Is Ben Jackson Walker an over-achiever?
While making his Broadway debut in & Juliet, he also jumped into the recording studio to lay down two new songs inspired by his queer sexuality and coming-of-age experience — all while performing eight times a week in the Max Martin jukebox musical.
The biggest pop songs of the past several decades converge in a musical reimagining of what might have happened if Juliet survived.
Walker, who also appears in Paramount+’s Honor Society, released “Nothing to Lose” and “Tightrope Walker” on July 7, which offers fans a taste of his indie sound featuring layered vocal tracks and an acoustic vibe that echoes the early days of artists like Duncan Sheik and Gavin DeGraw but with a decidedly gay hook.
It’s a big step from his first show — a musical version of The Hobbit in which he played Frodo Baggins. The pandemic threw a temporary wrench in Walker’s dreams, despite graduating from the acclaimed musical theater program at the University of Michigan. Stints nannying and gardening held him over until Walker arrived in New York City and booked the gig that would change his life (& Juliet’s opening night cast included 15 performers making their Broadway debut).
“I just have to take it one day at a time,” Walker said in a recent interview. “Because it’s overwhelming, and it’s amazing.”
Queerty caught up with Walker between performances to chat about his new music, favorite queer icons, and what British guys like to dip their “chips” in.
Ben Jackson Walker in Broadway’s ‘& Juliet.’ Photo by Matthew Murphy
This is my Broadway debut! The one thing they didn’t teach me in acting school that every Broadway newbie should know is…
There’s truly no way to train for a long run; it’s something you just have to experience for the first time and learn what works for you. Every Broadway newbie should know that acting school can teach you skill, but a big chunk of the job is learning how to get good at repetition — keeping the show fresh every night, maintaining vocal, physical, and mental health, and staying present when you’ve done something hundreds of times.
When I saw _________ onstage, I knew I wanted to be an actor…
I saw a good mix of community and professional theater growing up, but it wasn’t until I saw Next to Normal onstage that I was truly hooked. The music was exciting and similar to music I listened to, the story was about something real and moving, and the performances left me speechless. Alice Ripley, in particular, showed me how transcendent musical theater could be.
In & Juliet, Romeo is a bit of a player, but that’s not the way to my heart. The best way to win my love is …
Ooh, honestly, music taste is a big one. I can always tell if someone listens to artists I enjoy, we’re probably going to vibe on a deeper level.
My new song, “Tightrope Walker,” is inspired by my sexual exploration while living in London. The biggest difference between British guys and Americans is…
THE ACCENT. Or that they dip their fries (*ahem, I mean chips*) in mayo instead of ketchup.
The gayest thing about me is…
When I first came out, I saw the National Theatre’s production of Angels in America, and I almost got a tattoo of the quote, “You will find, my friend, that what you love will take you places you never dreamed you’d go.”
& Juliet reimagines what happens after Romeo & Juliet using the songs of Max Martin. One of my favorite songs in the show is…
My favorite song is the only original song Max Martin wrote for the show called “One More Try.” It’s the first time in our show that you get to see why Romeo and Juliet fell for each other in the first place. You see them gain the courage to ask for what they need. It’s very gratifying to go on that journey with Lorna Courtney every night.
Ben Jackson Walker in ‘& Juliet.’ Photo by Matthew Murphy
It was amazing to get into the recording studio to lay down these two new songs. Maybe a gay duet will be next! Put me and __________ in the same room, and I guarantee sparks will fly…
Perfume Genius wrote one of my favorite queer love songs called “On the Floor,” and he writes about the gay experience in sort of an abstract way. I like writing in more of a narrative way, so I’d love to bring those two styles together and see what comes out. Or make me the fourth member of Boygenius. I’m obsessed with gay geniuses, apparently.
I can sing, I can act, I can dance, but don’t expect me to …
Ice skate. No one should ever put my 6-foot-1 *ss on the ice and expect me to stay on my feet. And I did it on a first date once. Big mistake.
Broadway’s Justin David Sullivan on singing Max Martin hits, fashion inspiration, & living out & proud
While Sullivan is enjoying their time on Broadway, the multi-hyphenate artist is also ready to explore other mediums.