Binghamton grad shines on Broadway stage
By Steve Seepersaud
Sometimes, one sentence can change your life. For Johnny Wu '05 it was, "you know, you kind of have a thing." It came from a high school acting teacher after he performed a scene that he worked on for a semester. That one line sparked an acting career that has taken Wu to Hollywood, and much more recently, Broadway.
Wu plays the roles of Bing and Judge Xu Geming in the Broadway play Chinglish, which opened in October at the Longacre Theatre. On Nov. 13, he performed in front of an audience that included a group of Binghamton University alumni.
The play, written by David Henry Hwang, centers around an American businessman who goes to China to score a lucrative contact for his family's sign-making firm. Before long, he learns that the complexities of this venture go way beyond the expected differences in language, customs and manners.
"We try to offer a very humorous and relevant story about what people are willing to overcome in communication to achieve an understanding of each other," Wu says. "On a bigger scale, [the U.S. and China] are trying to do that to further the world as a whole."
As a high school senior, Wu applied to and was accepted to Binghamton's School of Management, but changed course even before arriving on campus. Worn out from a rigorous high-school schedule, he decided to take acting instead of a more traditional English course in the semester before high school graduation. He liked it so much that he contacted the University to say he wanted to be a theatre major. He auditioned during his first semester at Binghamton and was the only freshman that year to be cast in a mainstage production. Wu gives credit for his success to Anne Brady, Tom Kremer, Theodore Swetz and John Vestal.
"I learned a tremendous amount from them, " Wu says. "They gave me so much of a foundation to build on. I have a lot of love for the people who put up with my shenanigans for four years."
He says one of his most memorable Binghamton performing experiences was a two-person play, written by Hwang. Life came full circle for Wu when he auditioned in 2009 for another one of Hwang's works - Chinglish.
He was cast for a six-week run in Chicago, then returned to New York and got the call to join the Broadway production. At this point, Chinglish has an open-ended run, but Wu is starting to think about what he would like to do next. He's working on a film and expects to start production sometime in 2012. He'd also like to go back to TV, where his resume includes guest appearances on 24 and Cold Case.
"My near future goal is to be a series regular," he says. "The work is steady, the pay is great and I would still have four months a year to work on whatever other projects I wanted."