|Kennedy Caughell and James D. Gish|
photo by Joan Marcus
James D. Gish was bit by the acting bug when he attended Mojave High School in Bullhead City, Arizona. A graduate of ASU's Barrett The Honors College, Phoenix theatre fans may also recognize him from his performances in West Side Story, Newsies and Jersey Boys at The Phoenix Theatre Company, his ariZoni Award winning appearance in Shrek at Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre, and his performances in several shows at Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert.
Gish made his national tour debut last season playing Feuilly, and the understudy for Enjolras, in Les Misérables, and last Fall took over the lead role of Gerry Goffin in the national tour of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which comes to Tempe next week, with performances at ASU Gammage from February 21-23.
Gish is a consummate performer who has also recorded his own solo cd entitled "So in Love" that featured songs he performed in concerts in numerous cities, both locally, in his hometown of Bullhead City, and also at Birdland in New York City and in Las Vegas where he headlined his own concert series.
Gish took a few moments in between tour stops of Beautiful to answer a few questions about the show, the importance of playing such an iconic contributor to pop music, and what it will be like returning to his alma mater and appearing on the Gammage stage.
The character you play in Beautiful is that of King’s husband, Gerry Goffin. What can you tell us about him?
"Gerry is very multi-layered— much more so than the average musical theatre character. He’s extremely passionate about his work and cares more about the art than anything else, and this is simultaneously his greatest attribute and the source of his struggle throughout the show."
What type of research did you do in order to portray him?
"Sadly, there aren’t as many interviews with Gerry as I would’ve liked, but Carole has discussed him at length in her autobiography, which was very helpful. His lyrics actually have given me more insight into a lot of his character than anything else."
What are some of the challenges you experienced in playing a real person verses a fictional one?
"Due in equal parts to the construction of the script and him being a real person, Gerry is a very complex character in the show. He often fails in articulating how he really feels or means the opposite of what he says, which is tough to play. Gerry faced a lot of demons and his struggle with mental illness is very prevalent in the show. It’s been a great acting exercise every night trying to portray all of it honestly. And with him being a real person, there’s much more pressure to do his memory justice."
The music of Carole King was popular in the 1970s. Since that was before you were born how familiar with her music were you before you were cast in this production?
"I grew up with this stuff! My parents are huge King fans and had her music blasting through the house at all times. Patrons are always surprised when I tell them this is my music too! It makes the show mean that much more to me."
Are there any specific songs that you’ve connected to, and why?
"That’d be a long list. The most important to me is probably 'Up On The Roof'. It’s always been my dad’s favorite and I sing some of it in this really sweet, intimate moment during a scene. That always resonates with me a lot. Plus our Drifters sing the crap out of 'On Broadway', so that always resonates too."
Goffin was a famous songwriter. You also played another famous songwriter, Bob Gaudio, in Jersey Boys at Phoenix Theatre. What were some of the challenges you faced in playing someone who wrote so many hit songs and who was so influential on pop/rock music?
"Whether Goffin or Gaudio, there’s always an expectation when you play someone real, someone people really care about. People who followed them in life know how they sounded, how they acted, and so there’s definitely a challenge to portray someone as accurately as you can while finding some of you in that person so you can relate and try to feel what they felt."
In addition to Jersey Boys, you’ve been in numerous shows in town, including many at Hale and Phoenix Theatre. What are some of your most fond memories of shows you’ve appeared in at both of those theatres?
"Again, a LONG list. Many of my best memories in life came from doing theatre in Phoenix. I’d sit in my business classes at ASU about to jump out of my seat waiting for rehearsal that night. At Hale, I had the most fun playing Young Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. It was my first show out of high school, so even on four show days I wanted to be on stage more. My favorite at Phoenix Theatre was definitely doing Jack in Newsies, so much so that I named my dog Newsie. Another great memory was when so many friends came out to see the concerts they let me do there in 2018."
Before Beautiful, you were in the Les Mis tour. What was that experience like?
"Totally different shows, but both mean so much to me. Les Mis was my first Broadway tour and one of the shows that first got me interested in theatre, so singing that music live every night gave me constant chills. I felt like I was standing alongside giants. It was so fulfilling to get to partake in that legendary story. I’d have paid them to do it!"
You grew up in Arizona and went to ASU. I have to imagine coming back to town in the tour of a big Broadway musical must be an incredibly rewarding experience. What do you think you’ll be feeling when you walk onto the ASU Gammage stage for the first time?
"I’ll be a nervous mess. It’s always tougher performing for people you know, and getting to work on the same stage where I grew up watching shows will be indescribable. It’ll be incredible, but I’m going to need a drink after that first show! It’s a dream come true."
What do you hope Gammage audiences will take away by seeing Beautiful: The Carole King Musical?
"I hope people walk away marveling at the power of King’s music, and music in general. It’s healing, its empowering, it’s inspiring, and so is the show. The cast I get to work with is unreal. Certain moments still impact me every night, so I’m excited for my hometown to walk away with that same exhilarated feeling."
CLICK HERE for more information on Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, that plays at ASU Gammage from February 21-23