New York City.

From business school to Broadway

James D. Gish (BS Management '17), who will be starring in an upcoming production of Les Misérables, discusses his roles on Broadway and how a business degree affects a career in the arts.

Molly Loonam

"I'm very grateful to be doing what I'm doing," says Broadway performer James D. Gish (BS Management '17). "I come from a small town and didn't know the first thing about theater."

A W. P. Carey and Barrett, The Honors College graduate, Gish has spent the past few years playing Fiyero in "Wicked" and Fabrizio in "The Light in the Piazza" on Broadway and most recently reprised the role of Fiyero on the "Wicked" national tour. He made his off-Broadway debut in "The Jerusalem Syndrome," participated in various theatrical workshops, and played Gerry Goffin in the "Beautiful" national tour. Now Gish is preparing to star as Enjolras in the upcoming "Les Misérables" production beginning June 17 at the Muny, the oldest and largest outdoor musical theater in the country.

James Gish

Gish discovered his love for performing at 15 after auditioning for his high school choir and theater troupe. He chose to attend ASU because of its proximity to regional theater companies. A business student by day, Gish enrolled in acting classes and voice lessons and attended rehearsals for various theatrical productions at the Phoenix Theatre Company, Hippodrome Theatre, and Desert Stage Theatre in the evenings.

"I burned the candle at both ends for nearly all of my college career," says Gish, who performed in seven regional theater performances during his three years at ASU. "I was fortunate to have a family that believes in me, but it's also important to believe in yourself and have the guts to go for what you want."

W. P. Carey news caught up with Gish to discuss his experience on Broadway, how his business education affects his career, and his upcoming production of "Les Misérables."

Question: Since 2022, you've starred in several major musicals, including the Broadway productions of "Wicked" and "The Light in the Piazza."

Answer: I'm a different person today than when I started "Wicked" — in a good way. My year on Broadway was fantastic and challenging. It propelled me into many different projects and allowed me to meet and work with extraordinary people. "Wicked" was the first show I saw on Broadway in 2018, so taking my first bow on that stage was enormous. People used to give me a hard time because I've never been a strong dancer — it's been a source of humor for myself and others! Ironically, the first number I performed on Broadway was "Dancing Through Life."

One of my favorite "Wicked" experiences was working with different performers in the roles of Elphaba or Glinda. If an actor got sick or injured, our company managers called performers who had played the roles in previous productions, and there were times I went on stage with someone I had barely met. It was exhilarating to be up in front of people playing off another person with no rehearsal.

After "Wicked," I jumped into "The Light in the Piazza." It was like getting shot out of a cannon: We rehearsed for 10 days and performed the show eight times in a week. I didn't know what a big deal the show was until after I accepted the role, and it was a lucky step in my career. Following "The Light in the Piazza," I did some workshops. A workshop is a new production where producers hire a cast that could be a good fit for the show. The cast does rehearsals and experiments with the content to help writers and directors determine what is and isn't working. I had a great time doing workshops — it sharpened my skills.

James Gish as Fiyero in

Q: You're currently in rehearsals for your next project, "Les Misérables," at The Muny.

A: I can't believe the cast they put together for this show. People jokingly call it Broadway theater camp, and it's exciting to be part of it! One of my first big jobs was playing Feuilly in the "Les Misérables" national tour. It's one of my favorite shows — like many people, "Les Misérables" got me into theater. I idolized the characters and the actors who played them, so playing Enjolras is one of my dream roles. I'd play him forever if I could.

Q: How has your experience as an actor compared to your expectations? What has surprised you?

A: Many people align Broadway with "making it." I was surprised to realize that everyone is trying to "make it" all the time, regardless of who you are or your performance level. When we achieve a certain goal, it's human nature to want to accomplish more. Once you get to Broadway, that's great — you did a Broadway show! Now, get your next job, or you'll be back on unemployment.

Additionally, I think people are attracted to the glitz and glamour of Broadway. What they don't always see is the work that makes it look like glitz and glamour: It's a physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging job.

Q: What is your next big career goal?

A: Participating in workshops might be my favorite thing to do in the business because the material is fresh and exciting. I'm attached to several new shows. Hopefully, they'll get picked up because I want to create brand-new theater. I'd love to originate something on Broadway.

Q: What has been the most challenging aspect of your career so far?

A: Grappling with my expectations. Once you pass a certain threshold, the world isn't necessarily your oyster — it's always hard work and an incredibly competitive field. Taking on a physically strenuous job can also be fatiguing, and oftentimes, your life revolves around taking care of yourself. I'm happy to do it for the opportunity to perform every night, but there are days when it's challenging.

Q: Has your education and background in business given you a leg up in your career?

A: Absolutely. Everyone is selling something, and as artists, we are the product. It's no different from running a business — I manage my brand and PR. Attending business school has given me the tools to better understand why producers make certain decisions. I can communicate better with my agents and managers and make better predictions. I spent three years at school learning about business, and it helped me understand how business people think. I'm grateful for that.

Photo one: James D. Gish.
Photo two: James D. Gish as Fiyero in "Wicked." Photo by Joan Marcus.

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