Jonathan Raviv is currently reprising his role as Jahandar in the Abingdon Theatre Company’s New York premiere of The Boy Who Danced on Air, a modern-day love story set in rural Afghanistan, after originating the role in the world premiere at San Diego’s Diversionary Theatre last year.
Helmed by Tony Speciale, The Boy Who Danced on Air features music by Tim Rosser and book and lyrics by Charlie Sohne, winners of 2015 Jonathan Larson and Mary Rodgers/Lorenz Hart award, and is playing a limited run through June 11, at the June Havoc Theatre (312 West 36th Street). Click here for tickets.
What the critics are saying about The Boy Who Danced on Air:
Theatermania’s Zachary Stewart writes,” As Jahandar, Raviv is the patriarchy personified. His cruel domination of Paiman combined with an unwavering conviction that he is a good person makes him one of the most loathsome musical villains in recent memory. When he sings the second act sympathy number “I Know How You Feel,” we resent him for getting so tender a ballad, for trying to make the story all about him. This unapologetic contrast of form with content is reminiscent of Sondheim at his most subversive.”
Theatre is Easy’s Rachel Abrams writes, “Jonathan Raviv’s clear tenor and rich baritone notes mirror bacha baz master Jahandar’s conflicted moral existence with impeccable musical skill.”
Huffington Post’s David Finkle writes, “Raviv, recently seen in The Lightning Thief and The Band’s Visit, has one of those muscular, masculine voices that catch listeners off-guard.”
On June 4th, Raviv attended the Drama Desk Awards ceremony (his first awards show) at The Town Hall to represent two other multiple Drama Desk nominated shows he has been featured in this season – the world premiere ofThe Band’s Visit at The Atlantic Theater (which will open on Broadway in the Fall) and The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical at the Lucille Lortel. He joined his Lightning Thief cast mates on stage to perform “Bring on the Monsters.”
During his whirlwind schedule Raviv took the time to answer a few questions via email.
Lia: You have worked in three critically acclaimed productions this season. Describe the three roles and your experience with each show.
Jonathan: The most exciting part of this year is that I was in three brand new musicals. I feel so lucky that I was given the opportunity to originate all these roles.
I started the year in The Band’s Visit. I played two characters, Sammy (a married man who is having an affair with Katrina Lenk’s character, Dina) and a guard who almost gets into a fight with Ari’el Stachel’s character, Haled. The show is all about people from different cultures getting to know one another and learning from the other. However, my characters could be seen as the representation of people who are not open to seeing another perspective. They are so blinded by their own experiences that they are unable to open up to the other.
My second show was The Lightning Thief – The Percy Jackson Musical. In this one I actually played ten different characters. My main role was Mr. Brunner/Chiron a centaur who acts as Percy Jackson’s mentor and father figure. I also played his actual father, Poseidon (the Greek God of the sea), Hades (the Greek God of the Underworld) and Medusa, among others. This show was so great for several reasons. One, I loved playing so many different characters and stretch my actor chops in that way. It was so much fun to create and the director, Stephen Brackett, allowed us to play and make crazy and fun choices. Two, I loved seeing how this story speaks to so many people; it’s a story about how being different is a good thing and I saw first hand how many people were touched by these books and now this musical (the fans hated the movies that came out, so I’m not including them). Third, there’s an additional feminist bent to the story that is amazing. We need more of these kinds of empowering stories.
Finally, the show that I am in currently, The Boy Who Danced On Air, is very special to me. I’ve been part of this show since 2013 when I did an abridged reading of it at NAMT. Since then we have had several readings of it as well as the world premiere last year in San Diego. It’s a difficult piece given the subject matter, child sex slavery in Afghanistan, but it is also doubly difficult to play a character that is doing heinous things to this innocent boy. Being able to open myself up to not only a different culture, but also understanding how and why this man can do what he does has been a gift. Charlie Sohne has created a complex, layered story and Tim Rosser has written such beautiful music that I feel really lucky to have been able to delve into and sing.
Finally, I am happy to say that I got to record an original cast album for Lightning Thief (coming out June 30th), which is a dream come true. But, it looks like there may be two more original albums in the works…stay tuned.
Lia: What does making your Broadway debut with The Band’s Visit this Fall mean to you?
Jonathan: Well, I have to begin by saying that, although I have been offered the role, I haven’t actually signed any contracts so it’s not quite real yet. However, I can’t even begin to describe what it means to me to potentially be making my Broadway debut and it’s made that much more remarkable to be able to do it with an original work and even more notable getting to speak Hebrew (my mother tongue – both my parents are Israeli) on the Broadway stage. It’s everything. I couldn’t ask for a better debut…assuming it happens. Haha.
Lia: What was your favorite moment of The Drama Desk night besides performing a number from The Lightning Thief?
Jonathan: It was really cool to be at the Drama Desks this year. I’ve never gone to any award shows before so that in itself was cool, but to have two shows nominated was extra cool and getting to perform with my cast mates was really fun. I was also so surprised when people I didn’t know came up to me and mentioned that they saw The Boy Who Danced On Air and how moved they were. That was the icing on the cake.
Lia: Is one of the projects your favorite?
Jonathan: That’s difficult. TBWDOA is very special to me because of the amount of time I have spent on it and because it brings awareness to a subject most people don’t know about (and should). But, The Band’s Visit is unique for all the reasons I listed above. I mean my whole family knows the movie and is very excited about the show (despite not being the biggest fans of musicals). Also, in this political climate of fearing “the other” it’s so nice to be in two works that show us that we can all learn from each other.
Lia: How did you do your research to prepare for this role and subject matter in The Boy Who Dance on Air?
Jonathan: First and foremost, I watched the Frontline documentary that came out in 2010 (The Dancing Boys Of Afghanistan). That was really helpful to see the different kind of men who are patrons of these boys and their different motivations. Other than that, I read about Afghanistan’s history, specifically the coup and the resulting Saur Revolution. My character is very nationalistic and I wanted to understand his pain regarding the political climate and turmoil happening in his home country. I find that helped a lot when trying to understand this man and his justifications for doing what he does throughout the play.
Lia: What is the most challenging aspect of the show for you?
Jonathan: I would say the most challenging aspect of the show is the mental stamina. Jahandar is desperately trying to hold onto the little power he has given his country’s volatile state, his “career” being in the hands of a foreign power and the fact that he has to give up the one thing that brings him joy in all this confusion (his boy, Paiman played by Troy Iwata). Living through that turmoil night after night takes a toll and I often find myself frustrated and exhausted even when I’m not at the theatre.
Lia: What do you hope audiences will take away when they leave the theater?
Jonathan: I hope that audiences will be moved by this story and understand that, as Americans, we come from a place of great privilege. We have to open our eyes to the world at large and not isolate ourselves in the relative comfort in which we live. In our country and other western countries, there is a broadening nationalistic belief and I hope that this forces people to reexamine that.
Lia: Are there any dream roles you would like to play or directors you would like to work with?
Jonathan: I’ve been very lucky to work on many new works and many brilliant directors (Mary Zimmerman, Bart Sher, David Cromer, Stephen Brackett, etc.) since I started acting. I started my professional career with The Light In The Piazza at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre right before it went to Broadway and since then, I have always said that that is my goal, to continue originating new works. There are amazing roles in plays and musicals that I would love to do (Hamlet, George Seurat, Bobby in Company), but really I want to continue what I have started and keep nurturing new works and originating these exciting new roles that reflect our society. I love collaborating with other artists and find that working on these works, while the writers are in the room, is so exciting. It gives me ownership in a career that often doesn’t allow for that.
Lia: Besides The Band’s Visit, anything else on the horizon?
Jonathan: Right now, The Band’s Visit is the only show on the horizon. That’s the thing about this career, you never know what’s coming next.
Raviv’s other New York performances include the world premiere of Martyrs Street at Theater For The New City; the world premiere of The Ragged Claws at Cherry Lane; the New York premiere of Lies My Father Told Me with NYTF and My Name Is Asher Lev at the Westside Theatre (Outer Critics Circle award for Best Play) Other regional credits include Love’s Labour’s Lost at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Fiddler On The Roof with the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, Oklahoma! at Portland Center Stage, Homebody/Kabul with Curious Theatre Company, Arabian Nights at Berkeley Rep., The Chosen at Chicago’s Writers’ Theatre, the world premiere of Lady Madeline at Steppenwolf Theatre and The Light In The Piazza at both Arena Stage and Goodman Theatre. He has guest starred on “The Blacklist,” “Zero Hour” and “Pan Am”. @JonathanRaviv www.jonathanraviv.com
Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers, musicians and corporations. Lia is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Jade Magazine and Playbill.com.
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