When Netflix started to film the 2020 breakout series Grand Army, based on the fictional largest high school in Brooklyn, no one could have possibly imagined the woes of a global pandemic would hinder the show’s promotional rollout. Nor did they predict the civil unrest that erupted after the police-involved murder of George Floyd and how that would rock the moral psyche of the GenZers that are the target audience. Yet, the progressive writing of Katie Cappiello and direction of So Yong Kim, have created a show that not only hits key identifiers of the population but also captures the angst that these young people face and most importantly has developed characters that could easily live in New York’s grandest borough — the Borough of Kings— in the land that Biggie called home.
Grand Army Plaza is loosely based on the 2013 critically-acclaimed Cappiello play, SLUT: The Play, that received critical acclaim at the New York Fringe Festival.
One of the most interesting characters is John Ellis, the budding school politician and social activist John Ellis played by Broadway veteran, Alphonso Romero Jones, II. It was his theatrical chops that landed him in this role after he was a part of the original cast of Now That We’re Men, another play written by Cappiello.
The Trentonian approached the role with great care as it tackled the issues of societal violence and violence that young people are exposed to in urban America. Not just the shoot ‘em up bang bang associated with the hood, but the constant threat of domestic terrorism and personal identity conflicts. But Jones’ Ellis is confident like him. The former Lion King Young Simba has approached the gig with a tender strength that he has carried through his short but impactful career.
See Jones is more than just an actor. He is a well-rounded artist that balances his theatrical career, with singing, producing, engineering and rapping. In fact, recently he dropped his new Hip-Hop single, “Places,” on all of the popular streaming platforms under the pseudonym TKP Nook. The song, a trippy serenade that salutes a fly jawn sweating the young star, showcases his ability to place his creative finger on the pulse of a clear subculture of the rap populace. He knows them. In a different way than artists like Juice WRLD did or Lil Uzi Vert — he understands the power of the vibration but as an Alpha male in all of his music, he spins them into spaces that don’t celebrate drug use, gang affiliation, or abuse of women. And still, he is cool.
Which is why his Ellis portrayal is even more grand (all puns intended). Which is why Alphonso Romero Jones, potentially the next Donald Glover/Childish Gambino is even grander!