Jess LeProtto is only 24, but he is already a fan favorite with a long list of Broadway credits. Currently Jess is bringing down the house as Mungojerrie in Cats the Musical, this Spring he will be joining the much anticipated revival of Hello Dolly!. Broadway Wiz sat down with Jess to discuss his Broadway career, So You Think You Can Dance, and much more.
Before he started acting and singing, Jess began dance training at the age of three years old.
Joy: Your sister was your inspiration?
Yes, I got the bug from her and then I started competing in dance competitions with her, plus I was taking voice lessons locally. It got to a point where my parents were like, “okay, let’s just go to the city and see what auditions are around and accessible for us.” I went to anything. I went in for voiceovers, commercials, and anything that was around and fun for kids to do that at that age.
J: You started your Broadway career as a vacation swing in The Boy From Oz. What is it like to be a vacation swing?
A vacation swing means that if someone in the show has vacation days set up and confirmed, they would like to have vacation swings stand by. I came in twice throughout the run and that was about a year run.
J: After that you were in Bye Bye Birdie with John Stamos?
Yes. Before that I did two seasons of How The Grinch Stole Christmas.
J: You were really good friends John, right? What was that like?
We are BFFs. He is very personable. He is a great guy and he is very open and so nice and generous to everyone in the cast who did that show.
J: Did you watch him in Full House?
Oh, yes. I watched him all the time. He is just great. He is multitalented. And obviously he attracts audiences with great charisma and personality, and he is a very handsome guy who makes all of us very jealous.
Our very first preview, he gave everybody in the company a flip camera customized with the logo of the show. He really went above and beyond. He didn’t have to, but that was just one of the nicest things, and just knowing someone is as generous as he is, in the place where he is in his career, to do that shows you how good of a guy he was.
J: After that you were on So You Think You Can Dance. What was that experience like?
I was 18, which was the first year of eligibility that I could try out for the show. I watched the show all the time, so I was like, “let me just try and see what’s going to happen.” I put myself out there as a Broadway dancer or musical theater. I was very scared, very nervous. There is a series of auditions that you don’t see normally on TV that you have to get past before the actual TV audition airs on the show. So there was a lot of improvisation auditions. It taught me a lot about audition skills and techniques, and just being spontaneous and going with the flow and feeding off other dancers. When I actually go to compete on the show, it was surreal. My goal was to make it to Top 10 which I did, and then I made it to Top 8.
Serena: I was pretty devastated when you got kicked off. I was rooting for the Broadway guy.
It was such a great experience. I got to learn about myself as a person, as a dancer, as a communicator. You have to learn how to control and be grounded, obviously stay humble, and just go with the flow. Roll with the punches. I actually got to go on tour too – 32 cities, month and a half on the road. It’s so nice because we were the artists. Normally when you go see tours, you see like singers, [but] the dancers were the primary focus.
J: Who was your favorite choreographer that you got to work with?
I got to work with a lot. There is no favorite. Each choreographer represents a whole different vibe and atmosphere. Tyce Diorio was the first choreographer I worked with who was amazing. He did the routines for So You Think You Can Dance. Broadway choreographer Joshua Bergasse, who was just starting out I think in a television environment with Smash coming up. And then contemporary was Sonya Tayeh, Stacey Tookey.
J: In your first audition the judges said they didn’t like how you weren’t smiling. Did you find that annoying?
I think I was very much in my head, which just psyched me out. Having more distance in the show as each year goes by– at a young age, you are very thin as far as skin goes, so you need to figure out how to thicken that. Processing what constructive criticism means, and as personal as it could be for someone who is probably still young, if you grow into it quickly, if you slowly and steadily try to figure it out as you progressively get better, it becomes second nature.
J: Would you want to do it again?
The experience of competing on that show h