Jake Epstein Will Soon Be The 'Boy Falls From the Sky' at The Royal Alexandra Theatre

Looking Ahead

Luke Fontana

Joe Szekeres

On his day off from final week of technical rehearsals for his upcoming one-man solo show ‘Boy Falls From the Sky’ (which had been postponed twice on account of Covid), Jake Epstein told me during our conversation that, once we were finished the Zoom call, he had stuff to do like laundry and clean his place.

I laughed because once I had finished speaking to him, I had the exact same tasks to do.

Performing artists also have the daily routines we all have.

What an enjoyable conversation I had with Jake this afternoon. He’s excitedly thrilled and feeling good for the opening of ‘Boy Falls From the Sky’. He says that working on the show has been one of the joys of his life in getting to turn this period he buried and didn’t talk with anyone into a show that is joyful and fun.

‘Boy’ is a show on Jake’s own terms as it celebrates the good and bad, and the absurdity of show business. and on his own terms

He had a normal life growing up in Toronto. One of the highlights he remembers were the yearly treks to New York City he took with his mother, father, and older sister (artist Gabi) to see Broadway shows. Epstein appeared for six seasons on ‘Degrassi: The Next Generation’ before he pursued further studies at Montréal’s National Theatre School.

He had applied to Ryerson (X) University and was accepted but wanted to attend school in Québec because there is a prestige as only twelve students are accepted. It was also a chance to move away from the comfort of home and try something new. Epstein also knew several of the Montréal faculty at that time who were and are remarkable artists: Marti Maraden, Alisa Palmer, Ted Dykstra, Kate Hennig, so that sealed the deal for him.

Jake’s dream was to perform on Broadway. When I asked him what advice he might give to the young people in theatre school now or who are considering a career in the performing arts?

“Life isn’t a fairy-tale. It’s not linear. Some of the best moments and career successes in my life have been complicated. A career in performing and show business is wonderful to get to entertain others and I count my lucky stars everyday I get to do what I love.

But after doing it for a long time, I hit a wall and had a hard time talking about the reality of the business. It is complicated. That quote you mentioned, Joe, from Lucie Arnaz: “It’s not all sunshine and autographs…I would put that on my wall. I’m not out to scare young performers because it’s one of the greatest jobs in the world plus it’s also one of the hardest jobs too. You have to be a hustler and have to be ready to take the good with the bad.”

Personally, how have he and his immediate family been faring:

“Knock on wood, everyone is doing okay right now. My sister had a mild case, but she is recovering so very thankful. My parents are doing okay. My wife, (actress) Vanessa Smythe, and I have had each other’s backs.”

Like all the artists whom I’ve interviewed for this Profile series, Jake has experienced his share of ups and downs when everything vanished and there was that initial state of panic and wondering if theatre was ever going to be a thing again. Jake and Vanessa were in the stages of purchasing a house so he wasn’t sure if he would be able to make mortgage payments when his work for a year simply vanished. He got a part time job as a transcriptionist.

How did the part time job fare?

“I was pretty bad at it. I was horrible at it, actually. I was transcribing people from all over the world in different dialects. I was very lucky when I got a film job getting to film a season of ‘The Umbrella Academy’ which is coming out on Netflix, so this work allowed me to quit the transcriptionist job thankfully.”

Epstein notes the preciousness and vitality of live theatre. It’s not a given in the world and it’s very special when it’s allowed to happen, and it becomes a big deal for all of us to see it in our third year of Covid waves. He appreciates very much the opportunity to perform ‘Boy Falls from the Sky’ even more.

The Mirvish website states the following about Jake’s upcoming solo show directed by Robert McQueen: “[dreams]… don’t always go as planned. Through a series of entertaining and soul-baring stories and songs, ranging from touring the US, to surviving ‘Spider-Man’, to withstanding steroid shots and Broadway boos, Epstein shares the rejection, stage fright and heartbreak behind a seemingly successful career in this showbiz tell-all.”

‘Boy Falls From the Sky’ began as a cabaret where it was a series of songs interwoven with some stories. Jake says he is a huge fan of Robert McQueen’s (director of the Toronto run of FUN HOME through Mirvish). Jake also recalled going to see ‘Life After’ a show McQueen developed at the Fringe which then went into further development with Toronto’s Musical Stage Company.

Epstein credits McQueen in taking what was very much a cabaret with ‘Boy Falls From the Sky’ and transformed it into a solo show with some various characters, some scenes and stories. For Jake, yes, it’s still a cabaret. But he also calls ‘Boy’ a stand-up comedy show, a solo show and a musical show.

Without spoiling the show, all I’m going to say is there are at least two big Broadway names whom Jake mentions - and what they said to him made me laugh out loud. Plus, there is also someone with whom Jake worked who is now making world headlines. You’ll have to see the show to personally experience the comedy of the moment.

Epstein also mentions a few other individuals in ‘Boy’ whom he calls inspirational. When I asked him who are some of those who now inspire Jake in his work and personal life, he paused and considered first before he mentioned Tom Hanks (who saw Epstein’s work in the touring company of ‘Green Day’) and Mark Ruffalo. Jake also mentioned Canadian singer/song writer Hawksley Workman, his favourite performer to see. Jake also looks to his older sister and artist Gabi Epstein (who appeared in the Stratford Festival production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS) for inspiration in his life.

Jake finally got the opportunity to originate a Broadway role – he played Gerry Goffin, singer/songwriter husband to Carole King in BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL. Epstein recalls the first time Carole came to watch and to speak with the original Broadway cast in rehearsals. The first thing she said: “Who’s playing Gerry?” At this point, the look on Jake’s face on camera said it all to me. Part of ‘Boy’ also recalls his time in ‘Beautiful’ and how he responded to Carole’s wish, so you’ll have to come see the show to find out what happened.

Epstein recalls how amazing and wonderful it was to be part of ‘Beautiful’, to tell Carole’s story, and to play Gerry Goffin, an iconic singer and songwriter himself. Jake called himself a weird kid because he grew up listening to folk music and not listening to the music he ‘should’ have been listening to in his room. The Beatles, James Taylor, Paul Simon – that was Jake’s music.

What are some specific themes or messages he hopes audiences will walk away with at the conclusion of ‘Boy Falls from the Sky’?

First and foremost, for Jake, the show has to be fun and a piece of entertainment especially right now given the state of our world with the sixth wave of Covid and the horrible events going on in Ukraine. People want to come to the theatre to be entertained and to be moved. Performing ‘Boy’ has taught him how to let go of the expectations of how life goes.

Jake built up this whole narrative that he was going to make it on Broadway, and he will have the world by the tail. That’s not how the reality of how life goes.

Jake has learned when you let go of the expectations, all of a sudden there’s space to see beyond a disappointment and to appreciate life more, to appreciate both the good and the not so good.

That, for Epstein, is the heart of ‘Boy Falls from the Sky’.

‘Boy Falls From the Sky’ runs April 19 – May 29 at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King Street West, Toronto. For tickets, visit www.mirvish.com or call 1-800-461-3333.

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