Actress, singer, performer
Paper magazine said that Rebecca Naomi Jones was "the girl to call when there's a cooler-than-thou musical in town." Looking at her appearances in some of the hottest rock musicals around, including "Murder Ballad," "Passing Strange," Green Day's "American Idiot," and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” the fact seems hard to deny.
But you won’t be able to lock her into that role or any other. Rebecca seems to slide from Shakespeare in the Park to Rock and Roll Broadway without any whiplash; and she is as comfortable in front of the camera as she is on the stage— acting, singing, dancing—a performer with all the makings of a diva, minus the attitude. One thing seems clear—Rebecca is ready for whatever comes next.
With Rebecca, it’s all about the music. The story goes, that as soon as she was born, her musician father held her in his arms and sang to her. Newborn Rebecca immediately responded, opening her eyes wide and twiddling her fingers. Her mother remembers her dad’s excitement, and says he ran through the hospital announcing, “She has long fingers! She’s going to play the piano!”
And so it began. Rebecca had a childhood filled with music, especially singing. She says, “I loved singing in a way that was just natural. I always wanted to be a singer.”
Broadway roles were years away, but in elementary school, she spent her after school time singing in the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus and in the choir at her synagogue, as well as studying piano, dance and art. In middle school, Rebecca came to Grace and her world got wider.
Rebecca recalls, “When I first got to Grace it was such a shock to me. I was coming from a public school in TriBeCa. I had taken French and art and other fun things… and then I got to Grace and there were uniforms—and history and geography. I somehow knew French, but didn’t know where things were on the map.”
She continues, “Missing the foundation that the other Grace kids had, really threw me at first-- I was behind. In retrospect, it was great getting there when I did, because even though I had a lot of ‘woe-is-me’ moments, I am so thankful for the structure now. Because in my career I respect the work-- I show up at rehearsal with respect for what I am doing. I always work hard and I always show up prepared. Even though I had to learn a long lesson in being kind to yourself because you missed the boat on some things, I am grateful now for the structure that Grace gave me.”
Rebecca sang in the Grace Church Choir. “I loved having to wake up early for choir practice. Being a leader in the choir gave me confidence that I could lead in the thing I loved so much.” She fondly remembers Ms. Abrams classes as well. “Ms. Abrams had such joy with music and singing, and was generous with us and excited about what we had to bring and our artistry. She had a lot of different kinds of music for us to explore.”
It was also at Grace that Rebecca discovered a love for theater, which would set her path forward. In sixth grade, her close friend Claude Kelly urged her to try out for the middle school production of “The Jungle Book.” “I just didn’t want to go. For some reason I thought theater was nerdy.” Claude ultimately convinced her and she says, “I remember reading the audition pages and falling in love immediately with putting on a character and exploring in that way. Suddenly, it wasn’t just singing. I really liked theater too, and from then on, I continued to do both.”
After high school, Rebecca went to North Carolina School of the Arts for acting, where she honed her craft. Since then, it’s been a steady beat of work.
Time Out New York called Rebecca a “Future Legend of NY Theater” in a 2012 review of “Murder Ballad” at the Manhattan Theater Club. She reflected on the place theater holds for her:
“Theater is, and always will be, my home base. I like rehearsal more than anything. I like to perform, of course. But there is something about finishing with rehearsal and finishing previews and going to just perform the show, it feels a tiny little bit like a death. Because there is so much joy in the making. And this is the thing I fell in love with at Grace with that production of “The Jungle Book.” There is something about being in a room with the same group of people for a month, working on this story, dissecting it, trying to think about what is important about telling it. And of course building bonds with other people, and having discussions about what’s important in life, and what we want to share with others. It is the most exciting and wonderful thing.”
And even a diva sometimes feels like she’s in over her head. She lamented a recent audition for a new musical. “I was in the middle of “Marie and Rosetta” at the Atlantic— it’s a two-person show and it was right before the show closed, when we were at the peak level of exhaustion. I didn’t have the time or energy to prepare. But for some reason I did a half-hearted prep and told myself I was ready. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was a mess. I was horrible. It was embarrassing. I am a person who sings for my career. But if you had never heard me sing before you would have thought, ‘Oh no, she’s not good at this!’ It was a moment when I had to relearn a lesson that I thought I had taught myself and had learned so many times.”
Keep an eye on this diva. Up next is a play called “Significant Other” coming to Broadway, previews beginning on Valentine’s Day. Rebecca says, “It’s a fun departure, a straight play, which I do about once a year. No singing, so I get to rest that part of my muscle.”Watch the Spotlight on Rebecca here.