Masculinity is on the mind.
GQ’s “Hollywood Star of the Future” Ezra Miller recently outlined his ideal mascot of masculinity, “the rooster-type man”; Jane the Virgin heartthrob Justin Baldoni’s series We Are Man Enough investigates what it means to “be a man”; former NFL defensive end and Brooklyn Nine-Nine actor Terry Crews wrote a book about Manhood; heck, even Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is talking about re-defining manliness.
The ripples of this male movement predate #MeToo—though it has tidal-waved alongside it—as our culture re-examines how men relate to women, and, more simply, how men relate.
In other words: what makes a gentleman in 2018?
“Being a gentleman is being a decent human being and treating everybody with equality and respect and love,” says actor Jordan Donica, weighing in on the moment of re-evaluation hitting Broadway, as well.
The 24-four-year-old is a good person to ask, since he seems to have cornered the musical market on the type.
Immediately upon graduating Otterbein University in 2016, Broadway’s longest-running The Phantom of the Opera cast Donica as the romantic Vicomte de Chagny Raoul. No sooner had he made his Broadway debut, when a little show known as Hamilton came knocking, asking him to play the dual roles of French ex-pat Marquis de Lafayette and his France-loving American counterpart Thomas Jefferson on the first national tour. Then, Broadway yanked back with an offer to play British elite Freddy Eynsford-Hill in the 2018 revival of the classic My Fair Lady—where audiences continue to swoon at his “On the Street Where You Live.”
A French aristocrat, a southern gentleman, and an English noble. In an age when we are collectively re-evaluating what it means to be a man, Donica offers a refreshing answer onstage and off.
It’s no accident directors think of Donica when casting Broadway’s current incarnations of gentlemen. He illumines qualities within these characters inherent to him. In fact, after spending the morning with him as he slipped in and out of blazers and sweaters and leather jackets, “gentle” is the first word that comes to mind for the man with such an easy demeanor and calming presence.
If the clothes make the man, Donica walks through the world at ease. (Though his 6-foot-five frame favors a tuxedo or floor-length velvet, he feels himself in a pair of jeans.) You can discern his priorities just by looking at him; he literally wears them on his sleeve.
Stacked on his right wrist: a bracelet from Malawi to remind him of his host family, a gift from the parents at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where he sang in tribute to the victims of the Parkland school massacre, a silicone wristband for a youth program promoting LGBTQ equality based in his Indianapolis hometown, a ring of balance beads. He leads with sensitivity and empathy; his comfort comes from rootedness; his strength comes from honesty and vulnerability; his confidence comes from “another person’s energy”; his depth comes from wonder.
A spirit of generosity and concern for others is at his core. On opening night of My Fair Lady, he sported a literal giving key around his neck. Today, hangs a necklace that reads “Life is a journey.”
“I’ve been asking people ‘If you could make your life into a movie, what would it be? Up to date. Not for the future,” he explains. “I asked my mom and her sorority sisters what their collective movie would be [called] and they said Journey. They sent me this necklace as a thank you.” (His would be called Franklin, for the record. “It’s about my [early] childhood living in Franklin, Tennessee.”)
That’s the kind of question that interests Donica. Personal. Real. “I’m all about asking questions and I’m all about thinking further into things that people don’t really want to dig into,” he says. He finds no joy in small talk. “Whenever I’m with my friends, they’re always like, ‘How long is it going take for the conversation not to become small talk? When are we going to dive into philosophy and things that matter and life and love and happiness? And how we’re really doing and how we’re really feeling?’”
A lover of conversation, Donica is willing to share, but also eager to listen. “You don’t lose any of your ‘manhood’ if you give over your opinion to someone else—and especially someone who you love. In fact, you get more back if you give up a little bit of your own pride,” he says. “That’s something that playing the role of Raoul taught me.”
Having kicked off his career with three high-profile roles, Donica has learned a lot from these men—and audiences have learned from his interpretation. “With Raoul, what I love about him is his quiet confidence—at least what I found in him,” he says assuredly.
“[Jefferson] was just cocky and loved everything,” he says with a laugh. Like his swaggering Continental Congressman, Donica has a zest for life and says he’s willing to try anything once. “In the way that I played him, I found him to be someone who just wanted everyone to have a good time—at least in the context of Hamilton.” Something he also finds in his current Broadway alter ego. “Freddy…” he pauses, “[feels] an endless joy and wonder of life. Maybe that’s just something I find that I’m reminded of myself: an openness to joy.”
Openness is at Donica’s essence.
He lives by a philosophy of non-judgment, especially when it comes to Freddy who often carries a bad rap for his simpletude.
“I think a lot of times people misconstrue being nice for being naïve and being naïve for being stupid. You can be naïve and not stupid,” he says. “Naiveté is knowing that goodness is in everything.” Donica is always searching for goodness.
That penchant for optimism, his open-mindedness, his forgiving nature, all come from one place: his family.
Raised by single women—his mom, his aunt, his grandma, his sister, his cousin—Donica grew up in a house with a revolving door, busting with vivacity (“We’re small but we make up for it with energy”) and enveloping in welcome (“Countless people would come and go and just live with us.”). “I hope to be at least half the human being that those women are,” he says with reverence.
His impulse to help and reflex towards non-judgment comes from them. It seems no surprise Donica was raised by women, the gender our culture has always permitted—nay expected—to be selfless, altruistic, and welcoming. “I always play my characters without judgment. When we practice that as artists, it helps us in life understand why someone’s doing what they do,” he continues. “I think that’s a really good way to approach life and it’s a good way to approach theatre.”
Underscoring his sincerity and search for hard truths hums a playfulness. He loves video games and escape rooms, he harbors a fandom for WWE (“It’s world-class acting, the best staged combat in the world”) and—he’s not ashamed of it—the Power Rangers. But he also spends free time writing screenplays (“to practice the art of storytelling in a different way”) and practices the Sunday night ritual of grabbing dinner at a new spot, always featuring cuisine from some far-reaching country, with his two best friends. They’re thinking of turning it into a podcast #FeastWithUs where they invite a new person every week to “get their thoughts on the world.”
“Life is about asking questions and seeking answers, but never really coming to full conclusions about anything because the answer’s always evolving,” he says.
He, too, is evolving. “I feel like I’m becoming the artist that I will be, at least for the next ten years or so: dangerous—in an exciting way—explorative, open, and welcoming.”
As he brings out quiet confidence onstage in Raoul, playfulness in Jefferson, openness in Freddy, he fuses the written gentleman of yesteryear with the living one of today. Today’s masculinity isn’t one extreme, it derives strength in its balance with femininity.
What makes Donica a worthy paragon in today’s discussion about masculinity is how he treats others. Respect is this gentleman’s idea of romance.
“A really good friend of mine said it’s our job as human beings to fall in love with every person we meet,” he says. “To me, that’s what being a gentleman is, but also what being human is: finding something about every person to fall in love with.”
Ruthie Fierberg is the Senior Features Editor of Playbill covering all things theatre and co-hosting the Opening Night Red Carpet livestreams on Playbill's Facebook. Follow her: Twitter @RuthiesATrain, Instagram @ruthiefierceberg, or via her website.
Jordan Donica shot for Playbill by Marc J. Franklin at the Playbill Studios. Styling by DassonVogue.