There are certain things you can expect to see when you leave the city for a sojourn in the country. Like stars—you know, actual heavenly bodies, not celebrities—burning in a dark night sky. Rest assured, the twisty, unlit roads around Barrington Stage in Pittsfield, Massachusetts didn’t disappoint late on a Saturday night as we drove back toward Manhattan. There were so many stars punctuating the sky that night I was almost shocked. After living in New York City for almost a decade I’d nearly forgotten how many stars actually exist.
Less guaranteed, however, is the presence of that other kind of star—the human kind. Sure, Barrington is a big deal, and it can attract real theatrical talent, but that’s no guarantee. Especially when the show you’re seeing is a brand new, completely original musical—What even? You mean… those exist?!—with a premise of questionable merit.
But this past Saturday evening, we did manage to catch that kind of star on stage—a bonafied Theater Star. Because if that performance of Pool Boy was anything at all, it was an assurance that Jay Armstrong Johnson is, in fact, a star.
Pool Boy was fun. I still don’t know if it’s got a very long life ahead of it, or if the story is really that compelling. But. There were at least a handful of good songs—I particularly loved one where Johnson and his co-star/love-interest, played by Cortney Wolfson, sang about watching each other from afar—and the jokes were funny enough to get even the really old folks around us laughing. Despite my doubts, I actually enjoyed myself for all 2+ hours of that production. Which is more than I can say for some of the things on Broadway right now. Like, you know, Memphis.
The real takeaway from all of this, though, was Jay A Johnson. Those of you who saw him perform as Claude in the recent Broadway production of Hair—where he understudied Gavin Creel— will know this already, but it bears repeating, Jay A Johnson is wonderful. You can’t help but be drawn to him when he is on stage, with that genuine smile and those bright, bright eyes. Plus, it’s fun to see him with his shirt off. And have I mentioned that he can sing? Because he really, really can. His voice is so big and flexible and inviting that it’s always a disappointment when his song ends.
It’s a little bit too late to go see Pool Boy at Barrington Stage right now. But if we’re lucky, in the future, this show will have a life somewhere. And if we’re luckier still—and I suspect there’s no way we can avoid this kind of luck—Jay A Johnson will be lighting up the Broadway stage again real soon. Lord knows he’s got the star power to do it.