Jeremy Pope lights up the stage, whether sporting a prep-school uniform or a sharp 1960s suit. And audiences had the chance to see him do both this season, when he followed up his Broadway debut in Manhattan Theatre Club’s Choir Boy with his second Broadway outing, in Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of the Temptations, currently running at the Imperial Theatre.
Leaving Choir Boy (which extended beyond its original limited engagement closing date) to begin performances in Ain’t Too Proud just days later was worth it. Pope made history when he earned two 2019 Tony nominations—one for each performance.
READ: Jeremy Pope Becomes 6th Actor in Tony History Nominated in 2 Categories the Same Year
Originating two roles on Broadway in a single season is a rare triumph even for Broadway vets, let alone an actor making his Broadway debut. But that kind of momentum has defined Pope’s professional career ever since his move to New York City—despite his parents’ hesitation—which he recognized as “one of those moments where you’ve got to step out of your comfort zone,” he says. “I saw more for myself. I knew that there was more that I needed to do. I needed to learn and grow.”
The risk paid off, with Pope working with Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney and MacArthur Fellow Dominique Morisseau—who wrote Choir Boy and Ain’t Too Proud, respectively—on his first two Broadway shows. In fact, it was McCraney’s Choir Boy that marked Pope’s professional debut in 2013 Off-Broadway.
That both shows revolve around music is fitting, given that it has always been at the center of Pope’s life. In Choir Boy, Pope played the newly elected leader of the choir at the prestigious Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys, navigating class politics and homophobia—and glorious harmonies—as a gay black man. The show also allowed Pope to tap into his music-producing side, creating the play’s transition music with castmate Caleb Eberhardt and musical director and 2019 Special Tony recipient Jason Michael Webb.
As Temptations member Eddie Kendricks in Ain’t Too Proud, Pope now focuses solely on performing, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. “I sweat, I’m singing, we’re dancing, we’re doing the most. But somehow we make it out alive every night and people are changed,” he says. “People are feeling moved in a way that they didn’t know that they could be.”
And while his two characters this season live in different eras, both roles provided Pope space to bust the monolith of black masculinity often portrayed in media—something not lost on the young gay black men who gratefully approach him at the stage door. “My purpose on this earth is to be a light and to shine light on the stories of the unfortunate, of the misunderstood,” he says. “I want to provide healing and help for those who need it as much as I can through song, through dance, through words. Humanizing people and [seeing] how beautiful and strong these people are. That’s what I’m here to do.”