J. Harrison Ghee
J. Harrison Ghee. Film still provided by “Some Like It Hot.”

A moment in Some Like It Hot is so palpable it stops the show.

Jerry (Tony nominee J. Harrison Ghee) — disguised as female jazz musician Daphne to outrun the mob after witnessing a hit — has just returned from a whirlwind trip to Mexico with millionaire Osgood Fielding III (Tony nominee Kevin Del Aguila). But what is initially a ruse becomes the impetus for self-discovery.

Jerry/Daphne reconnects with friend-on-the-run Joe (Tony nominee Christian Borle) and confides, “I don’t have the word for what I feel. I just feel more like my self than I have in all my life.” The triumphant showstopper that follows, “You Coulda Knocked Me Over With a Feather,” is an awakening that every queer musical theater nerd has dreamt of, and Queerty has the first look:

Queerty caught up with Ghee, who’s breaking ground as one of this season’s two Tony-nominated nonbinary actors (alongside Alex Newell, who appears in Shucked), to chat about the song’s meaning, and why it resonates beyond queer audiences.

QUEERTY: Is there a similar moment from your life that aligns with Jerry/Daphne’s experience when they sing “You Coulda Knocked Me Over With a Feather”?

GHEE: There was a conversation I had with my mother about expressing my identity. I feel like I’ve come out to her many times in my life. There was a moment when she called me because, at the church she was attending, they were doing conferences, and the pastor had brought in a speaker to talk about church and their relationship with the LGBTQ+ community. This speaker ended up using a picture of me in drag, not knowing my mother attended this church and would be there.

And my mom called and asked me what I identified as and wanted to know more about my perspective. And at the time, I was like, first of all, my Christian mother is asking me this and creating space for me to have this conversation, which I’ve always appreciated about her. There’s always been room for conversation. And so it gave me a moment to say, “Actually, I’m in a place where I’m expanding on that. And I don’t have the full capacity of vocabulary to explain that to you. But this is where I am at the current moment. And so I was grateful for that moment with my mom.”

J. Harrison Ghee
J. Harrison Ghee attends opening night for Some Like It Hot on Broadway at Shubert Theatre in New York on December 11, 2022.

The night I saw the show, the audience’s reaction to this number was electric. Why do you think it transcends the queer experience and resonates deeply with all audiences?

I hope to ignite in people the humanity of an experience of growth, newness, and expansion.

One of my favorite experiences is from opening night. Our security guard, Leon, who sits at the stage door, was very intentional about not watching the show or hearing anything during previews and sat out in the audience on opening night. And he was sitting next to a cisgender, white man who, after I finished that song, turned to the lady he was with and said, “I need to treat my son better.” And it’s those moments that people see the humanity in this experience. This person went on a journey and found something new in themselves. And there’s joy to be celebrated. And we all want that in life; we all want to be able to walk in freedom and enjoy. And to watch Jerry/Daphne step into this moment so grounded and with such peace really resonates, and it’s something everyone can connect with.

The original Broadway cast of Some Like It Hot
The original Broadway cast of ‘Some Like It Hot.’ Photo by Matthew Murphy.

While told through musical comedy, Some Like It Hot tackles some complex issues around queer identity. What’s your message of hope to young queer theater lovers worried about drag bans, book bans, and anti-LGBTQ+ legislation?

My motto these days is “Free yourself, to see yourself.”

You have to give yourself permission to exist and be, despite everyone else’s conditionalized way of seeing and experiencing you. You are in control of your own journey and experience. And giving yourself that grace and space to grow really helps you step into the fullness of who you are. It is hard for people to deny that truth and authenticity when it is so pure. And that is what brought me to this moment of standing in this opportunity of being Jerry/Daphne and walking in my wholeness. These are the things that growing up, I was told would not serve me. Or that being queer was a sin and that it was against God and not what I was taught. But yet the more I have leaned into who I was created to be, it’s brought me joy. It has brought me freedom, and it has helped me walk with purpose.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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