Photo: Virginia Sherwood / NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
Last week, the most unlikely genre of the past decade – the live-action television musical – made a comeback to air on NBC. Annie live! Of course, it was a night of escape for its young stars, including the wonderful Celina Smith, but the stealth MVP of the show was Jacob Keith Watson, an ensemble member with a very distinctive beard who stole every scene. in which he appeared – what was most of them. The veteran Broadway artist isn’t an A-List name like Taraji P. Henson or Harry Connick Jr. (Harry’s bald head), but he felt like the glue of the show, regularly materializing with a new costume, a new hat, or a new piece. For a moment he was a singing hot dog cart pusher; the next, a member of the FDR cabinet issuing a policy based on a “tomorrow” recovery. Watson, and Twitter’s reaction to him, embodied the spirit of what makes these TV musicals so fun. We told him about Annie live!, fan theories, and of course, that glorious beard.
One of the joys of live television musicals is sharing the common viewing experience on Twitter. It became very clear over the night that you were becoming a fan favorite. When did you realize the impact you were making?
It was very cool. While you are doing this, you will expect to receive text messages from friends like, Hey, that’s great, have fun, but then logging into Twitter during one of my 10 minute breaks and seeing what was going on was pretty crazy. In the past, I’ve watched live musicals and followed live tweets, but never thought I would be a part of that.
At the start of the process, we discussed whether to shave my beard or not. But I think the people watching at home might follow, like, Here is the beard! This is what I kept telling my friends and family: if you can’t find me just look for a big red beard running on stage.
You’ve done a number of Broadway shows before. How is live theater different from a production like this, where it is shot for television?
The first three or four weeks we rehearsed were like doing a musical. When we walked into the soundstage it was like being on a TV set, like, Hit your marks, we’ll put our cameras where we need them. When we finally had a live audience – we had a dress rehearsal the night before – it was amazing to feel these two worlds colliding: making your musical while running around the film crews that were all over the place.
You’ve demonstrated how difficult the job of an ensemble member is – all of those costumes change and morph into different characters over the course of the entire show.
That’s what it’s like to be as a whole, and that’s something I love about the theatrical nature of what we’ve done. They were like, “Yeah, it’s good that you have a beard and play 16 different people,” because on a Broadway stage, that’s what it would be. And that’s something that I find really fun: to change the characters and come up with as many little nuances as possible and make it different every time I go on stage. But if you think that looked hard, imagine these dancers, having to do all the dances and then make costume changes. I couldn’t handle it.
Annie is a family show; it’s often one of the first musicals people take to see their child. What is your relationship with her?
I didn’t know the musical at all. Growing up, my mom gave me a copy of the 1982 version when I was in high school. She said to me, “I know you like musicals.” I was like, “I like musicals, but I don’t this musical genre ! I appreciate The set!“ So I never really watched it. But when I started the rehearsals I thought, Maybe I should understand what’s going on in this room. It was the first time that I had seen him.
What do you think of the idea that Annie live! could become the version that many people choose, the recording they come back to?
There are a lot of things talking about what we are going through in the universe right now that I didn’t expect to find in this room. I think people who grew up on the show will come to it as adults and say, “Holy cow. There are a lot of things here that I feel deeply about right now. I want to share this with my children. ” Hope this will become a new version for people. We tried to build on it, but not too much.
There’s the line on the return to Broadway in the midst of tough times. And you don’t shy away from material on economic uncertainty, like the Hooverville number.
I think our production was the first time that “We’d like to thank you, Herbert Hoover” was filmed, which is really cool.
Is there a meme you saw of yourself Annie live! who marked you?
Those who were talking about how I was bundle up the laundromat all the time. It was my joke, between me and my friends: that I had my awesome laundry store, then I lost my job and had to work three jobs to stay afloat in this economy. And I prepared to become a politician. And then I said, “You know what? I want it simple. ” I called Miss Hannigan and resumed my laundry business.
How many roles have you played in total?
Bundles, the man from Hooverville, the staff at Warbucks, called “Moose Pugh” – he was Mrs. Pugh’s son, we made that up. There was the hot dog man, there was what I call “baggage cart boy”. Then Cordell Hull, then back to Bundles. Seven.
What are you going to work on next?
I’m flying out today to begin rehearsals for a new musical from the Avett Brothers. It is a whaling ship in the late 1800s. It is called Swept away. I actually started my first rehearsal in town on Friday the next day Annie live! I look forward to it.
Are you going to do the TikTok song Wellerman?
Oh, the songs of the sailors? It will be no different from that.