Broadway, Here I Am!

“I was doing a production of my middle school spring musical, Motown Spectacular, playing Stevie Wonder and singing ‘My Cherie Amour,’ Jonathan Burke ’08 said with nostalgia in his voice. “The minute I stepped on stage, the audience went crazy. When the song was over,I got a standing ovation. At that moment I said, ‘I could do this for the rest of my life.’”

With his warm, infectious smile and cup-overfloweth personality, Burke embodies the “it” factor—and Broadway has noticed. This fall he starred in the new two-part Broadway show, The Inheritance. The play, an exploration of gay history, is set in New York City a generation after the HIV/AIDS crisis of the ’80s and ’90s. The story follows a group of gay men as they struggle to connect to and maintain a sense of the past. It won the 2019 Laurence Olivier Award for best new play and just might be destined for the Tony Award equivalent.

Burke has already been to the Tonys—last June when he performed in a dance number from the acclaimed Broadway show Choir Boy. The play is a coming-of-age drama about a gay choir leader at an elite boarding school for black men.

“One of the most thrilling moments of my life was that performance,” he said.

Burke was initially cast in the ensemble of the four-time Tony-nominated hit and was the understudy for the lead role of Pharus Jonathan Young. Burke eventually took over the lead role during the extended run of the production.

“It was two wonderful, life-changing weeks—a dream come true, a privilege, and an honor,” Burke said. “But it also felt right—like where I was supposed to be. The show means so much to me, and so for the New York Broadway audience to be introduced to Jonathan Burke via Choir Boy is the introduction I always thought of for myself.”

The Inheritance and Choir Boy are but two of many theatre credits to Burke’s name—on and off Broadway— including Tuck Everlasting, Toni Stone, Joan of Arc: Into the Fire, and Langston in Harlem. He was also in touring shows including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Mary Poppins, A Christmas Story, and Cats.

Burke has done regional theatre all over the country as well: Choir Boy, Head of Passes, Amazing Grace, Hairspray, and Meet Me in St. Louis, just to name a few. And, his very first professional acting gig, The Wiz, was at Ithaca’s Hangar Theatre, in summer 2005 while he was still a college student. Then he was in Hello, Dolly!, Hair, and Oklahoma! each summer thereafter, through 2008. Burke has worked mostly in theatre, but he made his TV guest appearance debut this year in the premiere season of the NBC series New Amsterdam. The episode aired the very same day that Choir Boy opened on Broadway.

“I’ve been blessed,” he said. “I’ve never had any outside job other than acting. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had. I think it’s largely about the relationships I’ve built with people, doing good work, and being a good team member and cast member.”

Burke credits his supportive family, his middle school drama teacher, and others for helping him achieve success. He also touts Mary Corsaro, coordinator of IC’s BFA in musical theatre program.

“One of the main influences during my college years was Mary Corsaro,” Burke said. “She’s the one who discovered I could dance, and so she took me on as her assistant and dance captain. She has been a mentor— and still is to this day.”