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Backstage on Broadway: ‘Book of Mormon’s’ Tyson Jennette turned troubles into triumph

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“Hello my name is Tyson Jennette, and this is my story"

A story, he is proud to tell.

“I grew up in the Bronx in a section called Parkchester and my parents were both deaf," Tyson said. "So I spent a lot of time in my room with the radio loud and blasting and screaming at the top of my lungs, I kind of see it as my initial vocal training if you will.”

But just before his freshman year of high school, he lost his mother.

"It was just a tough time of course for a 13 year old."

He struggled his first year at Brooklyn Technical High School, missing many of his classes.

“In my second year, I decided I was going to quit school," Tyson explained. "But right before I did that, I went to a teacher. His name was Jim Dibenedetto.”

A teacher who would ultimately change his life.

“He was truant [and] he was down to his last six months here but he wanted to stay and he approached me about being in chorus,” Jim said. “I made him sing for me right there in the Dean’s office in front of the other students.”

WEB EXTRA: Tyson Jennette, his sister and former teacher look at old yearbook

He thought Tyson had potential.

"So,I said okay and we made a deal," he said.

“[The deal was] If you come to my class, you have to go to all your classes before and all your classes afterwards," Tyson remembered. "I agreed and it was pretty much a way that I found my voice and I really found a purpose in my life.”

A purpose he wanted to pursue, but growing up in a home with deaf parents, Tyson felt he had a duty to stay the course.

He was the first in his family to go to college, majoring in speech pathology. He then went on to get his Graduate Degree in special education from Harvard University.

"I started teaching and working in speech even though it wasn’t necessarily my full passion," Tyson said.

Then 9/11 happened and few months later, his dad suddenly passed away.

“Just another example of how fast life can just go.”

So he decided to pursue his passion: the theater.

“I was working for a few years in theater and getting jobs here and there and starting to really make a name for myself," Tyson said. "And I got this close to some pretty high profile jobs."

But getting discouraged, Tyson decided to take a break and visit his sister, Tanya, in South Carolina.

“About two days into my visit, I told my sister hey you know there’s an audition back in New York," he said.

"He said it’s actually for a Broadway show," Tanya Jennette-Thomas remembered. "I said well why are you thinking about it, why don’t you go for it? and he’s like oh I don’t think I’ll get it.”

“And she said come on Tyson let’s go, we’re going to get in the car and go to the Amtrak station.” Tyson said "I knew we only had 30 minutes to get there, it was not enough time to get there.”

“I was pulling, there across the railroad tracks and as I pulled the last tire over, the arm came down," Tanya remembered. "And I was like this is your show, this is your destiny!”

The destiny: an open-call audition for the Book of Mormon.

Four callbacks later, the call finally came.

“She said hi this is Carrie Gardner from Book of Mormon casting. And I just want to be the first to say, Welcome to Broadway!”

WEB EXTRA: Tyson Jennette remembers events leading up to landing role

Tyson is a swing, which means he covers 11 different roles in the show.

“Most times I don’t know if I’m going to be on stage until I get to work or get a phone call,” he said.

As Tyson reminisced with his former teacher, Jim Dibenedetto could help but smile.

"I went to see the show and you can’t be prouder to see a kid you worked with become so successful and do so well," Jim said. "It’s an amazing feeling.”

Tanya has seen the show several times, but the time she saw Tyson perform the first time was the one she remembers most.

“I cried the entire first half," Tanya said. “And the lady next to me at intermission, she said are you okay, sweetheart, did your boyfriend break up with you? and I said no, my brother’s on stage.”

But for Tyson, standing on that stage now means more than anyone will ever know.

"I feel that my parents are in a place now that they can really understand and know their child for who he is and what he can do and that fills me with joy every day.” he said.

“Do you think they can hear your voice today?" I asked him. "I do. I do.”

 

 

PRODUCED BY: KIM PESTALOZZI