Talented “triple threat” local actor Jordan Dobson — who appeared in the ensemble for Theatre Horizon’s 2018 production of The Color Purple in Norristown — is now starring in a lavish new adaptation of West Side Story on Broadway. He plays Tony, one of the leads.
Dobson had been understudy to lead Isaac Powell, but Powell suffered a leg injury on stage in December. The musical has been in previews since Dec. 10 in advance of an official opening at the Broadway Theatre in February, a date that has been reportedly pushed back from Feb. 6 to Feb. 20 to allow Powell time to recover.
Meanwhile, Dobson, 23, who graduated from Pennsauken High School in 2014 and from Temple University in 2018, is making the most of his chance, which began when he took over the role in late December.
“I’m very happy, obviously, and it’s been like a dream. I’m super thrilled,” said Dobson, but added he’s been instructed to refer further inquiries to the theater’s representatives and is not permitted to do interviews. A representative of the theater declined comment.
Also excited was Jordan’s father, the Rev. Eric Dobson, a housing advocate who lives in Germantown. The morning of Jordan’s first performance, he checked his phone to find several middle-of-the-night messages from his son. He was “panicked” until he found it was good news — Jordan was going to debut on Broadway.
Eric couldn’t make the 2 p.m. show, but made it for the 8 p.m. performance. Jordan’s mother, Evelyn Dobson, and stepmother, April Dobson, were there, too.
“That whole day was a whirlwind, and I don’t know if I can express what it’s like to see everything your son has worked for come to fruition,” said Eric, who said his son has always been driven. “I don’t think he’s had a vacation since high school. In fact, I urged him from time to time to take it easy, but he says, ‘Dad, this is what I want to do.’ At Temple he was always busy. While other kids were doing what kids usually do, he was working."
At Pennsauken, Dobson’s talent was easy to spot, said drama teacher Kathryn Brown.
“He was an absolute joy to work with, very talented, very humble, and already a budding triple threat (singing, dancing, and acting) when he was high school. He was willing to try everything, from serious roles to comedy. To see him take that and move forward has been brilliant to watch over the last couple of years,” said Brown, who said Dobson starred in a production of Into the Woods at school. “Everyone’s dream is to one day hit Broadway, and to see him get that opportunity is stellar.”
Dobson isn’t the only Pennsauken High grad involved in the production. Barry Spatz, class of 2005, has served as substitute pianist for several performances, which he’s also done for other Broadway productions including Mean Girls. Spatz’s mother, Holly, who described Dobson’s performance as “fabulous, you’d never know he was an understudy," said a high point for Barry was playing some of the show’s music for lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who wanted to hear some of the reworked tunes used in the new production.
The Broadway revival of West Side Story is directed by Tony winner Ivo van Hove (A View from the Bridge). The show had been significantly reimagined — Jerome Robbins’ famous dance routines have given way to new choreography by Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker. The legendary Leonard Bernstein music and Sondheim lyrics remain, augmented by modern multimedia touches.
Dobson and the production have gotten a lot of attention. The show, produced by Scott Rudin, sold out its first six previews to gross more than $1 million. Second week sales grew to nearly $1.5 million. The play, loosely adapted from Romeo and Juliet and set among New York street gangs, was first performed on Broadway in 1957. The movie version debuted in 1961.
Dobson has extensive local credits in theater. In addition to Theatre Horizon’s production of The Color Purple, he’s appeared on Philly stages recently in Shelter at the 2019 Philadelphia Fringe Festival.