SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ - At the center of the indefatigable machine that is Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School’s Repertory Theatre, is Jonathan Dawson. This year, he was cast in the leading role in the school’s production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” after three previous years of being involved with what the students affectionately refer to as “Rep.” Also notable is his ranking as the highest-scoring singer in his category in the New Jersey All-State Choir auditions.
Yet what shines above his undeniable talent is his incredible humility.
The production’s opening night will be March 14 at 8 p.m. There will be four other evening shows: The 15th, 21th, and 22nd at 8 p.m. and the 21st at 7 p.m., as well as a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, March 18. Tickets can be ordered online at spfhsreptix.brownpapertickets.com and concessions will be available for purchase before the show and during the intermission.
In light of the show’s fast-approaching premiere, The Alternative Press sat down with Jonathan Dawson to get the scoop on the show and his theatrical career.
TAP: When did you start acting and singing?
JD: I started acting my freshman year, with my first show ever being Hairspray. I was just an ensemble member. However, I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember. I guess you could say that I started taking singing seriously when I got a solo in a fourth-grade chorus concert.
TAP: What do you plan to do after graduating from SPF?
JD: In the short term, I plan on going to college next year. I haven’t decided where yet - I’m still hearing back from a few schools - but so far my auditions have been very successful. For my long term goals, I plan on going for a career in opera, and trying to sing in as many places around the world as I can.
TAP: Why has singing played such a huge role in your life?
JD: I’m not sure. I guess it’s just something that just stuck to me. Music has always been something that’s moved me, and not just emotionally. For me, music has always been something that takes me away and fills me up with all kinds of emotion. A lot of people feel this way, but for me it’s just something I don’t ever want to stop feeling. I want to keep performing for as long as I live.
TAP: How would you describe your character in the musical?
JD: J. Pierrepont Finch is a really interesting person, in my opinion. He’s ambitious, smart, charming, and at times, ruthless. Finch begins the show as a lowly window washer, but he ends up succeeding in business within a few weeks without really working at all. I guess in one way, Finch was created to make fun of the lazy, misogynistic businessmen of his time. While they’re all focused on their prestigious alma maters and their secretaries, Finch manages to learn the secrets of the industry and rise above all of them. Although it seems weird, I think Finch was intended to be almost a warning to those business men. It’s that “don’t-gawk-at-your-secretary-or-this-window-washer-will-take-your-job” kind of thing. Another, more intimate, way to look at Finch would be to view him as the personification of the desire to succeed that we all have. Nobody wants to go through life feeling like they’re a mindless drone that hasn’t done anything with his or her life, especially Finch. He stands out, and becomes something more than just a man in a grey suit with a briefcase. I think that’s why we love him. On the inside, we all have a little bit of Finch in us.
TAP: What can the audience look forward to in the production?
JD: I think this show is one of the funniest we’ve ever done. The original book was written by Shepherd Mead as a satirical self-help book, and the book was adapted for a musical setting by Abe Burrows, one of the greatest writers in Broadway history. The jokes are extremely clever and spontaneous. The characters are human, but at the same time larger than life. It’s quirky, but never to the point where the jokes lose their intellect. The music is also amazing. Frank Loesser’s score really works to capture the emotion of every scene that is taking place, and it succeeds every time. I think that the cast for this year has worked so hard to make this show come to life as a fun and exciting new representation of the world we live in. We have great singers, actors, and dancers to make this all come together. I think that’s what the audience is going to love more than anything else. Seeing their friends, siblings, or students performing large dance numbers right in front of them belting away those high notes.
TAP: Who would you thank for your success in high school?
JD: I know it sounds corny, but I’d thank my parents and all of my teachers throughout my life as a public school student. They’ve all worked so hard to raise me and everybody else in this district, to become a responsible and motivated global citizen. Teachers really work hard for their kids, and I can’t thank them enough for continuing to help me grow to be a good person. Thank you, teachers!
TAP: What is one thing you’d like people to know about you?
JD: I’m a really artsy guy. I love books, films, paintings, symphonies, poems, or just anything else with any kind of artistic merit.