Jon Hoche is a very funny man who is currently making his Broadway debut as the voice of King Kong and as a voodoo puppeteer who controls Kong’s head and neck motions in KING KONG: Alive on Broadway at the Broadway Theatre through August 18. Click here for tickets.
Last year, he appeared as Tony Manero and Chief Justice in Center Theatre Group’s world premiere of Tony Award winners David Henry Hwang (Book and Lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori’s (Music and Additional Lyrics) SOFT POWER at the Ahmanson Theatre in L.A. and the Curran in S.F.
He will reprise his roles in The Public Theater’s New York premiere of SOFT POWER, September 24 – November 3 in a co-commission and co-production with CTG.
Mr. Hoche has appeared in the Off-Broadway productions of VIETGONE (Manhattan Theatre Club), SOUL SAMURAI, THE INEXPLICABLE REDEMPTION OF AGENT G (Ma-Yi Theater/ Vampire Cowboys Theater), HELLO, FROM THE CHILDREN OF PLANET EARTH (Playwright’s Realm). He toured across the U.S. in WAR HORSE (Puppet Captain) and appeared in the Two River Theater production of SEVEN LONELY MAMMOTHS WANDER NEW ENGLAND. Awards include the 2019 Chita Rivera Award for Outstanding Ensemble in a Broadway Show and a 2019 Outer Critics Circle Special Achievement Award for The Puppetry Team that created and operates King Kong on Broadway.
On making his Broadway debut…
Jon: It was really a dream come true. He’s literally the biggest leading man on Broadway, ha ha ha.
In all seriousness though, it really has been an amazing experience. When I was on the road with the National Tour of War Horse I became aware of the Australian production. The moment I saw the Puppet I made a promise to myself that when it came to Broadway I would be a part of it.
Lia: What was your audition like for King Kong?
Jon: Initially I auditioned to be one of the King’s Company, the 10 members of the cast that move Kong’s limbs onstage. During the audition they glanced at my resume and saw my puppetry background and asked if I would return to audition for the VooDoo Puppeteer position. Some time went by and when they called me in I was asked to perform scenes as if I were Kong. So much like motion capture in the movies like Planet of the Apes or Kong: Skull Island I got on hands and feet and acting like a giant ape. I fought an imaginary Cobra, interacted with an invisible Ann Darrow in my cave, and fended off air planes on the top of the Empire Stage Building. All the while, grunting, growing, and roaring. This was important because later on during rehearsals I would do this very thing while working with Christiani Pitts (Ann Darrow) when we did not have access to our 20ft tall, 1.2 ton leading man.
Lia: What excites you about coming to work every night?
Jon: So many things. I think first and foremost, the cast and crew of this show are incredible. We’ve truly become a family. Another thing that excites me is the audience. I think this show has been a very special one because it has brought a wide ranging audience to broadway. If you keep an ear to the audience during intermission you can always hears different languages being spoken. One of the best comments I hear from people is that they’ve never thought about seeing a broadway show but they love King Kong so they had to come and loved it! My hope is that we are creating new Broadway fans on a nightly basis.
Lia: I first became aware of your superb comedic flare in Vietgone. Can you share what it has been like to develop work with Qui and what is in the works?
Jon: Qui Nguyen is a badass. He’s an incredibly collaborative writer and I love bringing his words off the page. I think some playwrights have their go to actors, like David Mamet and William H. Macy. Well Qui and I have been working with each other for more than a decade now and I’d like to think I’m the William H. Macy to his David Mamet. Vietgone was such a personal story for Qui and it was an honor to be a part of the World Premiere at South Coast Rep and the Off Broadway Premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club. The sequel to it, Poor Yellow Rednecks, is coming out and although I don’t know if I can be a part of it, my fingers are crossed.
Lia: You will be reprising your roles in David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori’s SOFT POWER in the Fall at The Public. Tell me more about how you first got involved, and specifically about your featured song.
Jon: Back in 2017, right around the time Vietgone closed I got a message from David Henry Hwang if I was available for a table read of something he had been working on. That was Soft Power. Every other month or so I would get the opportunity to come back and workshop the new pages and see how the story was progressing. Every time I just thanked my lucky stars that I was still able to be in the room. It was so exciting. Eventually we moved into the first music workshop and not being predominately a singer I thought this might be where my journey with Soft Power would end, but I think David Henry Hwang, Jeanine Tesori and the director, Leigh Silverman saw more in me than even I did. All of a sudden I found myself at a piano with Jeanine Tesori handing me a song. I could have vomited from nervous excitement right then and there.
The song now called “Election Night” in the script is a comical patter song explaining the Electoral College to the main character and also the audience. I learned a lot about the Electoral College while singing this song. During our time performing the show in Los Angeles and San Francisco, the song seemed to be one of the crowd pleasers.
Lia: Where did you grow up?
Jon: I was born and raised in Roxbury, New Jersey, just a hop-skip-and NJ Transit ride from the city. I was blessed to have an incredible public school system where the fine arts were considered just as vital as sports and other subjects. I was the only boy in dance class, involved in choir, band, show choir, and marching band. I wouldn’t be where I am if not for the amazing teachers I had while going to Roxbury High School.
Lia: What was your first professional job?
Jon: Right after graduating from Montclair State University in NJ, I moved to New York and performed in American Globe Theater’s Shakespeare for School tour. We performed Othello to countless inner city schools all over the 5 boroughs New York. It was an immensely rewarding experience and something that I would continue to do for 2 more years after that.
Lia: What is your background in puppetry?
Jon: I auditioned for a show called Fight Girl/Battle World by Vampire Cowboys Theater Company (Co-created by Qui Nguyen) in 2007. This would mark my first experience working with Qui. At the first rehearsal I was told that my character was actually going to be a puppet for the first act. I simply said, “Okay, cool!” and took to it quite well. This was the first meeting with not only Qui but the puppet designer and now great friend, David Valentine, who has gone on to work for the Jim Henson Workshop. From that moment forward whenever Qui would script a new show he would always add a puppet element for me to perform and David to build. From small hand puppets to full body rapping monsters. It’s the experience I had with Vampire Cowboys which lead me to audition for the National Tour of War Horse where I would puppeteer life sized horses and one clownish Goose.
Lia: What is on your wishlist?
Jon: To be honest on the top of my list is for SOFT POWER to transition to Broadway. It is an incredibly moving new musical that examines the power of Democracy and what it means to be American. It is a cast that is 99% Asian American and I want everyone to see it.
SOFT POWER at The Public
Hwang and Tesori’s groundbreaking new musical-within-a-play, SOFT POWER, one of the most exciting theatrical collaborations in recent memory, is an exploration of America’s current place in the world, told through an East-West musical from China’s point of view, in which a theater producer from Shanghai forges a powerful bond with Hillary Clinton. SOFT POWER is a fever dream of modern American politics amidst global conversations, asking us all-why do we love democracy? And should we?
Helmed by Leigh Silverman and featuring choreography by Sam Pinkleton, casting for SOFT POWER includes Billy Bustamante (Xue Xing Standby), Jon Hoche (Tony Manero/Chief Justice/Ensemble), Kendyl Ito (Jing/Ensemble), Francis Jue (DHH), Austin Ku (Bobby Bob), Raymond J. Lee (Randy Ray/VEEP/Ensemble), Alyse Alan Louis (Zoe/Hillary), Jaygee Macapugay (Campaign Manager/Ensemble), Daniel May (Ensemble), Paul HeeSang Miller (Ensemble), Kristen Faith Oei (Ensemble), Geena Quintos (Ensemble), Conrad Ricamora (Xue Xing), Trevor Salter (Ensemble), Kyra Smith (Ensemble), Emily Stillings (Female Swing), Emily Trumble (Zoe/Hillary Understudy), and John Yi (Male Swing).
Click here for tickets to SOFT POWER.
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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