Thayne Jasperson knew there was a possibility Broadway could go dark.
Backstage, the actor — who for seven years has played Samuel Seabury in “Hamilton” — heard rumblings about how the COVID-19 outbreak could potentially lead to theater shutdowns.
“What if this was our last show for a bit?” he recalled a fellow cast member asking at one point.
With that question in his mind, Jasperson went into his performance on March 11, 2020, with some extra gusto, not entirely sure when the curtains would close — or for how long.
“I really was feeling it — the energy was high. It was exciting,” he recalled. “In my head, I was like, ‘A weekend off! Great!’ So I was really going in with a punch.”
But, of course, the hiatus would last much longer than a weekend.
The day after Jasperson’s performance that Wednesday night, Broadway shut down. All 41 theaters would be closed through April 12. That closure later extended to early June. And then through the rest of 2020. And then through May 2021. And then until early September.
In a nutshell, it’s been a year and a half since Jasperson performed on Broadway.
Now, he’s ready to make his big return.
For the past month, the singer, who grew up in Utah, has been prepping for Broadway’s reopening of “Hamilton” on Sept. 14. He’s spent the past week rehearsing in the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where the crew and cast have been fine-tuning technical elements like stage lighting and running through the entire production to see what needs to be fixed.
Jasperson has been with “Hamilton” from the start — to date, he is the only original cast member who remains in the Broadway production. But coming back into rehearsals, he was surprised by how much he had to relearn, little details like where to stand on stage or his character’s various quirks.
At the same time, though, entering the theater transported him back to that final pre-pandemic performance. He felt right at home.
“We’re just right back at it; it feels normal,” Jasperson recently told the Deseret News during a rehearsal break at the theater. “There’s part of it that almost feels like we didn’t even leave.”
But Jasperson did leave. During the pandemic, he left his Manhattan apartment and returned to his Utah roots, where what began as a time of uncertainty would end up becoming a major creative period in his life.
Jasperson’s mind raced with questions at the start of the shutdown: How would he remain financially afloat? Would he be able to maintain — and use — his skills during this time?
The actor, who grew up in Springville, ended up leaving behind the hustle and bustle of New York to stay with family in Mapleton. He took in the sight of the mountains daily, and enjoyed waking up to the sound of his parents’ rooster each morning.
It was in this more laidback setting that Jasperson began to get creative. He started teaching musical theater classes online. He honed in on his piano skills and worked on developing choreography (he competed on “So You Think You Can Dance” in 2008). Eventually, he started putting together online concerts and, when venues began opening up, in-person solo performances — something he never thought he’d do.
“That for me was such a scary thought before the pandemic, but during the pandemic, I suddenly became brave to do some things like that,” he said. “I found that sometimes you have to give yourself more of a chance. … We don’t always allow ourselves to be given the best chance. There is always more growth that we can have, … and I think a lot of times it takes something like a pandemic to make us do that, which is kind of crazy.
“I still have a lot of room to go, but I love it, and I want to do more.”
During this time, “Hamilton” also came out on Disney+, spreading the wildly popular musical to an even wider audience. Jasperson hasn’t watched it a lot — he considers himself his own worst critic — but he believes having the show hit such a major platform several years after its Broadway debut is a testament to its enduring popularity.
“I knew it would be something really special, but no one could’ve known it would blow up to this amount,” said the actor, who has been a part of “Hamilton” since the show started workshops in 2014. “It’s so cool that we have this timeless thing that will forever be captured of the original cast of people who were in the creation of this wonderful show.”
Returning to Broadway
Since returning to New York last month, Jasperson’s days have been long, filled with meetings about COVID-19 safety protocols and endless rehearsals that go as late as 9:30 p.m.
“I usually get home and I’m exhausted, and then I just want to eat something, so I’m usually looking for chocolate,” he said with a laugh.
Jasperson’s role as Samuel Seabury, an American episcopal bishop and rival of Alexander Hamilton, is a crowd-pleaser. Throughout the song “Farmer Refuted,” Seabury attempts to repeatedly proclaim, “Heed not the rabble who scream revolution, they have not your interests at heart” — only to be repeatedly interrupted by Hamilton, who declares, “My dog speaks more eloquently than thee.”
That’s Jasperson’s biggest moment in “Hamilton,” but it’s not the moment he’s most excited for during the show’s first performances back.
Instead, he’s looking forward to the show’s first moments, when the instruments kick in with the opening beats to “Alexander Hamilton.”
“I just know the audience is going to roar,” he said. “It’s going to be so fun and energetic.”
After a year and a half of not performing “Hamilton” on Broadway, Jasperson said the pandemic has inspired him to approach each show with the same mindset he had during that March 11, 2020, performance. He’s painfully aware now more than ever that no performance is guaranteed.
“It gives you an appreciation for where we are now and what we’re able to do now,” he said. “You never know if this is going to be your last show or the last time you’re up on a stage, so you have to live every moment like it is the last and perform every show like it’s the last. That’s given me a drive to try to do better.”