Jackson Grove auditioned for the musical "42nd Street" in St. Paul on a last-minute decision.

The Alexandria native was at college in Boston last December when he saw the audition notice. He was coming home for Christmas break soon and it just so happened his flight to the Twin Cities would land just in time.

“I was thinking it might be fun to just check it out. Even if I just go and get a free class out of this, I will have learned something,” he said.

Taking that opportunity turned out to be worth it – Grove earned a spot on the big stage.

“I was head-over-heels excited,” Grove said.

Show choreographer Jared Grimes said he selects cast based on talent and if he feels he can rely on the candidate for consistent performance. “(Grove) was a no-brainer,” he said.

Grove joined Tony award winners Tamara Tunie and Jarrod Emick and has been rehearsing with them and many others six days a week since June. The reimagined musical of “42nd Street” at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul began July 23 and continues for 24 performances through Aug. 11.

Grove was selected as the “swing” for the ensemble, which means he understudies the seven male ensemble members. He is responsible for knowing all of their speaking lines and would perform on stage only if one of them was absent for a production.

He is not discouraged by not being guaranteed to go on stage for a performance.

“I’ve never been a swing for a production before, so just being able to have that on my resume and have the skills to be a good swing is going to help me so much in the future,” he said. He also said working with lots of talented people has felt like a dream come true.

“42nd Street” follows Peggy Sawyer, who dreams of tapping her way to Broadway. The production is based on a novel and the 1930s film adaptation.

This version has a few twists to make it more modern-day, and was previously produced at Chicago’s Drury Lane Theatre. The Ordway’s version is going to be different from that. Grove described it as new and fresh.

Reading that Grimes was the choreographer for 42nd Street particularly interested Grove, since Grimes was part of the tap dance faculty for the New York City Dance Alliance, something Grove learned from in high school.

Grimes’s choreography for this production was initially a challenge for Grove, requiring an advanced skill level.

“With this cast, I’ve found that I’ve been able to push them really, really, far, because they work relentlessly at everything," Grimes said.

He has seen growth in Grove, who Grimes said has turned into a rock star. He tries to make Grove feel as much as a part of the cast as possible.

“Jackson is a beast. He might be the most versatile dancer I’ve ever hired,” Grimes said. He described Grove as a ball of energy and a unicorn, because he’s rare.

Grove is also a perfectionist, who Grimes said takes down notes and always knows his numbers. “He’s always striving for excellence, which is not taken lightly with a performer like himself.”

Strong theatrical roots

Grove is studying musical theater at Boston Conservatory. He trained for 11 years at Dancin’ Off Broadway dance school in Alexandria. He sang at his grandmother’s church and was a part of community theater. At Alexandria Area High School, he was a part of four musicals, three plays and three one-act plays.

“I was so thrilled that I was able to go to a high school with such a strong theater program where I didn’t have to pick to either just dance, just be in plays or just be in musicals. I felt like I got to do a little bit of everything,” he said.

Jessica Chipman, drama activity advisor at the high school, has known Grove since he was in seventh grade. She said he stood out in the musicals that he was a part of in high school; two of them he choreographed.

“He has many strengths as a theater artist, actor and singer. It’s hard to forget his performance as a mover,” she said.

Besides being a part of extra-curricular theatrical productions, he also took theater classes, which he said gave him a strong foundation going into college.

Working toward New York

After Grove graduated in 2018, Chipman said her relationship with him changed from student-teacher to a collaborative, working one. The two are in touch almost daily, working on projects together.

Grove continued to show his face at the high school, choreographing “Legally Blonde” for the school last fall, and he is set to choreograph the school’s production of “Cinderella” this fall. He said being a choreographer helps him understand the production as a whole rather than thinking of individual elements of people’s performance.

“I’ve always loved performing. It’s always been my favorite thing to do,” he said. Choreography has only been an interest of his within the last few years.

“I see nothing but success for Jackson as a theater artist. He’s just the most authentic, genuine person. You want to see him succeed,” Chipman said. What he has done is impressive, especially considering his young age. “There’s no denying his talent.”

“We’re just honored to say that we’ve had him (be) a part of this cast,” Grimes said. “He’s destined for super stardom for sure.”

Grove is living with the parents of a college friend for the summer. Their home is about 30 minutes from St. Paul. When the show closes, Grove will come back home to Alexandria to help out with a theater camp.

“Being in theater means getting the opportunity to tell important stories that I think people need to see,” he said.

He has dreams of moving to New York after graduation and auditioning for Broadway shows and national tours. He wants to become a professional choreographer and director years down the road.

“He is literally prime for being a future choreographer on Broadway,” Grimes said. “He’s just got the DNA, the ingredients for somebody that’s going to go on from dancing and performing on stage to somebody that’s going to be a visionary when it comes to dance.”