Why ‘New Jack City’ returned to the National: a Q&A with Je’Caryous Johnson

The visionary executive producer goes behind the scenes and reveals his dreams for 'Live on Stage' Black content.

When it comes to live entertainment, Je’Caryous Johnson reigns supreme. The writer-director-producer-promoter has made his mark time and again with award-winning stage plays that infuse humor into cultivating stories with empowering messages. Studying under the tutelage of renowned playwrights Edward Albee and August Wilson, Johnson is now known to many in the entertainment industry as the ultimate hitmaker.

Keeping his mentors’ legacies alive, this award-winning Super Producer continues to be the best in entertainment, creating over 20 star-studded, nationally toured stage plays, which include his Original, Classic, and Legacy series. Proving that he can tackle any realm of entertainment, Johnson is also a best-selling author of five books and a highly sought-after motivational speaker.

With his unique, global understanding of the live audience, he is the world’s only writer-producer to also promote his own shows. From the commercial audience to London’s West End, Johnson not only markets his own shows but also has sold out Broadway shows such as Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, The Color Purple, and A Street Car Named Desire.

Je’Caryous took time during his return visit to The National Theatre to share his unique vision of curated content for the growing audience of sophisticated Black theatergoers with DCTA’s urban critic Malcolm Lewis Barnes.

Malcolm Lewis Barnes: Since the last appearance of New Jack City Live on Stage in November of 2022 at the National Theatre, you have been to the iconic Metropolitan Opera House in Philadelphia and the Texas Trust CU Theatre near Dallas, both with over 3,000 seats. What makes The National with a 1,600-seat capacity special?

Je’Caryous Johnson: The intimacy. Every seat in the National is a good seat. Anita Landers our scheduling contact at The National said, “Are you sure New Jack City will work again this soon?” We sold out again!

Scene from ‘New Jack City Live on Stage’: Nino Brown (Treach) and his associates are celebrating the New Year in grand fashion.

How do you keep all those egos in check?

We treat everyone equally. I stay in the same places that my cast and crew stay. Everyone is equally important. We are like one big family! We live on the road together and keep those connections even after the tour is over.

They don’t want to know what you know, they want to know that you care.

I own the company, so I just bought a new tour bus so the cast can relax in “sleepers” for long road trips, to complement the upright coach buses and ground transportation we already have.

Je’Caryous Johnson

I reached out to several members of the audience I met last November to see if they were ready to double down and they all said they would be back to see the show again this week. What do you attribute your audience loyalty to?

I attribute the audience loyalty to consistency. I’ve been around since 1998 and launched my first national tour in 2002, so I have consistently made a commitment to elevate the quality of the product.

I have made an end-to-end investment in this commercial touring model. I own the trucks, the video, and the production equipment, and am committed to safety.

A minor challenge I observed at The National last fall was the post-intermission syncing of the sound system. How does the sound and lighting vary from venue to venue compared to the sheer logistical challenges of getting a Jeep on stage and the three-story scaffolding?

That sound system challenge arose because we used the original National sound system, which hadn’t been tested for a while. And right before showtime our stage director J. Kyle Manzay quickly had to troubleshoot the problem.

I felt that the lobby merchandising and mezzanine photography setup added to the NYC rope-line appeal of the show and its atmospherics. Is merchandising a significant profit center or a “loss leader,” and how many local and travel people are involved?

100% of every penny we make from souvenir sales goes into our nonprofit foundation to help kids and our community-engagement effort called “Theatre for the Living,” which takes live entertainment into senior assisted living facilities. Our nonprofit foundation is called the I’m Ready Foundation.

What is your vision for the future of “Live on Stage” Black content?

At the end of the day, I plan to own the venues that I am now curating. There is nobody stopping me. I don’t think that Broadway is superior to regional commercial theater! I refuse to believe that Broadway is the pinnacle in my life. The only difference between regional theater and Black theater is the curation of content!

We have to be able to re-image classics like Waiting to Exhale!

I see opportunities for HBCUs to channel interns into new productions, but there are not enough producers and general managers out there.

I’m a presenter as well as an artist!

I have also invested in the streaming business with a company called bingeBlack.TV, so my next step is to create the production capacity to focus on “legacy” projects to cement the lives of historical entertainment figures such as Marvin Gaye, Richard Pryor, and Rick James.

There isn’t any reason that we can’t create and do the same business serving Black audiences through regional theater as Broadway can do.


This may be the second successful bite at the National with New Jack City Live on Stage at the National, but Je’Caryous Johnson’s vision is to bring more Black legacy classics “live on stage” in the future!

New Jack City Live on Stage plays February 16 to 18, 2023, presented by Je’Caryous Johnson at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC. Tickets for February 18 are available here. Tickets for future tour dates are available here.

‘New Jack City Live’ urban theater experience plays the National Theatre (review of the first run in DC by Malcolm Lewis Barnes, November 11, 2022)


  1. I attended the February 17th show at the National Theatre which was my first time visiting the theatre as well and from the performance to the stage dynamics was wonderful. The background looked 3D and so real and oh my, the classic Jeep💜💜😅, that was epic👍🏾.

    I cannot wait to see more plays in the near future and keep D.C. as your first choice and I’ll definitely be in the house to support and enjoy.
    Shrita ‘Ms. AnonyMs.’ Robinson.

  2. Ms. AnonyMs,

    Glad you enjoyed the show. Je’Caryous promised “Waiting To Exhale”, and ‘curated content’ on musical ikons Marvin Gaye and Rick James as well as Richard Pryor at his close-out show on Saturday night!


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