DC to Broadway! That’s the dream of the cast and creative team behind the new musical How To Quit Your Day Job. And they are well on their way thanks to a packed house and standing ovation at the coveted off-Broadway venue Feinstein’s/54 Below. 54 Below is acclaimed for performances by many Broadway and up-and-coming Broadway stars.
There is no question that How To Quit Your Day Job shined on this stage on on Saturday, July 30th. 54 Below is mere minutes away from the Hamilton and Cats Broadway Stages. Its proximity is the cherry-on-top of this incredible experience. This is because the playwrights behind these musical masterpieces are inspirations to How To Quit Your Day Job’s playwright and composer, Star Johnson. Star also cleverly includes homages to her favorites in her lyrics.
How To Quit Your Day Job is about four close friends who are dealing with the real life struggles of being an artist at heart who cannot pursue their creative passions. As a result, their dreams of making it big in New York City remain dreams, and they become stuck in the monotonous pattern of having jobs they hate just to get by. There’s Kate the workaholic performed by Shannan E. Johnson; TJ the jaded, performed by Vaughn Midder; Izzy the optimistic dreamer performed by Geocel Batista; and Manny the starving artist, performed by Jonathan Palmer.
How To Quit Your Day Job has been on amazing journey over the past year! The musical began with its world premiere at 2015 Capital Fringe Festival. Since then, How To Quit Your Day Job‘s talented and preserving playwright Star Johnson took the momentum of having a sold out Capital Fringe show and winning Best Musical to 54 Below. Over the past year, Star adapted How To Quit Your Day Job to match 54 Below’s concert style, added songs, edited music arrangements, added a musician, chose 2 new performers, and gave her directing position to the brilliant Brittany Sankofa.
As people evolve over the course of a year, so did Brittany Sankofa, and I think the show benefited enormously. I had the opportunity to see the show opening night at Fringe last year. I was a fan then and my love for the show has only magnified. The entire How To Quit Your Day Job team should be extremely proud!
After the show, I had the chance to interview the cast and crew about the NYC debut and the evolution of How To Quit Your Day Job.
Brittany, what’s the difference between being the show’s Stage Manager last year and the show’s Director this year?
Brittany: I had a deeper relationship with the cast. I feel like each cast member is synonymous with their character. So when they have ideas and creative choices, I really do trust their opinions about it. I direct with faith in the cast because I trust the personality they bring to their characters.
This show reflects a lot of the spirit of DC. Why do you think How To Quit Your Day Job, a DC centered show with many DC themes and references will translate to New York audiences and audiences from other cities?
Brittany: I think they were well receptive to this DC view of New York. New Yorkers are very aware of how they are viewed from people outside. So I think they could see the comedy in how we view their lifestyle.
Star Johnson: (Playwright & Composer): The experiences are universal. Whether you’re a New Yorker who is too consumed with the hustle and bustle of “getting ahead” to stop and think about what you want, or someone in a small town wishing you could break away, and go live the life you desire — the message hopefully resonates. Also, I love the DC references and bringing some of our style and flavor to NY.
As a member of the original cast, how do you think the show has evolved since last year?
Shannan (Kate): It has evolved in a way that is natural and organic. Even with bringing two new people in, it still feels like the same show. Star has done something so special with this, with making relationships, and you can fit anybody into the dynamic. People can’t believe that we all met each other about three weeks ago and we are all friends. I think she was able to capture that into the script.
Vaughn (TJ): The show itself isn’t too different, but we have been able to dig a little deeper into the music. I think the actors were in different places in their lives than we were last year. When I first did the show, I had just finished school. Now having been in the DC area for two years, I have gotten more confident in what I do on stage. We have been able to play a bit more on stage, be a bit bolder, make some bigger choices, and have a bit more fun. With that difference, the show itself has also grown more. We get a few more jokes in and get more serious in some moments.
Vaughn, speaking of those serious moments, I noticed tonight that TJ made a lot of comments about depression. What are your thoughts about that darker aspect of the show?
Vaughn: This year we found that TJ has a bit of a dark side and is more fleshed out. We were doing some table work early on and found that TJ is the most jaded out of everybody in terms of being a starving beaten down artist. He’s on the verge of accepting he is not going to be a writer anymore. This is why he is so invested in Izzy who has such a purity and optimism about herself. He thinks that if he gets closer to her, it might inspire him to get back to his art.
Shannan, what do you hope is next for How To Quit Your Day Job, and next for you as an artist?
Shannan: How To Quit Your Day Job needs to be booked. I would like to have a show to do throughout the year, so I do not have to go to my day job. For How To Quit Your Day Job, I just know it’s going to go far. I do not know what the steps are to get to Broadway, but this is not the end of it, and I am so ready for the ride.
Justin, how has the music evolved since Fringe last year?
Justin Paschalides (Arrangements and Instrumentation): I got to get a partner in crime, Jessica Schuster and she is phenomenal! Working together with her, getting my guitar skills up to par, the new songs, and having new cast members gave it a new essence. Before it was all making blueprints, but now it was adding all the color. Day Job can still can evolve more and more and more.
How did it feel to be joining Day Job as a new member of the cast?
Geocel (Izzy): In the beginning, I was a little nervous because they already knew everything and we were coming in fresh. Everyone was so nice. Vaughn and Shannan took the time to teach us all the melodies. They made sure to make us feel complete and one so the characters would have that friendship in the show.
Jonathan (Manny): It was intimidating at first, but genuinely welcoming and warming after the first day.
Jonathan, what brought you to audition for Day Job?
Jonathan: Star contacted me and said she had heard of me and saw some things I had posted on Facebook. She said she thought I had the perfect personality to play Manny. So I read the script, saw the video of “Trust Fund Baby,” and was like, “I need to be in the show.”
Manny’s raps have changed since Fringe last year. For example, I noticed there were references to current events to make it more relevant to today, what are your thoughts about that?
Jonathan: I was all for that. There was a lot that I also wanted to say. For some of the stuff within the song, I was given free range to change what I wanted to change. So there are a lot of words that I threw in there to spotlight more of that.
Geocel, what was it like to perform at 54 Below?
Geocel: Amazing! I literally just started doing musical theater. I finally got the approval of my family to change my major and will be auditioning for schools in the fall. So it was a huge deal to be someplace so iconic in the Broadway community.
To see more photography by Sir Harvey Fitz, please visit his website.
‘How to Quit Your Day Job’ to Debut at NYC’s Feinstein’s 54 Below on Saturday, July 30th at 11:30 PM by Star Johnson on DCMetroTheaterArts.