Friday, October 19, 2012


Everything’s Coming Up Streisand For Joey Landwehr and the J*Company

By Donnie Matsuda

Joey Landwehr has been the Artistic Director for J*Company Youth Theatre for the past six years, putting his innovative artistic stamp on the theatre company’s award winning and ambitious musicals.  Prior to his tenure as head of the “J*Co” (as it is affectionately referred to by many), Joey worked for several years as a professional actor and director in New York City, working on and off Broadway, singing and dancing on national tours, performing in regional theatre, and even soloing at Carnegie Hall.  He’s trained with some of the biggest names in the biz, including Betty Buckley, Marcel Marceau, Twyla Tharpe and Patti LuPone, and has had the privilege of working with such greats as Phyllis Diller, Sam Harris, Kristin Chenoweth, Victoria Mallory, Joel Grey, Kaye Ballard, Michael Feinstein and the late Howard Keel.  As Joey gets ready to lead his youth theatre company into its 20th Season (a tribute to the legendary Barbara Streisand), he sat down with me to chat about his childhood growing up in the backwoods of St. Louis, his reasons for moving to San Diego, his process for putting together the company’s “Streisand Season,” and his hopes and dreams for the future of J*Company.

Joey Landwehr
How does a young boy growing up in rural Missouri get involved in musical theatre? 

Well, growing up in a rural town in Missouri, I was planning to be a minister.  Especially when you get to know me, you’ll be, “like, what!?!”  [Laughs]  I think most of it was because that’s what my mother wanted and I wanted to please her.  I went to Johnson Bible College in Knoxville, TN in between my junior and senior year of high school and it was an experience I’ll never forget.  I was there and I was thinking, “this is beautiful, but I don’t really know why I’m here.”  Then I realized half way through that I didn’t really want to preach the word, I just wanted to be on stage and tell people what to do!  [laughs]  I always loved theatre and I was always singing in church but I never thought of it as an actual job or a career.  It wasn’t until I was a junior in high school that I went, oh there’s a whole genre and there’s something you can do onstage.  And that’s when I discovered theatre and realized that I had this love for it. 

Growing up, I was a rotund boy with a 44 inch waist, weighing about 260 lbs.  And my sister was going on a date with a guy that knew John Goodman and they knew I was starting to get into theatre so they introduced me to him.  I asked him if this is something I want to pursue, what should I do and where do I go?  And he said the first thing you need to do is lose the weight.  And literally, that summer I went from 260 lbs to 170lbs.  He was such an inspiration.  He spoke so eloquently and I remember his thunderous laugher.  He was so jovial and wonderful and that’s when I started thinking maybe this is something I could do. 

I went to undergrad at a little liberal arts college and thought I would have teaching as a background and something to fall back on and then I realized no, if I’m going to do this I need to go full out.  I wanted to experience it all the way or not experience it at all.  So I just jumped in with both feet and never looked back. 

I have to assume from your impressive bio that you’ve spent a lot of time in New York.  How many years were you there?  Did you get to do any Broadway or Off-Broadway shows?  What’s the most important lesson or piece of advice you took away from your time in the Big Apple?

I was in New York from 1997-2003.  On Broadway, I did a little stint in The Secret Garden and then did the national tour which was a lot of fun.  I also did the national tour of the The Wizard of Oz with Phyllis Diller and the national tour of George M with Joel Grey.  I also took classes from Betty Buckley.  I had already been through undergrad and grad school at Ohio State and when I burst onto the New York scene, I didn’t know where to start.  I discovered that Betty was giving acting classes and I said I just want to try this out and see if I’m missing something that I didn’t learn in college.  She was such an incredible teacher that I took classes from her for three years.  She taught me so much about the process of theatre much more than the product.  Whereas in college, I think they were getting me ready for the product of theatre: how to get the show and how to market myself.  Whereas Betty taught me to find the underlying aspects of theatre, the exciting parts where you could really delve into characters. 

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