Joshua Dela Cruz, who appeared in the ensemble of the original Broadway cast of Disney's Aladdin, later stepping into the title role for a limited engagement, is also the current host of the Nickelodeon children's series Blue’s Clues & You, a reboot of the 1996 program that has already been picked up for a second season.
We recently asked Dela Cruz, who was also seen Off-Broadway in Here Lies Love as well as in the City Center Encores! production of Merrily We Roll Along, to pen a list of his most memorable theatregoing experiences. His choices follow.
Yerma at the Park Avenue Armory
Simon Stone’s adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s play Yerma at the Park Avenue Armory was the greatest piece of modern theatre I have ever seen. They broke traditional storytelling rules and created new ones, giving us, the audience, an incredibly intimate and voyeuristic window into the tragedy that would unfold. I laughed, cried, and shook with terror in anticipation of what would happen next. Billie Piper and the cast were stellar. I’d see it again in a heartbeat if I could. Maybe we could start a petition to bring it to Broadway?
In the Heights at the Palace Theatre
When I first moved to New York City, I couldn’t afford to see In the Heights (or any Broadway show for that matter)—I was bussing tables at a restaurant trying to make enough money so that I could keep auditioning. After it closed I thought I had lost my chance to see it. Some time later, I found out the original cast would be performing for one night only down the street from our apartment at the time. “This is my chance!” I thought. But by the time I could track down tickets, they were sold out and resale was out of our budget. I was crushed. By chance, while I was at the library in my neighborhood, I saw that they had $10 tickets available for the residents of Washington Heights and with that I was finally able to experience one of my favorite shows. New York theatre is notoriously inaccessible to people with financial constraints. I am so thankful to Lin-Manuel Miranda for making sure that this show was accessible to everyone. For one night I wasn’t a bus boy clearing tables, I was a kid watching magic on stage.
The Company of To Kill a Mockingbird
Walking into the theatre I knew that Celia Keenan-Bolger was not a child and no one on stage was actually going to kill Gbenga Akinnagbe, who played Tom Robinson. However, the company’s belief and support in each other made that danger so real, I sat in disbelief as if it were happening in real life. This production is a testament to a performer’s responsibility to endow the actor across from them with the power necessary to suspend the audience’s disbelief. Armed with an incredible script, beautiful production, and jarringly vulnerable actors, it brought me to tears and gave me hope that even during these confusing times, truth and goodness will prevail—as long as we choose to rise to it.
“If I won the lotto tomorrow well I know I wouldn’t bother goin’ on no spendin’ spree”—I’d ask for two standing-room tickets to Hamilton. Yes, I was lucky enough to win standing room tickets in the Hamilton lottery. The entire production is genius, top to bottom, ensemble to principals. Another prime example of a company of powerful and selfless actors. What really affected me was how the actors chose to deal with ambition and its consequences. Heavy stuff. Also, aside from the obvious musical style, it’s riddled with fun hip-hop references. “If you don’t know, now you know…”
Jessie Mueller in Waitress
Jessie Mueller’s acting is so subtle and intimate, it shouldn’t work in a Broadway house, but it just blows you away. Her incredible ability to find the simplest and honest acting choices made us all lean in and hang on her every word. I learned so much watching her perform. We are not worthy of her presence!
Danny Burstein in South Pacific, Golden Boy,… and everything else
When I was in college, my friends told me about Lincoln Center Theater’s affordable ticket program, LincTix. Thanks to that program I was able to see Danny Burstein (one of my favorite actors of all time) in South Pacific. He’s astonishing. Whether you’re watching him as Luther Billis in South Pacific or Tokio in Golden Boy, his physical embodiment of characters can either make you bust at the seams laughing or feel like you can walk into a boxing ring and take on the world.
When I heard that Mark Rylance would be coming back to Broadway in Richard III and Twelfth Night, I saved up every dollar I had so that I could go see them both in rep at the Belasco. His ability to find comedy in dramatic moments and then use that comedy to assert power over another character on stage was amazing to behold. He not only made the audience laugh, but used that laughter to humiliate another character in the show. Brilliant.
Bill Irwin and David Shiner in Old Hats
A clown is a comic performer who employs slapstick or similar types of physical comedy, often in a mime style. Being a Bill Irwin fan, I thought I knew what to expect when I purchased tickets to Old Hats at the Signature. What I didn’t expect was how much I would relate to Mr. Irwin and Mr. Shiner’s clowns on a human level. These thoughtful, hilarious, and often heartbreaking performances helped me see the world from a whole new perspective. All anyone really wants to do is come together and share a moment of joy.
This company was incredible. The comic timing and specificity in their intention both entertained and terrified. In the show, a boy uses a puppet as a means of communication after suffering the loss of a loved one… the puppet then becomes possessed by the devil and all hell breaks loose. Genius, right?! It was one of the best plays I have ever seen. An incredible cast, script, and director working together to give the audience a glimpse inside a boy and his mother’s journey to finding each other again. It was hilarious, poignant, and sent shivers down my spine. Please come back to Broadway!
This show exemplifies what acting is at its very core: imagination and belief. With a minimal set, costumes, and props, the actors were able to transport us to a dream world and reconnect with our childhood imaginations. Proving that magic can exist in this often cynical world we live in.