But How to Succeed is Jonas’s most high-visibility solo venture to date, and certainly the riskiest. Years ago, the notion that a veteran boy-bander could have an extracurricular career was ridiculous; in the land o’ Timberlake, though, teen stars are occasionally allowed to age gracefully, provided they can win over grown-ups. How to Succeed will give Jonas a chance to showcase his talents in front of an older crowd, albeit in a role that’s imposing not only physically—Jonas will appear in nine numbers—but also historically: Both Robert Morse (1962) and Matthew Broderick (1995) won Tonys for their respective Finches, and Radcliffe’s stint effectively recast him as a song-and-dance man. When turning to Jonas, director-choreographer Rob Ashford was looking for an actor who has “that real go-get-’em energy and enough smarts to be able to play the underlying precocious nature of Finch,” Ashford says. “Nick was keen to take it on. He’s so centered and focused. ”
Before rehearsals began, Ashford and Jonas met to discuss how Jonas might find his own inner Finch; as it turned out, he didn’t have to look too far. “Finch has got to figure out how to integrate himself into this well-oiled machine,” Jonas says, “and that’s a lot like what I’m doing, coming into this company.”
One of Jonas’s biggest concerns in joining How to Succeed was the sheer amount of choreography to learn, and a day after our breakfast, he’s at the Hirschfeld, practicing “Grand Old Ivy,” a song that finds him being hoisted into the air and then carried overhead by nearly a dozen dancers. Slowed down for rehearsal, the number looks a bit like an awkward underwater crowd-surf, and for the first few tries, as he flips and slides over the throng, Jonas maintains an unreadable, action-figure-neutral stare. But by the last run-through, he cracks a midair smile, a contented cog in a grand, ever-moving machine.