Garner native Jeremy Woodard, a star in Broadways Rock of Ages, tended bar at a Manhattan barbecue joint while awaiting his big break in New York City. Now Woodard is another kind of bus boy. His face is plastered on the side of a Grayline tour bus.
It is embarrassing, he said. But it is way cool. Embarrassing, but cool.
Woodard performs as Stacee Jaxx in the Broadway production of the rock musical and is pictured in the shows bus ads.
Or at least so he has been told.
To me, it is a ghost bus, Woodard said. Ive never seen it, but people keep telling me that theyve seen it and theyve been sending me pictures.
He had no idea the ad was being made. The entire cast was called in this spring for publicity pictures, but he thought the pictures were for posters and print ads.
Thats the way this business is, he said. You go to bed one night, and you end up on a bus the next day.
Woodard, 33, found quick success after graduating from East Carolinas School of Theater and Dance in 2001. He was cast first in the national tour of Miss Saigon and later in the national tour of Hairspray.
But he decided he wanted to work in New York after his second tour and for a couple of years he served drinks and wiped the bar at Brother Jimmys, a barbecue restaurant with a North Carolina flair. The restaurant soon added an ECU banner to the other Southern sports banners and flags. He enjoyed the work, but busing tables wasnt his dream.
As kids I didnt think any of us would be working as actors, much less have any type of fame, but I think Jeremy is where he is because he thought he would be, said Collin Batten, a member of The Blue Man Group who was Woodards classmate at Garner and at ECU.
I remember him flashing me his first professional theater paycheck from North Carolina Theatre in the senior parking lot at Garner. I thought that was awesome, because I didnt consider the thing we were doing for fun was something to do for a living, especially at that age.
Woodard made his Broadway debut in Glory Days on May 6, 2008. The show closed for good the same night.
I remembered back when I was in high school the dream was to get on a Broadway stage, he said. I said, I dont care if it is only for one night, I just want to get on a Broadway stage. Then it was one night. We were excited about opening night and then got the message to come clean out our stuff because the show was closing.
Woodard seemed poised to bounce back quickly, landing a role in Cry Baby. His run was scheduled to begin June 23, 2008. The show closed after the June 22 matinee.
But he kept working on his craft and believing he could find a niche on Broadway.
Its that sense of the eye on the prize that has served Jeremy well, said Batten, who remembers slipping into an ECU studio one night to play the piano and write songs. He kept hearing the thud of tap shoes and got up to investigate. Peeking through a glass door, he saw Woodard.
Jeremy dripping in sweat, by himself, working on his pull-backs, Batten recalled. Not a full choreographed dance, but one move that he wanted to get better at. The mantra that athletes use that they are working hard to get better because if they arent, someone else is, fits for Jeremy.
Woodard eventually found a home on Broadway in Rock of Ages. He spent three years in the original cast as Joey Primo before moving to a starring role in September. Jaxx is the bad guy, a hard-driving, famed rock star in the show, which features classic songs from Poison, Bon Jovi, Twisted Sister, Styx, Pat Benatar, Journey and others. He disrupts the budding relationship between the shows good guys and uses and disposes of people at will.
Woodard wears a blond wig, tight pants, sparkly shirts, and layer upon layer of blush, eyeliner and glitter-filled lipstick. He also applies tattoos of a nude, a star, a butterfly and the Grim Reaper.
Landing the role of Jaxx rejuvenated him, Woodard said. Keeping a show fresh each night isnt easy after hundreds of performances, especially for the ensemble actors, who are on stage and dancing for most of the show.
There is so much head banging that your neck gets sore, he said. The dances arent that hard, but they are very physical and high-energy with a lot of moves with your knees up high. A lot of pounding.
The Jaxx role is less demanding physically, but more demanding vocally. He loves the role, but knows it wont last forever.
You always have questions about your career, he said. Should you leave a steady paycheck and a job you love to try something else?
He occasionally auditions for a new show but understands the risks involved in changing roles. He remembers signing the contracts for the two previous Broadway shows and performing only one time. He got another reminder of the uncertainty of Broadway when Bonnie & Clyde, a show he thought would be a hit, opened Dec. 1, 2011, and closed less than a month later on Dec. 30, 2011.
He knows he cant live the fantasy life of a rock star forever, but for right now Woodard is rocking on.