NEW YORK -- When Jordan Donica was about 9 or 10, his aunt took him to New York City with a mission: Get the notion of making it on Broadway out of his system. Thankfully, that mission failed spectacularly.
“It was raining and I was dancing through the streets of Times Square, loving every second of it. My aunt had to tell me to slow down,” he recalls, now happily a New Yorker. “The thing that I love the most is here, at its height — the core where everything explodes out from.”
With determination and talent, Donica still hasn't slowed down, earning his first Tony Award nomination for playing the hunky, gallant knight Sir Lancelot in a gorgeous Lincoln Center Theater revival of the classic musical “Camelot.”
“I’m just thankful and it just makes me want to do the work even more. Really. That was the first thought I had was, ‘I’m excited to get back to work,’” he says.
Donica's story is of a man with a huge voice who moved a lot in his youth but always had Broadway as his North Star. He would tell friends as early as middle school that he knew what he was going to do with his life. His first email address had the words “Broadway Bound” in it.
A 2016 graduate of Otterbein University, Donica sharpened his craft in regional theater, playing Jesus in “Jesus Christ Superstar” at the Weathervane Playhouse in Ohio and was in the ensemble in “South Pacific” at the Utah Shakespeare Festival.
He made his Broadway debut in 2016 as Raoul in “The Phantom of the Opera,” coming full-circle. He had been in the audience as a kid during that New York visit, mesmerized by the skill of the Phantom. “I was like, ‘I need to learn how to use my voice the way that man is using his voice.’ And I set out to do that.”
Donica has had roles on TV's “Charmed” and “Blue Bloods” and also starred as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the Los Angeles and San Francisco companies of the musical "Hamilton." He originated the role of Freddy Eynsford-Hill in the 2018 Lincoln Center Theater revival of “My Fair Lady.”
In the lavish, sweeping “Camelot,” he plays a virtuous if egotistical knight who is in a love triangle with King Arthur and Guenevere. The story has been updated by Aaron Sorkin to focus on the dream of democracy, but the songs by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe remain.
Tony-winning director Bartlett Sher hired Donica for both “My Fair Lady” and “Camelot,” roles that required the actor to be ardent and sweet in the first and a brash, sword-catching hunk in the second.
“You have a wonderful artist on your hands who’s capable of immersing themselves in a part and in a world and delivering very different things in both cases,” says Sher. “There’s that kind of connection in his body, relationship to his voice, deep intelligence and endless creativity that makes him so special.”
Donica in “Camelot” first appears on stage almost like a righteous angel — singing “C’est Moi” with the lyrics “Here I stand as pure as a prayer/Incredibly clean with virtue to spare” — but ends the musical very human, what he describes as a sobering and yet fun journey.
“Camelot, to me, is America. And we have to fight every day to tell the stories of what freedom is and what America is. Because if we don’t speak about it and put it into existence, it doesn’t actually exist,” he says.
The role is vocally and physically demanding. He gained 15 pounds beforehand, anticipating he'd sweat much of it away. He recently visited his physical therapist, who instantly knew Donica had lost weight because the settings on the table didn't fit him anymore.
Born in Minnesota, Donica spent his first birthday in Chicago, then moved to Tennessee for eight years and then on to Indiana. He would watch Kidz Bop and TV commercials with singing kids — Oscar Mayer hot dogs and Welch's juice ads — and wonder if that was a path.
“I remember being a little kid and just like seeing the kids on those commercials and turning to my mom being like, ‘I could do that. Why don’t I do that?’” he says. “I don’t think she really thought I was being that serious. But, in my mind, I was very serious.”
He joined a community theater in Indianapolis and attended theater camp, where there was once a team-building trust fall activity and Donica was the only one willing to commit and fall backward into a stranger's arms.
“I remember the teacher going like, ‘You’re going to do well in this because you trust,’” he recalls. “Theater world is a safe place. I’ve been taught to trust, meaning you’re going to be put in a dangerous situation.”
The trip to New York was a test for a boy who loved wide-open fields and wasn't fond of crowds. His mom didn't want to dissuade him, just wanted to make sure he really wanted it. Now she's been invited to see him at the Tony Awards.
On June 11, he faces-off for best performance by an actor in a featured role in a musical against Kevin Cahoon and Alex Newell of “Shucked,” Justin Cooley from “Kimberly Akimbo” and Kevin Del Aguila of “Some Like It Hot.”
Donica, who used to watch old Tony ceremonies on YouTube, still can't comprehend he'll be attending. “I don’t think I still really believe it because I never really set out to win a Tony Award or anything like that. All I ever dreamed about as a kid was performing at the Tonys.”
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits