A performer in well-known Broadway musicals, star Natalie Joy Johnson truly shines brightest in a cabaret setting where her compelling and hilarious personality guide a monstrous talent into the hearts and minds of a rabid local fanbase. Her popular weekly at the Q is about to take a pause, but another major showcase is nearly upon us!
Thotyssey: Hello Natalie, thanks so much for talking to us this gorge April day! Did you pull any pranks on April Fool’s Day, or were you pranked?
Natalie Joy Johnson: I did not prank! One of my best friends fooled me in her stories, as she said she was done with Chipotle for good; she is the biggest Chipotle fan I know. The universe continues to prank me daily.
You have so much going on these days and we’ll talk about it all, but are you the type of person that functions well when you’re super busy?
Oh, I’m not good sitting still. I actually got surgery on Monday–I got my fallopian tubes removed. Sterilization, baby! You’re supposed to take it easy while you’re recovering. And even then, I found it hard to sit still. I tend to function better when I have things going on.
I see you’re a Baltimore native! What’s it like growing up in that city–is the John Waters cinematic universe accurate?
Lol! The accents are, for sure. My mom lives in Baltimore, my dad lives in Ellicott City. I had more of the suburban growing up experience: lots of private school and church in my younger years–hence my proclivity for talking such filth now, I suppose. The repressed sexual queen had to come out at some point! And now, fully sterilized and ready to take loads, lol!
That is truly the Highest Plain of Existence! How did you begin as performer?
I honestly have been singing ever since I knew it was an option. Looking back, there was no denying where this was going.
Were musical theater and cabaret always the way you wanted to go with your distinct voice and stage presence, or was there a point where you wanted to be, like, a popstar or a rock-n-roller?
I mean, don’t we all still wanna be a rock ‘n’ roller!? Theater was certainly the gateway, but cabaret is really my favorite. Getting to be an insane version of myself where I can say and sing and do whatever I want? That’s my fucking jam.
You had celebrated runs on Legally Blonde and Kinky Boots! I can ask you a million questions about those experiences, but let’s narrow it down to: “what’s it like working on big productions?” and “what were some of your fondest memories from those shows?”
Legally Blonde and Kinky Boots have been two of my biggest joys as a performer. The camaraderie and the friendships that are made, doing eight shows a week for years, are just next level and beyond. From my year and a half of Legally Blonde on Broadway, two years on the national tour and five and a half years on Broadway with Kinky Boots— those are friends that I will have for life. Literal family.
The shows themselves are so fun, of course. And being on a Broadway stage is a dream come true–getting to be a part of the legacy of Broadway. But it’s really those friendships that are at the top of my list of the best things about it. That, and health insurance is nice, too.
And might I just add: it’s the connection with the audiences, too. Although those relationships are much shorter–maybe two and a half hours–that vibe is fucking magic. And it’s the audience that is so important and vital in my cabaret work.
One great thing about cabaret is that an artist can really build a persona and performing style. Did you know right away what you were going to be like on an intimate stage, or did that develop over time?
Here’s the realness: I’ve been singing ever since I knew it was an option. When I was 12, my dad asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I replied, “a karaoke machine.” And that was the early ascent into the creature that stands before you week after week at The Q.
It wasn’t long after, I started taking voice lessons in high school. My teacher really encouraged my performance and storytelling. At some point, you look back at your life and you realize, this is who I’ve always been. The karaoke machine only took that shit to the next level. I’ve been standing behind a mic stand in my dad’s garage since I was four, pretending I was Crystal Gale on Solid Gold. Living freely and fully, behind a mic stand– with my hands free, being the most fabulous version of myself–is my favorite thing.
Tell us about your weekly Saturday night “Miss Natalie” revue at the Q! How did that show come about, what’s it like, and how fun is it to perform at that crazy magic place?
My delicious weekly residency at the Q was simply a match made in heaven. My beloved Frankie Sharp had mentioned to the world that he wanted :the next Liza Minelli” performing weekly at his new club, The Q… and magical friends in the universe sent my name his way. Frankie is a visionary, and the synergy that we felt right away was electric.
My dear collaborator Brian Nash and I have been working together for over fifteen years. We had a four and a half year weekly residency at Therapy Bar & Grill, gwarhl… RIP. I mean no disrespect–and I say this with all of the love we all had for those nachos and quesadillas–we did hundreds of shows on the jankiest keyboard in all of Hell’s Kitchen.
So, to be able to bring our brand of insanity that has been carefully curated over fifteen plus years, lol–and to elevate it weekly, with a band, that we can offer to our audience for free–really enticed me in a way I can only describe as my deepest alignment. This is my favorite. This shit is me at my best. And to be able to create a community with over fifteen plus years as a “cabaret artist” and over 30 shows at the Q… it is honestly quite holy for me. It is the super gay expression of my Methodist fellowship upbringing.
And another exciting production is coming! What can you tell us about Amy Jo Jackson and the show you’re starring in together at Joe’s Pub on Tuesday, April 19 (7pm): Dopplesänger?
Well, Amy Jo and I have been getting confused for each other for literally years now. We did a “Villains Party” at 54 Below a few years ago where we sang “Agony” from Into The Woods. After the first run through of it together, with our huge voices and big vibrato and matching haircuts, we were like, “whoah. We gotta do a show together.” I mean, everyone already thinks we are the same person… let’s be on the same bill!
So it’s a duo show, by two zaftig, belty, ridiculous broads. But since it’s Amy Jo and I and the delicious Brian Nash, choices are being made. This ain’t your mama’s cabaret… unless your mother, too, is an insane, tall, curvy character actress with a taste for camp. And if so, please, please bring her. But get your tickets now–they’re selling fast!
Amazing! What else is coming up for you?
I’m getting to head out of town to California for a gig this summer, and I truly cannot wait. This is a project that we were supposed to do in April 2020, so, to say that I’m thrilled that it is finally happening is a huuuuuge understatement. I leave at the end of the month… so you have two more Saturdays to catch me and my fierce band at The Q!
We’ll miss you, but congrats! In closing: Broadway’s having an interesting moment in this post-lockdown boom. Everyone loves Company and hates Funny Girl, debating whether to get thousand dollar tickets for The Music Man, and surprisingly enjoying Pamela Anderson’s debut in Chicago! Is there anything on the Great White Way that you particularly wanna see, or not see, before you leave or when you get back?
I would love to see Pam in Chicago… I honestly love that show so so much! And I wanna see Company… haven’t had a chance to see that one yet, but really wanna. I got to see Hadestown again a few months ago, and just loved it so much. So much specificity happening on that stage… and the music is so magical. I just loved it! And A Strange Loop… I really wanna see that one!