New York Carib News

Jamaican Actor in “A Strange Loop” Shares His Decade-Long Journey to a Tony Nomination


Photo by Richard Koek

Born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, John-Andrew Morrison moved to the United States for college. He attended Brandeis University, a great school with a pretty good theater department, he said. He intended to study law because, as he reminded us, “All Jamaican people go to study business, medicine or law.” He chuckles as he says, “I never made it to a law class.”

He said his parents have finally accepted that acting is the career path that he’s chosen, and like so many immigrants Morrison had many, many jobs along with acting. He recalls wanting to give it all up after not being able to get cast in anything. It was a long journey to this rewarding time of his life. 

In the last decade, many of the rooms he walked into, he was either too queer, too gay, not black enough, not thug enough, or not skinny enough. 

“I couldn’t get cast to save my life,” he says.

He ended up working in the independent and Off-Broadway theater scene for many, many years, which unfortunately doesn’t pay. One day in 2015, he got a call for “Marley the Musical” playing the Baltimore Center Stage. The producers were trying to get to Broadway. It was the biggest show he’d ever been in his career. He says doing Marley made him realize that this was what he really wanted to do with his life. 

He said, “All of a sudden I was in this show with all of these other people who were Jamaican and Jamaican- American, and we were like celebrating one of our heroes and the audience went wild for it every night.”

After Marley, he decided to fully commit himself to his acting career and give up all of the corporate career stuff.

Luckily for him, his decision paid off. After a decade on this journey with “A StrangeLoop”, the show made it to Broadway and he received a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his role as “Thought 4.” He won an Obie Award for his performances in the Off-Broadway production.

Thought 4 is a Thought that just runs rampant in the lead Usher’s head and ultimately the major form that his character is of his mother who ends up in kind of a battle royal for Usher’s salvation at the end of the show.

“A Strange Loop,” is a provocative new musical about race, sexuality and theater. At the recent Tony Awards ceremony, the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical by Michael R. Jackson took home the awards for Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical.

The cast is on an ongoing interview run, one of the faves being their NPR Tiny Desk Performance. 

 

About being nominated for a Tony Award, Morrison said, “I know it has changed my life, but I don’t know how yet, because I’ve never been up for a Tony Award before, you know what I mean, so I have nothing to compare it to. I’m taking it is as the biggest encouragement to keep going in this business…It’s thrilling and exciting.”

Although he did not win the Tony Award, the mindset he adopted years ago regarding his acting career will serve him positively. He shared that he knew when he was toying with the thought of giving up acting that he knew that instead he had to forego defining himself as just an actor.

He said, “I had to give myself a bigger definition than simply artist and actor and be in gratitude for my life.”

After “A Strange Loop”, Morrison said he would love to work on the big screen, maybe as a Jamaican Marvel character or on Jurassic Park. Can you imagine?

His favorite actors that he would absolutely say yes to working with are André De Shields, Susan Kelechi Watson and Heather Sims.

Morrison launched a podcast with his cast mate James Jackson, Jr. during his downtime during the pandemic called 5 Questions with JAMES & JAM.  The podcast is equal parts late night talk show, ”Inside The Actors Studio”, and a phone call between old friends, “5 Questions with James and JAM” is an hour or more long ride of laughter, Broadway trivia, silliness and pandemic vulnerability.

He lives and works in New York City.

A Strange Loop continues nightly on Broadway. It’s a must-see.

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