CUE & A: Holler If Ya Hear Me Star Ben Thompson on Tupac, Unitards and Math-Induced Ulcers

Ben Thompson, back on Broadway as Griffy in the new musical Holler If Ya Hear Me, fills out Playbill.com's questionnaire of random facts, backstage trivia and pop-culture tidbits.

Sarah Jones in Bridge & Tunnel.
Sarah Jones in Bridge & Tunnel. (Photo by Brian Micahel Thomas)

Thompson has previously appeared on Broadway in Matilda (Escapologist, Miss Trunchbull) and American Idiot.

Other stage work includes the Off-Broadway revival of Rent (New World Stages), Carrie (MCC), Parable of the Sower (New York City Opera) and national tours of Disney’s High School Musical, Big River and Joseph…

He is married to fellow Broadway performer Kat Nejat ( Lysistrata Jones).

Full given name: Robert Benjamin Thompson
Where you were born/where you were raised: Tulsa, OK (FUNKY TOWN)
Zodiac Sign: Aquarius
What your parents did/do for a living: My mom is a retired community planner and my dad is a lobbyist in Washington, DC.
Siblings: Three older sisters and three younger half siblings
Current audition song/monologue: Shaggy's "It Wasn't Me" grin
Special skills: Guitar and sign language (not at the same time... that’s impossible)
Something you're REALLY bad at: Math… embarrassing but true. Please don't make me handle a group check. It gives me ulcers.
First Broadway show you ever saw: Phantom of the Opera when I was 8 years old
If you could go back in time and catch any show, what would it be? I would love to see the original Shakespeare productions.
Current or recent show other than your own you have been recommending to friends: Fly By Night at Playwrights Horizons is some of the smartest storytelling that I have seen in a long time. I will also always recommend Matilda (obviously).
Favorite showtune(s) of all time: The Prologue to West Side Story, "Seasons of Love" from Rent (basically the soundtrack of my high school years), the title song from Oklahoma! (I think we can we all agree it is the greatest state song!)
Some favorite modern musicals: American Idiot (duh), Fly By Night, Matilda, Lysistrata Jones, In the Heights, Spring Awakening, Once. There would be more if I had more free time to go to the theater! I rarely see something I don’t like. I love this community and this art form so much that I hardly ever leave the theater without taking something special with me from the experience.
Some favorite classic musicals: West Side Story, Gypsy, Singin' in the Rain (the movie). My grandparents ran a small theatre in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and my grandfather would always sit us down in front of the TV and show us all these movie musicals. He played such a huge part in cultivating my ever-growing love for the musical.
Broadway or screen stars of the past you would have most loved to perform with: Too many to name
Your personal performance idols, living or dead: Kurt Elling, Chris Jackson, Josh Henry, Stevie Wonder, Steven Pasquale (this one is new... his performance in Bridges was UNREAL!)
The one performance – attended - that you will never forget: My wife's opening night of the most recent revival of West Side Story on Broadway. That night was so special. Not only was it epic to see West Side Story back on Broadway, but watching my wife achieve her dream was mind-blowing. I don't know if I have ever been more proud.
Music that makes you cry, any genre: Music and I have a very special relationship. I am such a huge music person and my love spans all genres. Honestly, music affects me differently every time I listen. I may listen to something one time and feel happy, and then the next time I hear it I feel an entirely different emotion.
MAC or PC? MAC!!!!!
Most played song on your iPod: Partita for Solo Violin NO. 3 in E MAJOR. Seriously? This surprised me too. I listen to classical music before shows.
Most-visited websites: ESPN, Twitter (@itsBenThompson), Playbill
Favorite Tweeters: @KittyKatNejat, @HollerBWay
Last book you read: "Wild Seed" by Octavia Butler
Must-see TV show(s): "Friday Night Lights," "House of Cards," "Orange is the New Black," "Scandal," "Homeland," "Lost," "Battle Star Galactica," "Friends," "SportsCenter," "Game of Thrones" (I'm only on season 3...so good!) My wife and I are obviously binge-TV-series watchers.
Last good movie you saw: "Grand Budapest Hotel"
Some films you consider classics: "Billy Madison," "Happy Gilmore," "Tommy Boy." Sorry, the penguin made me do it.
Performer you would drop everything to go see: My wife
Pop culture guilty pleasure: BuzzFeed
Three favorite cities: New York, Denver, Tulsa
Favorite sport/team/player: NFL: NY Giants. NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder (Kevin Durant). MLB: Yankees. NCAA: TCU Horned Frogs (GO FROGS!!!!!!!!!)
First CD/Tape/LP you owned: Green Day's "Dookie"
First stage kiss: Brigadoon in high school. I played Tommy and I remember being really nervous but also really happy I was in the show because that’s where all the girls were.
Favorite or most memorable onstage role as a child/teenager: Leader of the lollipop guild in Wizard of Oz at Theatre Tulsa when I was 8. My first show ever! I was bitten by the bug and my life changed forever.
Moment you knew you wanted to perform for a living: I think I always knew but it wasn't until I was cast in Jesus Christ Superstar at TCU that I realized that I wanted to do this as my career. That cast and those teachers really made me feel like I had found my home.
How you got your Equity card: (Ironically) Wizard of Oz in college at Casa Mañana in Fort Worth, Texas. I got my card at the same time as (future) fellow American Idiot alum, Leslie McDonel!
Favorite pre-/post- show meal: Pre-show is usually Juice Press on 71st and Columbus for a Doctor Earth juice and a Macha Bowl. Post-show depends... when my family is in town, we usually go to Bond 45 or Serafina. Between shows, you can usually find Chris Jackson, Saul Williams and me at the Little Beet on 50th between 7th and 6th.
Favorite liquid refreshment: I am a little obsessed with fresh pressed juices from places like Juice Generation and Juice Press.
Pre-show rituals or warm-ups:

It always varies depending on the show I'm in. At American Idiot, we had group warm up and a circle before the show. At Matilda I always went to the hair room at the 15 minute call to see and chat with the Matilda for the show.

At Holler If Ya Hear Me, I am in Saul's dressing room at the 5 minute call for a little pre-show pump up session listening ULTRAMAGNETIC MC's track "Funky," and then I go around and try to say hi to everyone (cast, crew, orchestra) before the show.

Most challenging role you have ever played: Miss Trunchbull in Matilda was the most physically demanding role I have played. That girl is no joke. Roger in Rent is one of the most emotionally challenging roles. Although I would say that Griffy in Holler is proving to be pretty emotionally exhausting as well (in a good way!)
Were you a fan of Tupac's music before this show? If so, what were some of your favorite songs? I have a very distinct memory of driving around my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, with my friends blasting "California Love" with the windows down.
Biggest challenge about this current project: Answering the question, "Who's playing Tupac?" HAHAHA. Seriously though, NO ONE is playing Tupac. Todd Kreidler has written a beautiful original story using and inspired by Tupac's lyrics.
Most fulfilling or fun aspect about the project: Working with this cast and creative team. Some of us have been working together on this for 4+ years and we have all really become a family. We all know that we are a part of something special. We all know that we are a part of a story that needs to be told... and more importantly a story that needs to be heard.
Worst flubbed line/missed cue/onstage mishap:

The second time I went on for Roger in the Off-Broadway revival of Rent (before I was ever rehearsed, mind you…) I forgot the words to the second verse of "One Song Glory." You know, Roger's ONLY solo in the show?! Thankfully the amazing Will Van Dyke was musical directing the show and he just kicked the band into the chorus and saved me! It was the longest three minutes of my life. I could visibly see audience members sinking in their seats and whispering to each other. Needless to say, I am a little neurotic about lyrics before each scene/song now.

Worst costume ever: An anatomically painted full-body unitard on the national tour of Joseph. Incidentally this is the show where I met my wife. She saw me in this unitard on a daily basis (and not necessarily in the best shape of my life), and was still attracted to me. That is true love ladies and gentlemen. Love is truly blind!
Worst job you ever had: I once had a temp job where I worked in what can only be called a closet. Literally, I think the room was 5’ x 5’. I had 6 to 8 stacks of papers in front of me at least 2 feet high which consisted of printed out emails spanning 5 years, that I had to put in chronological order down to the second. I think I died twice that week.
Craziest audition story: I had a callback for Enjolras for the last revival of Les Miserables where I am pretty sure I sang in some alien language. It definitely wasn't English, and I definitely didn't get the job. I tried to play it off... but I couldn't stop it. The gibberish just kept coming out of my mouth.
If you could trade roles/tracks with anyone in the show for a week, who would it be? I would love to trade places with one of our dancers, Valentine Norton. I would love to be able to dance like him. Broadway is going to meet a lot of new and amazing talent when they come to see Holler If Ya Hear Me!
Leading man role you've been dying to play: I would love to play Guy in Once. That show is beautiful!
Leading lady role you'd like a shot at: I got to play her. Miss Trunchbull!
Something about you that surprises people: I played a woman on Broadway.
Something you are incredibly proud of: My marriage! My wife is my lifesaver and the reason I have ever been able to reach any of my dreams.
Something you're embarrassed to admit: I'm a total softie. As my acting teacher says, I am "emotionally drenched."
Career you would want if not a performer: Ummm, is “Billionaire” a career???
Three things you can't live without: My wife, my dog, music.
"I'll never understand why…" ... we are not all treated with equality.
Words of advice for aspiring performers: Do not ever let anyone tell you that you can't. Use every rejection as motivation. Every audition is an opportunity to learn something about yourself. Bring as much of yourself into the room with you as possible. If you feel in your bones that performing is something that you HAVE to do, then do it! Is it easy? NO. Is it worth it? YES!