Dynamic triple threat Jahlen Barnes isn’t long out of theatre school and he’s already one of the fastest rising stars in Canadian Musical Theatre. His Outstanding Performance in a Musical-nominated turn as the mercurial “Youth” at the centre of The Musical Stage Company/Obsidian Theatre’s weird, challenging and wonderful Passing Strange was an incredible feat of star power I’m still in awe of.
Do you remember your first experience with theatre?
My first theatre experience was in Grade 3 at my elementary school assembly. A group of kids who were apart of ACTE (Annex Children Theatre Education) performed Princess and the Pea and I loved it. That night, I went home and told my mom I wanted to sing on stage and perform.
When did you start singing?
I’ve been singing since I was 3. I listened to a lot of BET when I was tiny because I loved R&B and hip hop growing up.
What are some of your all-time favourite musicals?
Sunday in the Park with George is my all time favourite. However there are so many great shows that I love. Here are a few: Into the Woods, Les Miserable, Next to Normal, Spring Awakening, The Last Five Years… the list would go on if I had time.
Were you familiar with or a fan of Passing Strange before signing on?
Before the audition, I had never heard of Passing Strange.
Your character is multi-faceted to begin with and goes through a major transformation over the course of the show. How did you approach conveying all of that and maintaining some grounding consistency for the character?
I really related to the character on a personal level so after I read through the script, I started writing things down that I thought the character would love and enjoy. I found similarities and differences and fused things together to help bridge moments and scenes from one to the next.
What were some of the biggest challenges of the production?
All the singing. I pretty much never left the stage and sang through the whole show. So I had to train and maintain my voice to get through all of that.
Tell us about Philip Akin as a director and how he helped shaped your interpretation of the character.
Philip is amazing. From day one he was kind and helpful. Easy to talk to, funny, just a loving guiding hand to help you find and create. He made rehearsals feel like a safe space to try ideas and explore character possibilities. Just an awesome dude.
The cast is nominated for Outstanding Ensemble. Tell us about working with them.
My cast mates were awesome. Supportive, funny and all around amazing performers. It was an honour performing with them and I hope I get the chance to do it again soon
Do you have a favourite moment in the production?
When Youth is in Germany sitting with Desi and she is teaching him about the Nowhaus Manifesto. The music, along with the lines, it’s just beautiful
Do you have any bucket list roles?
Some bucket list roles for me are Javert, George from Sunday, and Elder Price from Book of Mormon.
What are you doing now/ what’s your next project?
Right now I’m in Mamma Mia at the Neptune Theatre. Come check it out!!!
Do you have anything you’d like to add?
Thank you Musical Stage Company and Obsidian Theatre for giving me the chance to play that amazing role, with amazing people, in an amazing show.