It’s bound to be an interesting show when the main performer runs on stage and receives a standing ovation before he has said a single word.
That is what happened during “Charlie Johnson: A Step in the Right Direction,” a one-man show featuring senior music theater major Charlie Johnson and two musicians, Michael Ptacin and university accompanist Haidee Dollak.
Johnson had the opportunity to perform his show for several dance majors a few days before it opened. He said the experience helped him work through which jokes landed and which ones did not.
The next day, Johnson had his final dress rehearsal, which he performed for the senior music theater majors. He said he is very close with many of them, which made it hard to sing the encore, Jane Monheit’s “Lucky to Be Me,” to them. He also enjoyed the big Broadway numbers, such as Chicago’s “Broadway Baby” and Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.”
All in all, though, Johnson couldn’t pick one part he loved most.
“The whole thing was my favorite,” he said.
Johnson’s show opened to the public May 1 and 2 in the Black Box Theatre. The theater was packed for both performances.
“You would think this would be a very ego-boosting thing, but it’s actually been a very humbling experience,” Johnson said.
Attendees who didn’t know Johnson said they walked away with a much better idea of who he is as a person. Johnson said he also realized how much his friends — meaning his peers as well as faculty members — love and support him.
Johnson admitted he was most impressed with his writing for the show. He constructed the show to have high and low points, and alternated them so the audience felt a significant change.
But Johnson was aware of the low points — including a particularly tender performance of “Hold My Hand” by Jeff Blumenkrantz — and made it a goal to bring laughter back to the audience. At the end of the show, he performed a monologue about the challenges of landing a job as an actor or actress, but added there is something about the theater he cannot escape.
It’s just an evening with me. It’s like we’re just lounging in Charlie’s living room and I’m just telling you about my life.
–Charlie Johnson, senior music theater major
Johnson also inserted snippets of songs into the dialogue, and vice versa, in order to keep the show moving seamlessly. He said he realized throughout rehearsals that he’d broken the fourth wall, meaning the separation between him and the audience. He started talking to audience members and saw a positive reaction. Johnson said audiences usually appreciate when performers do this because it makes the show more personal.
“It’s just an evening with me,” Johnson said. “It’s like we’re just lounging in Charlie’s living room and I’m just telling you about my life.”