Brandeis Magazine

Winter 2023/2024

The Brandeis Questionnaire

John-Andrew Morrison ’95

John-Andrew Morrison

Photo Credit: Dan Holmes

Joy and passion, fueled by a relentless work ethic.

That’s the trademark vibe of actor John-Andrew Morrison ’95, whose first role on Broadway, in the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical “A Strange Loop,” earned him a 2022 Tony nomination.

Growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, Morrison spent summers with family in Elmhurst, Queens. His cousins would take him to Broadway musicals like “Annie,” “Dreamgirls,” and “La Cage aux Folles.” Enthralled by what he saw — and despite his father’s vehement disapproval — Morrison as a teenager played the Wizard in a Kingston theater production of “The Wizard of Oz.”

But by the time he arrived at Brandeis, Morrison intended to pursue a legal career. Just on a whim, he auditioned for a musical during his first week on campus. To his surprise, he landed a part.

Eventually, theater-arts faculty member John Bush Jones persuaded Morrison to major in theater. It was a wise choice. After graduation, Morrison appeared in “Marley,” a musical based on the life of Bob Marley; the 2003 Classical Theater of Harlem production of Jean Genet’s “The Blacks: A Clown Show”; and a 2006 La MaMa revival of Sam Shepard’s “The Tooth of Crime.”

In 2019, he reached a new level of prominence when he played Thought 4 in “A Strange Loop,” an off-Broadway musical about a Black gay man writing a musical about a Black gay man writing a musical about a Black gay man. The story “fulfilled my queer artist soul,” Morrison has said. The entire “Strange Loop” creative team and ensemble was awarded a special citation at the Obie Awards, and the play earned the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Morrison won off-Broadway’s 2020 Lucille Lortel Award in the Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical category for his performance in “A Strange Loop.” That year, he was also an Outer Critics Circle Award honoree for his role in the off-Broadway production “Blues for an Alabama Sky.”

“A Strange Loop” moved to Broadway in 2022. Reprising his role as Thought 4, Morrison earned his Tony nomination, describing it as “the greatest ‘attaboy’ that a performer could ever get.”

The kudos show no sign of slowing down. In July, Morrison played King Chadlio in “Malvolio,” a comic “sequel” to Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” The New York Times, which chose the play as a “Critic’s Pick,” said Morrison’s take on an “uber-bored” monarch was “so funny that you will root for the king to survive various attempts on his life.” Time Out New York called Morrison’s performance “uproarious.”

Offstage, Morrison is co-host of the Broadway-themed podcast “Five Questions With James and JAM” and guest interviewer for the “Live at the Lortel” podcast.

What was your idea of perfect happiness when you were at Brandeis?

Being in Spingold Theater. I felt at home in that space, creating with people I loved and admired. Still friends with so many of those humans to this day.

Who was your favorite Brandeis professor?

John Bush Jones. JBJ was the man who told me, “Oh, you’re going to be a theater major.” My champion and mentor.

If you could be any other Brandeisian, who would it be?

Honestly, I’m pretty happy being this Brandeisian.

What is the most important value you learned at Brandeis?

Try. Give it a go. If I wasn’t great at something the first time, practice would make me better and better.

What was the most important shortcut you learned in college?

I learned a technique in a movement class that revolves around breathing. It saves my sanity. It allows me to get into whatever emotional state I need to access onstage. Then I can let it go and leave it at the theater.

Which talent did Brandeis help you develop most?

How to enjoy the learning process. As an actor, you are constantly learning: lines, movement, skills.

What would your friends say is your greatest strength?

I have a great capacity for joy.

What would your friends say is your greatest weakness?

What do you mean with this question? I’m perfect and charming in every way.

What is your blind spot?

I sometimes make a judgment about what is happening with someone, or what I think should be happening, and then I have to pull back. I don’t know what it’s like in that person’s head. I don’t live there.

What book do you read again and again?

“Dry,” by Augusten Burroughs. Sobriety has been my greatest teacher. I find recognition in the main character’s journey and redemption. It makes me weep every time.

What movie changed your life?

I go back to two regularly: Bob Fosse’s “All That Jazz” and “Singin’ in the Rain.” One is about the obsessive nature to create; the other is just this joyous romp through Golden Age Hollywood.

Gene Kelly singing in the rain in Singing in the Rain
“Singin ’ in the Rain ”
Audra McDonald singing on stage
Audra McDonald

Whom would you like to sing a duet with?

Come on now. There are too many people. Maybe Audra McDonald, but, honestly, I would probably just listen to that glorious voice and cry in joy.

Which deadly sin is your middle name?

OK, it’s sloth. SLOTH. I can nap anytime, anywhere, and take my sweet, sweet time. Let’s go, sloth.

"A Strange Loop" playbillWhich bad break was your biggest blessing?

When I was work-shopping the musical “Beetlejuice” before it went to Broadway. I messed up something very simple in a presentation. As a result, I was asked to re-audition and, ultimately, didn’t book the role. This taught me something simple and profound around taking ownership of all parts of your work. I needed to learn this before “A Strange Loop” happened. It was the reason I was able to do the work that got me a Tony nomination.

If you could climb into a time machine, whom would you like to hang out with?

This question makes me very sad, because I would want to be with people I love who are no longer here. I would want to hang out with my friend Katie again in the Spingold greenroom, and let her know how much I adore her, and laugh until it hurts.

On your deathbed, what will you be most grateful for?

That I got to be my mother’s son, and a brother to my sisters, an uncle to my nieces and nephews, and a friend to people I truly love.