John-Andrew Morrison '95 stays true to himself

John Andrew Morrison speaks with classPhoto/Dan Holmes

John-Andrew Morrison '95 returned to campus for the first time in over 25 years.

From his first week at Brandeis, Tony Award nominee John-Andrew Morrison ’95 found his home in the theater department. He came to Brandeis to pursue his undergraduate degree in pre-law, but quickly auditioned for a theater production on campus. He never made it to a pre-law class, enrolled as a theater major, and the rest is history.

Visiting campus for the first time in over 25 years, he spoke with adjunct professor Phillip James Montaño’s Theater Foundations: Process, Production, and Performance course to share his experiences in the industry, challenges facing type-casting, and favorite moments performing in the now-acclaimed musical, "A Strange Loop."

Morrison spent 15 years slogging it out in a corporate office while performing in the evenings before he joined the cast of "A Strange Loop," which would go on to win the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2022 and the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2020. He struggled to find roles in commercial productions.

“My body wasn’t what they wanted their Black actors to look like,” he said. In order to find his place in productions, Morrison began seeking work by originating roles in new productions. Soon he met Michael R. Jackson, the creator of "A Strange Loop."

When speaking to Montaño’s class, Morrison shared that most commercial productions take at least seven to 10 years to make it to Broadway. In the meantime, the production undergoes countless revisions. For Morrison, he’s been singing ‘Periodically,’ his big-moment song within the production, since 2008. Throughout each adaptation of the musical, Morrison remained a member of the original cast. In 2022, he was nominated for a Tony award for his role as Thought 4.

"A Strange Loop" tells the story of Usher, a Black, queer person writing about a musical about a Black, queer writer, writing about a musical. The loop goes on. The production shares the protagonist’s journey through terrible dates, parental tension, and the challenges navigating the theater industry as a fat, queer, Black man. The show ran for 314 performances in New York, closed in January of 2022, and will reopen in London this June.

While the story centers around a Black, queer person, Morrison explained that all people can relate to this coming-of-age story. After each performance he was greeted by people who were Jewish, Latino, and many other backgrounds. Each saw a piece of themselves in this story. “Humanity is humanity. All theater is for everyone,” he said.

Morrison has more projects in the works with an upcoming performance at 54 Below this April and a new production premiering this summer. In all he does he stays true to who he is.

“I always say that ‘I go where it’s warm.’ I have no interest in pursuing the hottest thing that has no interest in me. I am not trying to change myself to fit into someone’s ideas,” he said.

Categories: Alumni, Arts, General, Student Life

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