Syracuse University Magazine


Josh Young '03

An Electrifying Broadway Debut

By Contessa Brewer

Josh Young slid out on stage, in a shiny, electric blue suit, looking for all the world like a polished televangelist seeking to win souls and capture the congregation’s attention. And did he ever capture our attention. His charisma on stage as Judas Iscariot in Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway reaches out and virtually grabs theater-goers by the shoulders and shakes them. It’s not that I’m a theater aficionado, no connoisseur of stage, but I know what I like. And I like Josh Young. 

It’s Josh’s first role on Broadway, and yet this newcomer to the Great White Way has made a giant splash, garnering a Tony nomination for his portrayal of the betrayer of Jesus. “I just had a different take on the role,” he says. “I wasn’t willing to take another performer’s interpretation. Judas is often portrayed in a far less sympathetic light, a bad boy, a high tenor screeching, a rock ’n’ roll screamer. It’s not me.”

Still, Josh definitely hits the high notes, and his high notes make me want to rush down the aisle and bow at the altar. It makes for a momentous “Come to Jesus” moment. He plays Judas as “a good person in a bad situation—a guy who makes a tough choice, leading to the demise of his close friend,” he says.  

Josh Young had his own tough choices to make in real life, just as JCS was opening. For a month this spring, he was sick with an upper respiratory infection, bronchitis, sinusitis, and bacterial laryngitis. “If you can’t breathe, you can’t sing,” he tells me. “I thought, ‘My career’s over.’” But he knew the influential reviewers, the true tastemakers of theater, would show up, and Josh thought he should too. 

So he battled through the breathing problems and performed on opening night. And he managed to do so for at least a quarter of the shows throughout the month while suffering through his illness. The reviewers, it appeared, couldn’t tell. The New York Times described Josh’s voice as “rangy, powerful and pure.” The Hollywood Reporter called Josh, “the production’s key onstage asset” and described his vocals as “electrifying.”

Josh gives much of the credit for his success so far to his alma mater. It was not only the high expectations of his professors at the College of Visual and Performing Arts, but also what Syracuse University gave him as an alumnus. Between gigs after graduation, Josh asked to audit SU drama classes in New York City, offered as part of the Tepper Semester for undergraduate drama students. “I tried out songs in front of those classes and without that experience, I wouldn’t be here,” he says. 

Josh firmly believes the University gives student actors an edge over the competition.  “They get the acting toolbelts at SU,” he says. “Then they get the senior semester in New York, the master classes, it’s a big leg up.” 

Josh Young is already in good company, joining other illustrious alumni performers nominated for 2012 Tony Awards: Frank Langella ’59 for Man and Boy, and Jessie Mueller ’05 for On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. And he’s enjoying the attention he gets from alumni fans. “It’s pretty cool,” he says. “People come up to me; they went to Syracuse or saw me in shows at Syracuse.... I hope it’s bringing more attention to the school.”

Our shared SU connection is the reason why I introduced myself to Josh backstage after the show, why I asked to interview him for Syracuse University Magazine. It was also the reason I was so disappointed when he didn’t win the Tony for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical (for more on the Tonys, click here). But Josh himself is rather pragmatic about the loss. “I was happy with the nomination,” he says. “I’ll have many more opportunities.”  

Veteran television journalist Contessa Brewer ’96 is an anchor for NBCUniversal and host of MSNBC’s Caught on Camera. She is also a member of the SU Alumni Association Board of Directors.