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Moving and Unforgettable the Musical Private Jones Wows at Signature Theatre

Moving and Unforgettable the Musical Private Jones Wows at Signature Theatre

Signature Theatre
Jordan Wright
February 16, 2024
Special to The Zebra

David Aron Damane, Alex De Bard, Amelia Hensley, Johnny Link (Gomer Jones) and Emily Steinhardt (Photo/Christopher Mueller)

A little birdie told me there’s a good chance Private Jones is headed to Broadway. What I’m saying, straight out of the gate, is don’t wait to snag your tickets because this show has everything. A fresh form and concept and a singular approach to a musical that is so thrilling that it has the all the elements to be a huge hit. Writer, Composer, Book, Director and DC native Marshall Pailet has the chops plus massive industry street cred. His former employers? DreamWorks and PBS productions, plus he’s written a few notable Off-Broadway musicals.

Due to Pailet’s massive talent, this world premiere production has already drawn in some high-level producers with Broadway experience. (I couldn’t get my nose out of the playbill scanning the multiple, italicized blockbuster shows and multiple theatre awards credited to this impressive creative team.)

What makes this war story so unique and so riveting is Gomer Jones (Johnny Link). Gomer is Deaf, a result of meningitis as a boy, as a result he has “remembered” speech and can lipread. (Notably, a few cast members are Deaf.) The program tells us World War I had Deaf soldiers who served in many capacities. Discovering this story drove Pailet to write this tri-lingual musical featuring signing in two languages – American Sign Language (ASL) and British Sign Language (BSL) and the script in spoken English.

Johnny Link (Gomer Jones) and the cast of Private Jones at Signature Theatre (Photo/Daniel Rader_

As a boy Gomer’s father teaches him to shoot the wild dogs that vex their sheep. Though he balked initially, the experience taught him to become a crack shot. As for the audience’s ability to translate sign language, you needn’t worry. There are surtitles which I found useful as the characters speak with a Welsh dialect which can get tricky, and then there’s The Storyteller (Amelia Hensley) who narrates the plot.

The story is set in Breconshire in South Wales. The town’s young men are being called to duty and Gomer wants to go. But at his medical exam the doctor realizes he’s Deaf and turns him away. Disappointed he goes back to the village and his sheep farm. One day he shoots a wild dog but doesn’t kill it. He takes it to a sympathetic nurse, Gwenolyn (Leanne Antonio), who saves the dog. “Every soul’s a soul.” Telling him he is needed in the war effort, she finds him a job at a munitions factory. Later with the rising toll of battle fatalities, Gomer fakes his hearing test and gets into the British army where he becomes an elite sniper aided by his “spotter” King (Erin Weaver in one of her finest roles).

Alex De Bard, Johnny Link (Gomer Jones) and Erin Weaver (King) (Photo/Christopher Mueller)

There Gomer meets up with his fellow Breconshire “borderers”. They figure out he’s Deaf and learn to communicate through a smattering of sign language. All this sounds rather tame, but the tension and raw emotions of the front are palpable, and the sounds of war are everywhere as Gomer faces the frightening scene – in the heat of a battle he cannot hear.

This is a gritty, pulsing, edge-of-your-seat drama lightened with bawdy gallows humor and a sweeping score with 22 beautiful ballads. How that is achieved is due in no small part to a strategically-cast, perfectly meshed ensemble, mood-setting lighting and effects by Lighting Director Jen Schriever and the gorgeous music and lyrics written by Marshall Pailet.

Highly recommended!!! Moving and unforgettable.

Vincent Michael (Edmund) and the cast of Private Jones at Signature Theatre. (Photo/Daniel Rader_

Leanne Antonio as Gwenolyn/Evans; Deimoni Brewington as Bailey; David Aron Damane as Father/Drill Sergeant/Major; Dickie Drew Hearts as Henry; Vincent Michael as Edmund; Jake Loewenthal as Redvers. Ensemble Members – Alex De BardVincent MichaelGeorge Psomas, and Emily Steinhardt.

Director of Artistic Sign Language Alexandria Wailes; Choreographed by Misha Shields; Music Directed by Myrna Conn; Costume Design by Phu’ong Nguyen; Sound Design by Eric Norris; Scenic Design by Christopher & Justin Swader; Video Design by Patrick W. Lord; Dialect Coach Catherine Flye; Orchestrations by Ryan O’Connell. Dance Captain, Emily Steinhardt; Artistic Sign Language Captain, Amelia Hensley; and Fight Captain, Vincent Michael.

Through March 10th at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue in the Village at Shirlington, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 820-9771 or visit

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