In the run up to Saturday night’s Christopher Jackson: Live from the West Side, Jackson held a livestreaming press conference from his Westchester County home yesterday with journalists from the markets which hold the 17 regional theaters and community centers benefiting from this upcoming performance.
As a performer and songwriter, Jackson is halfway to EGOT status: he won a Grammy as part of the Hamilton soundtrack cast and an Emmy in 2011 for his songwriting on Sesame Street. He also was Tony Award–nominated for originating the role of George Washington in Hamilton.
With his Emmy demurely on the shelf behind him, he answered questions about the evening and his process to get there:
What will people hear in the show?
A great mix of some of the shows that I've been fortunate enough to be a part of. You got a couple of standards in there. Couple of mash ups. You know, being that I come from some pretty exciting pedigree as of the last 10 years or so, certainly going to try to enjoy a little bit of In the Heights, a little bit of Hamilton.
And what I think is going to be a really beautiful tribute to one of my one of my idols, Harry Belafonte. So we're really excited about that section. I know people are really excited about the prospect of hearing some Hamilton live, which we're hoping to be able to do as well.
What drew you to this project?
Well, I have been itching, like so many others, to get on stage and to be…able to do it safely. [And this is] the opportunity to help, to know that we were going be doing something that was literally going to help people stay employed, help people just ease the burdens off of all of these centers that are dedicated to serving the public and to providing so many different resources to the community from an artistic standpoint. The idea that we could actually safely pull this off was obviously very appealing to me…
And I knew that we were going to be doing it in a way that allowed people to stay at home and be safe. But just get a taste of a live experience... And so once we were able to work out the technical aspects of it, I've been just waking up every day and thinking about nothing else other than doing the show. And I'm really excited that we can bring it to people in a safe way.
If we do our job and if we can support them (the theaters) in the right way, they're going to be there when we're able to step out of our homes and be together once again… I can't think of any better a better cause to support than all of these institutions that support [their] communities and support the people in those communities and give them opportunities to expand their own horizons. I think I always go back to the children knowing that children, you know, participate in classes, workshops, and weekend, you know, organizations that gather. And these kinds of things are the kinds of things that saved my life as a young artist and gave me a glimpse of what was possible. And here I am, 20 plus years later, having been in multiple Broadway shows and has clearly defined, you know, my life's work. And it all starts in places like this. And so there's no end to the number of benefits that a Performing Arts Center has for the community and for the people that participate in what they're doing. Being subscribers or children who are engaged in their season seasonal productions, it just goes so far. So the idea of being able to support them is really, really important.
If we can support the theaters, they're going to be there when we're able to step out of our homes and be together once again
When you are creating your set list, do you start with a theme or do you choose numbers that you want to do and a theme emerges?
The theme kind of emerged in as a result of the things that I've been spending a lot of time with, [and I’ve] spent a lot of time with Harry Belafonte [recently].
I've read his memoir now one and a half times throughout this whole quarantine, really been spending a lot of time with his music. Really spent a lot of time understanding his activism and understanding why he chose the songs that he chose… I've been just spending a lot of time with them and finding a lot of parallels between the [activist] work that he did in the 50s and 60s, and now as I try to chart my own path to my own form of activism, my own form of awareness. So that was a big influence.
Also, sitting in my family room surrounded by these beautiful posters of these shows that I've been a part of. I had a chance to sing a lot of really great music and by a lot of amazing composers. And so for me, it's sort of like giving people a little bit of…Broadway, giving a little bit of the singers that have influenced me. And just taking the time to explore that… I don't know how else to be an artist at this point. And so that kind of theme kind of is emerging even as we speak. You know, every time the band gets going, you have a new thought to have a different experience. And so it's my hope that we'll be able to nail that down and then let the audience walk away with their own impressions of it.
Tickets for Christopher Jackson: Live from the West Side are $40 per household and are available at PaperMill.org. Tickets include access to the livestream performance plus an additional 72 hours of on-demand viewing of a video recording of the livestream, available beginning one hour after the live broadcast ends. Proceeds from ticket sales will support Paper Mill Playhouse.
Editor’s note: Don’t worry that the experience won’t be the same as seeing him live in a theater. Buy a family ticket and support Paper Mill Playhouse. You’ll have an amazing show: Christopher Jackson has a way of looking directly into you through a camera lens, and you’ll know he’s singing just for you. I know this: We had a moment in the Zoom press conference. Don’t say we didn’t, you weren’t there. Let me have this, there’s a pandemic outside.