching completely different casts of ‘Hamilton’ as a result of each single particular person in each single position places a spin on the story, each time,” she says over the telephone from Fairfield. “However I used to be so, so shut to simply having the ability to do it. If I wasn’t, then I feel I might’ve streamed it with all people else and cried and liked it. It’s simply too arduous to look at one thing you need a lot.”
Jones first auditioned for “Hamilton” upon transferring to New York Metropolis in 2016, after constantly main regional productions all through the Bay Space and finishing a nationwide tour of “American Fool” (when she first carried out on the Pantages stage for per week).
Inside two months of residing there she had booked her first Broadway gig: an ensemble position within the “Groundhog Day” musical. “They needed to inform me to cease sporting a lot make-up, as a result of we have been enjoying very regular individuals,” recollects Jones, who loves make-up and sweetness. “I used to be like, ‘Effectively, my character does YouTube tutorials in her basement.’”
She was then solid in a principal position in “Head Over Heels,” a brand new musical comedy propelled by the Go-Go’s hits. “She had this irresistible guilelessness, which I appreciated since you so typically see performers who’re terrific, however actually it’s only a bag of methods,” recollects director Michael Mayer, who ushered the Broadway breakthroughs of Sutton Foster and Jonathan Groff.
“As a substitute, she finds an genuine connection to the fabric, and stays extraordinarily truthful about what she does or doesn’t know. And look, it was not a straightforward position, however she labored her ass off and delivered.”
After starring within the off-Broadway musical “Scotland, PA” and becoming a member of the Kennedy Middle’s anniversary manufacturing of “The Who’s Tommy,” Jones nabbed the lead position in “The Satan Wears Prada,” originating the not-so-stylish assistant of a menacing journal editor (to be performed by Beth Leavel).
“As a Black woman, I’m already going to be completely different than what most individuals anticipate,” she mentioned a yr in the past of updating Anne Hathaway’s position within the 2006 film. “We need to inform the story all of us love, however for the viewers of in the present day. Illustration issues, and it’s cool that so many little ladies are gonna have the ability to watch it and see themselves.”
Whereas in “Hamilton,” Jones was set to sporadically journey to Chicago for “Prada” workshops. She had hoped to spend her days off in L.A. auditioning for TV exhibits and flicks and testing the native drag scene. However with each initiatives on pause from the pandemic, the actress went on unemployment, “however that runs out ultimately.” And although she qualifies for medical insurance, the hardest half is “whether or not or not you possibly can even afford it if you happen to haven’t been working this entire time.”
Jones retains her frustrations at bay by staying busy: studying, meditating, taking dance lessons and performing nearly from dwelling. She’s additionally making an attempt out self-taped auditions for the primary time, submitting tons of, however hasn’t but booked something by way of them. “I’m grateful that I now know how one can combine and edit on some laptop packages, and I acquired a bunch of kit — ring lights, microphones, backdrops — to create with, even with COVID is over,” she says.
“However actually, I’m over it. I don’t like being my very own the whole lot: doing my very own costumes, make-up, hair, tech, lighting, camerawork, directing and producing, on prime of appearing. I’m making all of those selections alone, and whereas it’s serving to me to be stronger in making these sorts of decisions, the hope that you just’re doing all of it proper is overwhelming, bodily and mentally, and simply makes me miss collaborating with individuals. And there’s nothing worse than belting your face off to absolute silence.”
Grasp lessons — for Jeanna and Dani de Waal’s Broadway Weekends, Lindsay Mendez and Ryan Scott Oliver’s Actor Remedy and the Ballet Faculty in Walnut Creek, amongst others — are her most gratifying gigs, and he or she needs to proceed instructing lessons remotely as soon as theaters reopen. However essentially the most surprising advantage of the final yr has been the uncommon alternative to get to know her dad and mom, in addition to herself, higher than ever earlier than.
“Proper now, I can’t do my job, I can not do the factor I like essentially the most,” she says. “There’s nothing I can do apart from wait this day trip — I can’t make something go sooner, I can’t return to work sooner. What I can do is preserve making an attempt to maintain my expertise tight, and likewise take time to deal with issues I haven’t been capable of every time I’m in a present. Like, I can sit and actually take heed to my mother inform me some story as a result of I actually have nowhere else to be!
“We’re so typically conditioned to outline ourselves by our jobs, to plan our entire lives and identities round them,” she says. “However I’m extra than simply an actor; I’m a daughter, a dancer, a trainer. And with all this time to essentially be by ourselves, I do really feel like a unique particular person than I used to be a yr in the past.”
“Prada” has been rescheduled for summer time 2022, and “Hamilton” is tentatively set to play on the Pantages in October — that means that, if the nation’s vaccine rollout continues as deliberate, Jones gained’t be compelled to decide on between these two dream initiatives.
“The nice factor is, every time ‘Hamilton’ is again, your complete solid has to rehearse once more as a result of it’s been so lengthy,” she says with amusing. “Which I want as a result of, final yr, I needed to be taught it in only some weeks, acquired to placed on the costume for what felt like the best cosplay day of my life, after which actually by no means acquired to do it once more!”
Although she left her “Hamilton” script within the Pantages dressing room, she’s going to put together to return in different essential methods. “There’s like no make-up in ‘Hamilton,’ so I’m gonna put on as a lot make-up as I can with out you seeing it, and I’m gonna preserve going till they inform me to cease,” she says. “I’m making an attempt to be contoured as Peggy, and I’ll most likely strive a refined cat eye and a purple lip for Mariah Reynolds.
“I’m undecided but, however I nonetheless have a while.”
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