Jacksonville ‘theater kid’ makes homecoming with ‘Aladdin’

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — When Joshua Kenneth Allen Johnson steps onto the stage at Jacksonville’s Moran Theater in January, it won’t be his first time.

Johnson is an ensemble player and understudy with the touring version of “Aladdin” that comes to Jacksonville for eight shows Jan. 10-15.

“Being back on that stage will be so special because the last time I was on it, I graduated,” said Johnson, who attended Jacksonville’s Douglas Anderson School of the Arts and, indeed, graduated on the same stage.

He’s a Jacksonville theater kid through and through, appearing on stage for productions by Theater Jacksonville, the 5 & Dime and Apex Theater Studio and attending FSCJ Artist Series’ Camp Broadway summer camp for nine years. One of his first roles was as Willy Wonka in a Jacksonville Beach Elementary School production.

“I was sort of a renaissance man, I played sports and did theater,” he said. “The youth theater scene is definitely what inspired my journey that I am now.”

Attending Douglas Anderson was a big part of that. He said kids auditioning to get into the school should just be themselves.

“Show up as you and know that you are enough,” he said. “Come with a dream and a goal and that school can guide you to achieve those.”

But theater kids who don’t get into Douglas Anderson shouldn’t despair, he said. “You are in a rich theatrical environment,” he said. There is no one path to being a part of the theater community. There are amazing resources spread out across the city.”

‘Enjoying the ride’ and ‘a dream come true’

After graduating in 2017, he went to the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music to study musical theater. Now he’s got an agent and is loving life on the road with a troupe of professional actors, dancers and musicians.

“Life’s the best teacher,” he said. “School trains you for the show, but there is nothing like touring, the beauty of it, the quickness of it. That’s something you can’t really experience without doing it.”

As an ensemble player, he’ll appear onstage in several background roles, singing and dancing wherever the show needs him. He’s also an understudy, ready to step in if the actors who regularly play Iago the wisecracking parrot or Omar the jovial merchant are unavailable.

“Being an understudy means you have to be ready at a moment’s notice,” he explained. “I’ve been on with a day’s notice, I’ve been on with an hour’s notice.”

The rest of the cast always pitches in to make the understudy comfortable, he said. It’s all about the show, after all.

“It feels like one big family cheering you on when you step into someone else’s role,” he said.

Rehearsals for “Aladdin” began in the summer and the show opened in October. He’ll be on the road with it until next summer. But he’s had the Jacksonville run circled on his calendar since he first landed the role.

“I’m just enjoying the ride right now. This show right now is just a dream come true,” he said. “To share it back in my hometown, there’s nothing like that.”

He expects to see a lot of friends and family in the Jacksonville audience, but he said he’s left all of that up to his mother. “Honestly, that’s my mom’s department these days,” he said. “She has been planning this to a T. She has a group code. I couldn’t even tell you how many people.”

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