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WHEN MUSIC POPS, WE TURN IT UP

A POPBYTES EXCLUSIVE

TALKING WITH
'SMASH' STAR
JAIME CEPERO!

EXCLUSIVE: INTERVIEW WITH ‘SMASH’ STAR JAIME CEPERO
May 21, 2019 ALEX KELLEHER-NAGORSKI

In 2018, Jaime Cepero performed his debut solo concert of original music, Songs About Anxiety And The Boys That Played Me. This year, he’s doing it all again with Songs About Anxiety 2.0, the latest in The Green Room 42’s “New Writers” series.

Jaime CeperoFeaturing original music from a vast array of projects that Cepero is working on, the May 25 concert promises to feature musical guests such as Stones, Paul Victor, Courtney Daniels, Stephanie Nash, and Michelle Dowdy, with others still to be announced. The evening will be comprised of a combination of new and familiar material alike, with Cepero alternating between musical performances and poetry.

In anticipation of Songs About Anxiety 2.0, I caught up with Cepero about his creative process, the new musical he’s developing about the 1791 Haitian revolution, his love of Lizzo, revisiting his role on NBC’s SMASH and more.

ALEX NAGORSKI: On May 25, you’ll be returning to The Green Room 42 for a concert presentation of your original music. What can your fans expect from this evening?

JAIME CEPERO: Last May we did a larger scale concert featuring songs from my EP and musical projects I am currently working on. My plan for this concert has been to strip down to a more intimate vibe. I’m still featuring some old favorites – but we are adding some spoken word poetry as well as brand new songs from new projects I’m very excited about.

Your original music has been performed at many historic venues in the New York nightlife scene, including Joe’s Pub, Mercury Lounge, Arlene’s Grocery, Pianos, and The Cutting Room. What makes The Green Room 42 the perfect home for your new concert?

I really love The Green Room 42 because it sort of feels like an artist’s living room. It’s intimate but welcoming – and the sound is fantastic.

How would you describe the sound of your original music? What artist(s) have most inspired it?

That’s a tricky question. I like to explore music in many genres. But I think I live most comfortably in this weird pocket of theatrical punk and gospel. There are so many incredible artists out here that I love. It’s hard to say which has influenced me the most. But I CAN tell you that an artist on heavy rotation in my headphones lately has been Lizzo. I love her!

What is it about the punk genre that you’re so captivated with? What is your creative process like when you’re composing music that merges punk with other genres like gospel, soul and musical theater?

I think I have always loved rock and punk as genres because of the power of their non-conformity. There is something beautiful to me about their histories as tools for social change and activism. I’m very passionate about the fight for human and civil rights, so I guess it might stem from that. I’m all for any type of genre that encourages you to be your weirdest and most authentic self.

Now that you’ve performed your original music live so many times, do you have any plans to release a solo album in the near future?

It’s definitely in the works. I’m a human who lives with anxiety so I’m the ultimate over-thinker. I have a habit of wanting everything to be perfect before I share it, so it’s coming together slowly but surely.

You also recently starred in the Off-Broadway run of the rock musical Night of the Living Dead. What were some of your favorite memories from this experience and are there plans for future productions of this show?

I had such a blast working on that show Off-Broadway! Jordan Wolfe wrote a really catchy rock score that is so much fun to sing. It’s also a hilarious comedy. Getting the audience to laugh every night was also a really great feeling. There is a lot going on out here in our country so it felt really good to make people smile. There are definitely plans for the future of the show, so stay tuned!

As a composer, your musical Francois and the Rebels (a punk rock telling of the 1791 Haitian Revolution) will be receiving a staged lab this summer. What influenced you to create this show and what are you hoping to accomplish with the lab?

I starting writing Francois after going down a rabbit hole of Caribbean diaspora history. I’m Puerto Rican and African American so I had a real interest in studying my ancestors and the Taino native peoples of the islands. Eventually this lead me to the Haitian Revolution of 1791 and I was blown away by how little I had heard of these men and women. As an artist of color it really bothered me that I was entering my 30s having never heard of this incredible story.

Fast forward three years and thanks to MTF Musicals and Playwrights Horizons, I have had the opportunity to tell that story using original punk music as the backdrop. We are currently in pre-production for a staged lab planned this August. The intention is to gather producers to bring us to the next step in development. My goal has been to parallel the non-confirmative energy of the punk movement with the rebellious angst of a slave revolution. Ideally, I am hoping to connect with Haitian relief to bring both historical awareness and support for the people of Haiti.

Artistically, do you feel more at home when you’re writing or when you’re performing? Why?

I really love both for different reasons. But music has always felt like home to me.

Comedy Central’s Dan Hurwitz recently wrote and directed Jess, a short film you’re in that’s currently making the rounds at film festivals. What were some of the most rewarding and challenging aspects of starring in this comedy?

I had a really great time shooting Jess! We did a lot of ad-libbing during takes, so that was a great learning experience in itself.

SmashKatharine McPhee and Megan Hilty regularly crack jokes on Twitter about making a third season of SMASH. If this were to ever come into fruition, what would be your dream story arc for Ellis?

I think if SMASH came back for season three, Ellis would most definitely be somewhere, behind somebody, lurking.

Thanks so much, Jaime! Is there anything else that you’d like to add that we didn’t discuss?

Thank YOU! If you are interested in following and supporting our journey with Francois, check us out on Instagram @Francoisandtherebels for more info!


CLICK HERE to purchase tickets to see Jaime Cepero in Songs About Anxiety 2.0 on May 25 at The Green Room 42 in New York City.

Alex has been writing for PopBytes since 2011. As the Theater Editor, he primarily focuses on all aspects of Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional Theater, and beyond. After growing up in Poland, Germany, and Russia, Alex spent several years living in New York before moving full-time to the Berkshires in Massachusetts. To read more from Alex, check out his blog, Headphone Infatuation, and follow him on Twitter @AlexNagorski.