Detroit actor loses Broadway gig to coronavirus

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

You get the career break of your life — a one-year contract for a major part in a hot New York City show. And then coronavirus hits, and all of Broadway shuts.

That's been recent days for Jawan M. Jackson, the Detroiter who plays bass Melvin Franklin in Dominique Morisseau's "Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations" — at least until Mayor Bill DeBlasio closed all the theaters last week.

Reached at his Harlem apartment, Jackson, who also played Melvin Franklin in the 2013 "Motown: The Musical," said he's doing well. "Trying to stay active," he said. "I have a dog, so I can take him on a run. Do a workout. And I've been cooking. I love to cook. And I've been watching cooking videos."

Dishes whipped up recently at his place include baked turkey wings with cornbread stuffing, and chicken alfredo.

Detroit native Jawan M. Jackson, second from left, with Ephraim Sykes, Jeremy Pope, Derrick Baskin and James Harkness in "Ain't Too Proud" on Broadway.

Jackson and the rest of the cast were informed March 12 that the theater was going dark. His performance the night before turned out to be his last until the show reopens, currently scheduled for April.

Just before he got the news, Jackson says he was outside talking with a manager from another theater, and as he recalls it, she said, "No, they’re not going to shut Broadway down. It makes too much money for that. They might just cut audiences in half."


What do big-city actors do when the show closes before their contract is up? They go on unemployment.

"Our union is currently in talks with the producers of all the shows, trying to find a solution," said Jackson, who grew up near Seven Mile and Greenfield, and graduated from Eastern Michigan University in 2011.

"The only thing they’ve offered us is unemployment, but they said they’d waive the waiting period. As for the show," he added, "I get my last check tomorrow," and that's that.

"Then you’re on your own till you go back."

Does he think the show will reopen?

"Right now, the schedule says April 13," Jackson said. "I'm assuming we'll be back."

The Ferndale High School grad, however, is lucky. He's been with the show two years now, first in an out-of-town tour, and then opening on Broadway last March, so it's not like it's closing before he's known.

And he wants everyone to know he's not in a bad place. "This show has opened so many doors," Jackson said, "and I’ve gotten so many opportunities to meet people that I’m OK."

Given that he's inhabited Franklin for the past couple years, does Jackson ever get tired of him?

"I don’t get tired of Melvin at all. He’s such a fun character to play," he said. "He’s much like me. Playing Melvin is like breathing."

Speaking of which, is Jackson being careful about coronavirus?

"Oh absolutely," he said. "I walk around, I make sure I keep my distance when on the street. When come into the house, I wash my hands immediately. And my apartment is sterile — all wiped down. I don’t want anything bad to happen."

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Twitter: @mhodgesartguy