For many fresh-out-of-theater-school actors, the first big break might be landing a choice summer-stock role, or a regional theater gig, or — best of possible worlds — a part in a buzzed-about show off-Broadway.
For 22-year-old Jordon Ross Weinhold, the big break was a phone call from a Facebook friend, the actor, playwright and composer Ed Dixon.
“We were chatting online,” Weinhold recalled, “and I said the magic words, ‘If you ever need an orchestrator, call me.’ Two days later, he did.”
That was in March. Sunday night, he heard the results of three months spent converting Dixon’s handwritten piano score into an orchestrated new musical, “Cloak and Dagger.” The noir detective spoof begins previews Thursday, and it still hasn’t sunk in for Weinhold.
“I don’t think it has completely hit me yet, that this is my first musical, that is my composition, and it’s by Ed Dixon and directed by Eric Schaeffer and premiering at Signature Theatre. It’s just nuts,” Weinhold said.
It is nuts, especially for a kid from Lancaster County, Pa., who can’t even play the piano. Growing up in the small town of Denver, Weinhold always liked watching movie musicals. He was 12 when his mom took him to audition for the children’s chorus in a Fulton Opera House production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” In what may have been an early sign of hubris, he crooned the Nat King Cole classic “L-O-V-E” and got the part. He’s been acting and singing ever since. At Point Park University in Pittsburgh, Weinhold majored in acting, took some music theory courses and started picking up pizza money by arranging audition numbers for classmates.
“A student would pay me 15 dollars to be like, ‘Jordon, I really like this song, but it is a tad too high,’ ” he said. Or they’d come in with the guitar chords to pop songs, but no piano accompaniment. From songs, he jumped to entire musicals, reducing a full pit orchestra score down to an arrangement for just a few instruments, including a “Sweeney Todd” for three players.
How is that possible, for a non-musician? Technology. Weinhold relies heavily on an Apple software program called Notion, which is far more sophisticated than Garage Band. If you’ve seen the latest Apple commercial, then you’ve seen the Finnish conductor-composer Esa-Pekka Salonen drinking coffee while playing the piano on his iPad. He’s using Notion.
But many composers, including Dixon, have been reluctant to switch from the piano to a MacBook Pro. That has created a cottage industry for artistic techies such as Weinhold.
He still had to learn other music fundamentals, such as instrument ranges and remembering that when a musician switches instruments, the composer must allow at least two bars of rests. Weinhold thought he had followed the latter rule, but then at Sunday’s rehearsal, when the musicians and singers ran through the music for the first time, music director Jenny Cartney decided to increase the tempo on one number, sending the musicians into a tizzy. Weinhold had to revise the score. He also had to overhaul a song set in an opium den that Schaeffer thought was too peppy.But he came away from the evening with a success story, too.
“There’s this song in the middle of the show called ‘Love Is,’ and when I heard the entire song, I literally had to catch my breath,” he said. “I did not anticipate that it would sound so good.”
While Signature marks the first performance of a new musical Thursday night in Northern Virginia, a theater north of the District will celebrate a veteran actor returning to a familiar role. Two weeks after he was beaten and robbed outside the Silver Spring Metro station, actor Frank Britton will be back onstage at Forum Theatre. Britton’s right cheekbone was shattered, and although he’ll need several more surgeries, he is looking forward to washing his hands as Pontius Pilate in “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.”
“I have full voice, and my energy is coming back,” Britton said. “Just being back in the theater was so exhilarating.”
Britton attended Forum’s industry night show Monday night at the urging of artistic director Michael Dove, who wanted Britton to see his understudy, Thony Mena.
“Thony jumped into it and faced the challenge,” Britton said. “He had my full, full backing. I was so proud of him.”
Britton will finish out the run, performing as Pilate in shows Thursday through Sunday, with approval from his oral surgeon. Britton’s face is still lined with gauze because doctors want to see more signs of bone growth before they operate again. The actor does not have health insurance, but he said the “ball is rolling” for him to start receiving Medicaid. In the meantime, an online GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $50,000 to help him pay his medical bills.
“I don’t think I would have pulled through this experience if it weren’t for the outpouring of love that I’ve felt in the past two weeks,” he said. “This shows how loving and generous the D.C. theater community is.”
Two Washington theaters have announced plans to honor members of Congress on their stages in the coming weeks, or in the case of the Shakespeare Theatre Company, both honor and embarrass them. The annual Will on the Hill event is set for June 17, and 21 senators and representatives have volunteered to perform in this year’s play written for the occasion, “Lend Me Your Ears,” by Peter Byrne.
The list of amateurs coming to bury Shakespeare includes Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Reps. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.), Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) and James P. Moran (D-Va.). But it’s a bipartisan affair. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) volunteers for Will on the Hill every year and will be joined by four GOP colleagues from the House. Three professional actors — Nicholas Bruder, Harry Hamlin and Hannah Yelland — will shoulder most of the speaking roles. The event, open to the public, is a fundraiser for the theater’s education programs.
On June 22, Ford’s Theatre will honor Congress’s longest-serving member with performances by genuine stars rather than amateur attempts at political theater. Retiring Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) and actor James Earl Jones will receive Lincoln Awards at the theater’s annual gala. Debbie Dingell, the congressman’s wife, serves on the executive committee of the Ford’s board of trustees. The list of performers for the gala include Broadway stars Laura Benanti and Cheyenne Jackson and young country music singers and sisters Lennon and Maisy Stella (from TV’s “Nashville”)., and “So You Think You Can Dance” finalist Melinda Sullivan.
Ritzel is a freelance writer.