In 2003, at the age of nine, Jordan Donica, who plays Freddy Eynsford-Hill in My Fair Lady, saw a touring production of Phantom of the Opera, in Indianapolis. “I leaned over to my cousin,” Donica told me, in his dressing room before a recent matinee, “and I said, ‘I’m going to do that one day.’”
Young Donica pestered his mother to study singing. “I took voice lessons twice a week for two to three hours,” Donica said, “from the time I was 9 until I went to Otterbein College, in Ohio.” One of his childhood teachers, Elaine Wagner, was wary of working with someone so young. But she took Donica on. “She gave me good guidance, and I never had the issue a lot of kids do, when you go through puberty. I learned breathing techniques, sang ‘Messiah’ and classic American folk songs. But no contemporary musical theater.”
Donica remedied that situation in college, as well as professionally, in 2017, with a national touring company of Hamilton, in which he played the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson.
Donica compared Hamilton to My Fair Lady. “They seem so different in musical styles and yet they are both very precise in terms of the lyrics.” And, even though they are century apart in terms of historic period, there are fashion similarities. “In each I wear these long coats, which helps determine how you move.”
Donica sees affinities between the audiences of the two musicals. “For many people, My Fair Lady was the Hamilton of its day – a huge phenomenon. I’ve met so many people who come see My Fair Lady and who tell me that the original production was their first date in the 1950s. And that they saw the original cast five times, or that they listened endlessly to the cast album with their families. All those things find an echo with Hamilton today.”
But Donica confessed that, before being cast in the current LCT production, he didn’t know how large a cultural event My Fair Lady was sixty years ago. “I knew the music, even though the show wasn’t one of the things I performed in before now” – a list that, pre-Broadway, has included South Pacific and Jesus Christ Superstar.
Donica pointed out a difference between his assignment in My Fair Lady and that in Hamilton. “Freddy doesn’t have the same confidence as Thomas Jefferson does. Freddy is younger and more naïve in his lovesickness. I’m still discovering how to play that.”
Donica spoke about the early stages of discovery in the role. “With every show I’ve done, there is some point, usually a week or two in, where you start getting focused in how you are sounding and how you can fix how you are sounding and make it better. Everyone goes through that part of the process early on. Then you get back to the story and arrive closer to where you should be.”
Where do the demands of singing the role of Freddy sit within Donica’s tenor range? “It falls right in my passagio” – the transition area between vocal registers – “and the passagio is the most challenging part to sing in. ‘On the Street Where You Live’ is deceptively hard for me. If it were just a step higher I’d be fine. Because of where the music falls, I really have to warm up, to make sure of where my voice is on that particular day.”
I would be remiss in my chronicling the course of LCT’s My Fair Lady if I didn’t report how often Donica’s rendition of “On the Street Where You Live” elicits a booming response from the audience. “I try not to take the applause for granted,” Donica said. “But applause isn’t what drives me. Telling the story is what matters.”
To tell Donica’s own story there’s one last necessary scene. Three weeks before he graduated from Otterbein, in 2016, he was cast in the Broadway production of Phantom, as Raoul. “It was crazy that I got that job before I finished college. I was young but I wasn’t nervous. I’d been working so long, and I was so ready for that moment. But it was pretty surreal meeting Hal Prince and so many of the people who had inspired by childhood dream 13 years before. And with My Fair Lady I’ve gotten to work with another great director in Bart Sher. I’m so thankful.”
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com