When James T. Lane was a senior at the Girard Academic Music Program, a ritual spring musical was not slated for the performing arts school that year.
For a rising triple threat, Lane, a 1996 graduate, was less than thrilled to learn the stage would remain dark his final year of high school. So, he took matters into his own hands.
After recruiting dozens of students for a fall after-school theater program, Lane wrote an original play, “A Killer Review,” over winter break, which he later directed and choreographed, for the student body to perform that spring.
The production, which clinched a poster on GAMP’s history of musical theater wall, helped to lay the foundation for a now-Broadway star.
“GAMP taught me a hard lesson,” he said. “If there’s no opportunity there for you, you gotta create it.”
Now 41 years old, Lane, who grew up in Queen Village before moving to the Whitman neighborhood, continues to create opportunities for himself, including recently seizing the stage of the 73rd Tony Awards, where he brought down Radio City Music Hall on June 9 with his ensemble performance of “Too Darn Hot” from the nominated revival of “Kiss Me, Kate.”
The musical, which stars Broadway giants Kelli O’Hara and Will Chase, marks Lane’s fifth Broadway production and fourth Tony appearance. Since the show opened in February, he’s portrayed the role of Paul, and though the show is closing on June 30, he says the choreography-heavy character was a marvel to tackle.
Especially at the Tonys.
“The response from the Tonys – even from being in the show – has been tremendous…The Tony Awards are the biggest platform for Broadway and for what I do,” Lane said. “So, to be on, literally, the largest stage you can be at the top of your superpowers, it’s a dream come true. It’s a wonderful thing and to be featured in such a way. It was the greatest audition ever.”
For more than the last two decades, Lane has approached several auditions, facing trials both on and off the stage.
After graduating high school, he studied at Carnegie Mellon and Penn State University before joining an American entertainment company’s production of “Fame” on a tour throughout Europe.
Following performing on stages across the continent, Lane was touring the United States with the same production when his dancing came to a halt after severely injuring his Achilles tendon.
“You think you’ll never be able to dance again, especially not what I was doing,” Lane said.
Around the same time, Lane says he started abusing alcohol and drugs while performing and living in New York City.
While his injury, which he thought would cost him his career, healed within a year, Lane instead started compromising his crafts with substance use.
Struggling to show up on time and ready to shine, Lane was often hired and then fired from theater opportunities, including as an ensemble member and swing of the first national tour of “The Lion King” in the early 2000s.
“For about four-and-a-half years, I just spiraled out of control,” Lane said. “And then finally, I got myself together…I could always sing and dance and I couldn’t do that anymore. It was very upsetting to me.”
Sometime after returning home to South Philadelphia, Lane started his sobriety in November 2004.
Seeking an outlet for healing, Lane knew no other place to turn but the stage – a safe haven he walked away from two years ago.
So, he started performing with regional Philadelphia companies, including the Opera Company of Philadelphia, Walnut Street Theatre and Plays and Players Theatre, where he says he was right where he needed to be
“It was all I could take at the moment. It was all I could kind of be…Even though you’ve got a gift, it can be taken away,” he said. “You can give it away, but you can get it back, too. I could always sing and dance, but when those powers were leaving, I was upset – and to have them come back and manifest so fully and even more than they were before.”
After being sober for a full year around this time, Lane auditioned for the 2006 revival of “A Chorus Line” on Broadway and was cast in the role of Richie.
Lane’s Broadway debut, which he carried for two years, eventually led to his next two, including “Chicago,” where he was an understudy, and “The Scottsboro Boys,” where he played Ozie Powell and Ruby Bates.
“Your first Broadway show does not guarantee your second Broadway show…you get there on that first one,” Lane said. “But, you gotta earn that second one.”
Despite hitting a bit of a Broadway slump following a short run of “The Scottsboro Boys,” Lane ventured his vocals elsewhere, including performing with major national orchestras, including two concerts alongside the New York City Pops at Carnegie Hall.
“I really had to break out of the box of, ‘If I’m not on Broadway, I’m not successful,’ ” he said.
But with musical theater as his anchor, he’d find his way back to Broadway again.
After Lane landed a gig on a national tour of “Jersey Boys,” he spent one year living in London to reprise his former roles in the West End productions of “A Chorus Line” and “The Scottsboro Boys.”
While in London, Lane started developing his own play, “Four-and-a-Half Years,” with the Young Vic Theatre. Describing the production as a play that “moves and sings,” the show, which he continues to workshop, explores the chapter of his life when he struggled with addiction.
“It was such a trying time, and when you look at the guy that you see here now, you can’t imagine that that happened,” Lane said. “But it’s important, and it’s important for these little kids running around here in South Philadelphia who come from really tough circumstances – that you can rise above your circumstances even when the circumstances happen later.”
Upon returning to the United States, he worked for regional theaters in New York City before joining the cast of “Chicago” on Broadway again and later “King Kong” in 2018.
Having dedicated a chunk of his professional life to the ensemble, Lane was ready for a more prominent role.
“I spent so much time in the theater doing eight shows a week,” Lane said. “I need more creative responsibility in what I’m doing.”
Serendipitously, “Kiss Me, Kate” came along in early 2019, as he was cast as the character of Paul – a role Lane admired for years.
“When you look at the roles that African-Americans have done on Broadway, Paul is one of those singer/dancer roles that is a standout role,” Lane said. “..It gives me that opportunity to express my superpowers.”
Although the show, which ran at Studio 54 for the past few months, is coming to an end, Lane is rehearsing for the next few scenes of his life.
Of course, his curtain will continue to rise as Lane will also star in a production of “Promenade” at the New York City Center on July 10 and 11.
Another project includes returning to his roots, as in mid-July, Lane is teaching two Broadway master classes for teens and adults in Philadelphia, including one session scheduled for South Philadelphia. The first will be held at the Venice Island Performing Arts Center, 7 Lock St., from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on July 18. The second class will be held at Eleone Dance Unlimited, 1725 S. 25th St., from 6 to 8 p.m. on July 19.
“It’s an opportunity to bring Broadway to South Philly,” Lane said. “If you can handle choreography, come along.”
After the classes, Lane will be back on the touring road from July through November for a national tour of “Thoughts of a Colored Man.”
Looking toward the horizon, Lane’s next act could include dabbling more with film and TV.
But, for now, the South Philly native continues to foster his flairs in the space he calls home.
“I’m born on the stage,” Lane said. “And I can use all of my superpowers on the stage. I can sing and dance and act and tell a story.”