From the very minute we saw his beautiful curls and perfect, Disney Prince cleft chin, we were instantly smitten with Jesus Christ Superstar’s Tony-nominated Judas Iscariot, Josh Young. Just before the nominations last week, Josh took some time out between performances to chat with us. Topics covered include viral sinusitis, his bangin’ blue suit and talking like a teenage girl. Pay special attention to the moment Josh tries to convince us there was a time in his life when he wasn’t dashing and handsome. After our interview, we’re even less convinced this is remotely possible…
The Mick: First things first: We wanted to ask how you’re feeling…
Josh: I feel perfect, thank you. I was really sick for a while and it was really a terrible, terrible time. Especially given the timing, but I am totally healthy now.
M: You were sick so close to opening night. Was there ever any question about whether you would perform?
J: Oh yeah, I totally wasn’t sure if I could do opening night. It was by the grace of God that I was able to pull it off. I wasn’t healthy for the two weeks prior, and then also two weeks after. I just tried to make it to as many shows as I could. It’s my Broadway debut and I wanted it to be triumphant and it was clearly the opposite. But I’m back in now and everything is going great.
M: What was it like to be in that position?
J: I was at the mercy of my own body. I’ve never had this kind of thing happen to me. In other roles I can kind of pull a good performance, even if I’m really sick. But this was the sickest I’ve ever been in my life. I had a viral infection in my lungs and halfway through “Heaven on Their Minds” one night, I couldn’t breathe. I had to leave mid-act, between songs, and my understudy Jeremy [Kushnier] had to come on for me. Then the virus ended up spreading and I had bronchitis and bacterial sinusitis at the same time. And then I made the mistake — well, not the mistake –but I sang on top of the sickness and that’s why I had to go out for a full week of voice rest. But it was a very low point in my life when I was sitting in bed while I knew my show was going on without me. Every morning I would wake up and I would think “Oh, thank God that nightmare’s over.” And then I‘d realize, nope, this is my life. And it’s kind of weird to say that, because I’m still in a Broadway show and I’ve got the best role in the world, but that was just so hard.
M: I think you, Paul, and Chilina have the most badass entrance on Broadway right now – where Judas, Jesus, and Mary kind of ominously walk out to the famous music. What is that like every night?
J: I think it’s the chords that make it, you know? Those Jesus Christ Superstar chords. The interesting thing is, that’s a totally different entrance than we had in Stratford. There, we had about 100 feet of space behind us, so we were actually walking in that space, and not on a treadmill, like we are now. We were backlit, and it was a really awesome image. But Paul and Chilina would come in first, and then I would enter over some creepier music after the fanfare. Because of the dimensions of this theater, we changed it, but I guess it’s better than what we had before, because the audience is eating it up.
M: Can you take me back to the moment when someone first told you that you were going to wear a blue suit with a sequined shirt?
J: The suit is modeled on a suit that Des MacAnuff owns! It’s Tom Ford and I’d seen him in it before. So before a rehearsal he said, “Wait until you see what I got you for ‘Superstar.’” So when they showed me the costume designer’s sketch, I was like “Holy shit, that’s your suit!” Then, at the fitting, they showed me the sequined shirt. I thought I’d be wearing a cool button-down or something, but it really grew on me. And the shoes are awesome. The best part of the shoes, which you don’t get to see, is the lining is red leather with these little naked she-devils. I don’t know whose idea that was, but it’s pretty awesome.
M: You’ve spoken about being raised Jewish, so how did you first come to this story, and to the character of Judas?
J: I had no knowledge of the New Testament, and I didn’t know anything about this story. I’d never seen Jesus Christ Superstar before. I’d never seen a Passion play. So I didn’t really know the story at all. All I knew was that Christians believed that Jesus was the Son of God. Then, when I found out I’d be auditioning for this, I did almost as much research as I ended up doing for the role itself, once I got it. I read the four canonical gospels, and the “lost” gospels —including the Gospel according to Judas and also the Gospel according to Mary. But I was totally ignorant of the story and now I feel like, perhaps New York’s foremost expert on the last days of Christ. It’s just an amazing story whether you’re a person of faith or not.
M: Do you think that your lack of prior knowledge was a strength for you?
J: I think it’s a huge strength, because I had no preconceived notions of who this man was. I also had no preconceived riffs! So I know it’s been done a million times, by a million different singers and actors, but I had no preconceived feeling of how I was going to approach the role. It was a blank canvas and I approached it as I would a new role that had been written for the first time.
M: Where did you grow up?
J: I grew up in Wallingford, PA, which is a suburb of Philadelphia. It’s a really nice suburb and I really miss it. I mean, I love being in New York City, but the pace of life can be a little fast for me.
M: What’s your family like? Do you have any siblings?
J: I have a younger brother and a younger sister and they’re both lawyers, so I’m the odd man out. My father is a dentist and my mother owns a franchise of Lice Lifters, which does exactly what it says — they take lice out of people’s heads, but growing up she was a school nurse.
M: What kind of kid were you in high school?
J: For the beginning of high school I was very overweight, ugly, and awkward. And then, at the beginning of junior year, I lost a hundred pounds and by the end of that year was associating with this popular, cool crowd. Whereas before, I was completely not cool, and I only associated with the theater crowd. So it was really a crazy, crazy time in my life. Elementary school and middle school, I was just kind of an outcast. I really was that ugly kid. I’m not even joking. And then all of a sudden in high school things changed.
M: I hardly believe that you were the ugly kid, but…
J: I was, I promise!
M: Did you always want to go into theater when you grew up? Or did you have another career dream?
J: I wanted to be a marine biologist and then I wanted to be a veterinarian. And then, when I found out that people would pay to see me do this, I was like, “Well, why in the world would I do anything else?”
M: Did you do a lot of community theater where you grew up?
J: I did. I did a bunch of theater at a place called the Swarthmore Players Club, and a youth organization called the Young People’s Theater Workshop. During the summers I did a similar program called Upper Darby Summer Stage, which is pretty well known in Pennsylvania. Plus I did, you know, all my high school and middle school productions.
M: So, we usually only ask ladies for their beauty tips, but you have some pretty fantastic hair. Do you have any styling tips for curly hair?
J: Oh god, my hair is like, the bane of my existence! I can’t stand it. I begged the show to wig me and let me cut my hair shorter. I just like to wake up and go, you know? Anyway, I just use some American Crew pomade and I scrunch it after I get out of the shower and what you see is what you get. But it takes a lot of scrunching. I guess I’ll just be dealing with this for as long as the show runs.
M: Right before Superstar opened, you got engaged. How did you pop the question?
J: We had a month off between La Jolla and New York and I stayed with my girlfriend, Alia, in Toronto, and I was thinking I was going to have some elaborate proposal set up. I was thinking we’d go on vacation and I’d do it then, but I had had the ring for months and I was just kind of waiting for the right time.
We were actually just lying on the couch, watching The Bachelor, or something, and she said something like “I love living with you.” And I thought, “Okay, this is perfect.” I just happened to have the ring next to me, so I said “Do you want to live with me forever?” And I got the ring and it just kind of… happened. I didn’t even plan it. It just worked out like that.
M: And of course, you have to tell us the story behind the ring, and how you got it.
J: Whenever I was over at Alia’s place, I would use her computer. And one time — I wasn’t snooping or anything — I came across her favorite websites. One of them was a ring maker, so I knew what she liked. I brought a picture of that to a designer in Stratford, and I shared some of my own ideas, and we made it from scratch. And the diamond was my great grandmother’s. It was smuggled over after the Holocaust, so it’s a really special ring.
M: What’s your dream role?
J: I always say my dream role is Billy Bigelow in Carousel. However, if I had my druthers, and my next role could be whatever I wanted, I would really, really, really love for Disney to put Hunchback [of Notre Dame] on Broadway. I’d love to play Quasimodo.
M: What are some words that you use too often?
J: Words I use too often? Amazeballs. If you asked my fiancée, she could tell you in a second cause she makes fun of me for saying like, very teenage girl things.
M: What are some words you don’t use often enough?
J: “I’m on voice rest.” Actually, those are words I use too often, too!
M: What’s the last book that you read?
J: Bossypants by Tina Fey. Oh! And she went to my camp, to Upper Darby Summer Stage!
M: What’s your favorite mid-to-late-90s pop song?
J: “Gone Till November” by Wycelf is still one of my favorite songs.
M: On a night out, what’s your beverage of choice?
J: A frozen margarita with salt.
M: Next up is the Lightening Round. It’s a series of either/or questions, and for each one, you have to answer Judas or Jesus. Who’s a better dancer?
M: Who would you rather go on vacation with?
M: Who has a better record collection?
M: You’re in jail. Who is your one phone call?
M: Who has bigger feet?
J: They’re the same… no… Judas.
M: You’re on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, who is your lifeline?
J: Hmm… Judas.
M: Who wins at checkers?
M: Who’s better at baseball?
M: Who has the higher SAT score?
J: Oh, that’s a tough one… I’m gonna say Judas.