Broadway neon lights shine on 2017 Arizona State University graduate James D. Gish.
Gish, who was born in Las Vegas, Nevava, and moved to Bullhead City, Arizona, when he was 11, earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from WP Carey School of Business with honors from Barrett, The Honors College of the ASU.
In his Broadway debut, he currently performs the role of Fiyero in “Wicked” eight times a week at the Gershwin Theater in New York City.
Gish credits his mother and a childhood friend for encouraging him to continue singing and performing.
“Culturally, Bullhead City is more sport-oriented. So growing up, I always aspired to be an athlete. Unfortunately, I’m about as coordinated as a newborn calf,” Gish said.
“It wasn’t until a friend of mine heard me sing on the radio that he and my mother forced me to audition for the choir when I was 15. From then on, I was forced to audition for the school musical and I immediately fell in love with it.”
Gish’s love of music and performance has taken him beyond the productions of his alma mater Mohave High School. He appeared as a guest artist with Colorado River Concerts, an organization that provides concerts and live performances in Bullhead City and other Colorado River area communities. He has performed in national tours of “Beautiful: The Carol King Musical” and “Les Miserables”; with the Phoenix Theater Company in ‘Newsies’, ‘Jersey Boys’, ‘Westside Story’, ‘Daddy Long Legs’ and ‘My Way’; with Hippodrome Theater in “Forever Plaid” and “The Toxic Avenger”; and with Desert Stage Theater in “Shrek: The Musical.”
In 2017, Gish released an album called “So In Love”, produced by DW Music at Warner Brothers Music and Oceanway Studios in Nashville, Tennessee. The album entered the Top 10 classic charts of iTunes. He promoted the album with performances on the West Coast in 2017 and on a Las Vegas tour in 2018. He performed with Caesars Palace Concerts at Cleopatra’s Barge on the Las Vegas Strip in 2018.
How does Gish feel about heading to Broadway?
“Broadway has been a dream of mine for over a decade. Words are a pittance to describe what actualizing this really feels like,” Gish said.
“I have this beautiful moment every night in the ‘Wicked’ finale where I watch Elphaba (also called the Wicked Witch of the West) for several moments before we make our final exit, and it gives me a perfect view of the stage, the actors, the audience and the theatre. It’s rare that I don’t have tears in my eyes at the end. That being said, Broadway is also a great challenge. There is a level of precision and much higher consistency expected of performers here, and accomplishing that eight times a week is no small feat. It takes lots of sleep, water, and Mucinex!
Gish took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his trip from small town Arizona to the Big Apple. Here’s what he had to say.
Question: When did you attend ASU and Barrett Honors College?
Answer: I started in the fall of 2014 and graduated in the spring of 2017. I majored in business management because, coming from such a small town, I didn’t feel sure I had this it takes to compete at a professional level in acting, so I wanted something to fall back on. Luckily, I really enjoyed studying at WP Carey.
My sophomore year, I also started acting at a regional theater in downtown Phoenix, the Phoenix Theater Company, where I was able to learn the ropes of this world while going to school. Simultaneously, I began taking additional classes and summer school at ASU in order to graduate a year earlier and get to work even sooner.
Q: How did you choose ASU and Barrett?
A: Many reasons. It’s a beautiful campus and a well-respected institution, it was close to my home, I was lucky enough to get a great scholarship, and it was located near professional theaters where I was hoping to start working while going to school.
I graduated in 2017 and was blessed to return to perform at Gammage Auditorium as Gerry Goffin with the national tour of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” in February 2020. I was honored with the ASU Gammage Rising Star Award, which currently resides on a shelf in my parents’ living room. It was an unforgettable evening!
Q: What did you take away from your ASU and Barrett experience?
A: I got more out of it than I could fit in this interview! I studied with a lot of really exceptional teachers. Their lessons helped me enormously to understand the business side of the show. For example, I wrote many of my own gig and tour contracts myself and also helped other friends of mine, which I certainly couldn’t do without this knowledge.
Q: How would you describe your performance and singing style?
A: The official genre of my solo album, “So In Love”, is called classic crossover. Think of Josh Groban style songs through a more contemporary lens. I’ve written a lot of my own music while touring with those shows and now joining “Wicked,” and I can feel my genre changing a bit, but you have to admit, I’m still figuring out exactly where it’s going. I guess that’s part of the fun, and I look forward to releasing some original music soon.
Q: What is the process to get to the point where you perform on Broadway? Do you need to have a certain number of off-Broadway or regional performances under your belt before you can be cast for a Broadway production? How competitive is it?
A: There are no official requirements for Broadway. It certainly helps to have more experience, as producers and creative teams will always be looking for the safest choice, but they’ve also often snatched talent from obscurity when the fit is perfect. Auditions, work sessions with creatives, reminders in front of a panel of producers and directors. It’s quite a process. The competition is as intense as you can imagine, but I’ve always been one step ahead in that I have a great manager, Nyle Brenner, who has done an exceptional job of getting my name out there.
Q: If you spoke to a student at ASU Barrett, what would you say?
A: One of the biggest lessons I learned is that what you get from school equals what you put into it. It sounds corny, but it’s so true. You can attend classes, study for tests, get decent grades, and land a decent job, but taking the time to personally foster relationships with professors, join clubs, and build lasting connections is what can guarantee a great job. instead of decent work.
Q: What advice do you have for a young person who aspires to be an artist, and maybe make it to Broadway?
A: Seize every opportunity that presents itself. Everyone has to start somewhere, so any exposure is paramount. This company is much more about people than talent. I’ve made many difficult or awkward engagements that didn’t pay much because they gave me the chance to foster important relationships, and they paid off almost every time. Trust that the grueling work will pay off later.