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The Road from the Midwest to MJ

MJ The Musical

Iowa’s own Josh A. Dawson returns to the Des Moines stage 

By Lori Blachford 

Josh A. Dawson

When Josh A. Dawson arrives at the Des Moines Civic Center in April as part of the Broadway musical MJ, it won’t be his first time performing in Iowa. That happened almost 30 years ago in Cedar Rapids. 

“I did my first musical (Stone Soup) at the age of 6,” Dawson says. “And I’ve pretty much done a musical every year of my life since then, which is wild.” 

He was well-prepared for that debut, thanks to his father’s church, which gave him opportunities to sing in the choir, to play piano and drums. “There was even a dance class,” says Dawson. “I got started very early singing and acting, dancing, and playing music. And then I went to a performing arts middle school.” 

There, he discovered the joys of musical theater and show choir. He was Jud Fry in Oklahoma! and Danny Zuko in Grease. “Those were the formative years,” says Dawson. “Then when we moved to Dallas, it continued.” 

After high school in Texas, he was off to the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, which became his training ground. “I think you can only really learn by doing,” he says. “It provided a space for me to do it. It gave me a chance to stretch myself.” 

At the end of his junior year of college, Dawson booked a show and his ticket to New York. From there, his career path has been a wild ride, covering all 50 states and a whopping 32 countries, and expanding his talents in all directions. Here are just a few of the highlights: 

  • Acting as a young Harry Belafonte on the TV comedy-drama The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, in which he sang the Emmy Award-nominated song “Maybe Monica.”
  • Making his Broadway debut in 2018 with the cast of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.
  • Singing on tour with musician Wynton Marsalis. 
  • Joining national touring productions of the musicals Beautiful (his first appearance on the Des Moines Civic Center stage), Hamilton, and now MJ.
  • Serving as music director and keyboardist for the band Britton & the Sting.
  • He’s even writing a book.

“I’m always looking for chances to learn and grow,” Dawson says. “That is something that Iowa taught me: If you work hard, you can do anything in life. I’m so thankful that I have that as part of my history.” 

In the musical MJ, Dawson plays two roles: Tito Jackson and Quincy Jones. He has discovered an especially deep connection to Jones, who started his career as a musician and spent time in Europe working and exploring new ideas. After the MJ tour ends, Dawson is planning a move to London. 

Josh A. Dawson quote

“I’m in sort of a Quincy Jones Era in my life,” he says. “It all just feels connected in some way and very authentic to my journey right now. At the end of every show, I feel like I have given every ounce of energy that I can possibly give, and I still want to give more.” 

Audiences are noticing. Dawson says the show has sold out, or nearly sold out, in every city it has visited. He credits the power of Michael Jackson’s music and the way it continues to connect with people. 

“The music just makes you want to move your body,” Dawson says. “We have people dancing in the aisles. It’s not a traditional musical, where you sit in the audience and follow a story. It feels more like a rock concert.” 

Dawson takes great pleasure in having an Iowa stop on this tour. He has friends and family all around the Midwest, and he’s looking forward to seeing them. But he’s also hoping to inspire some Iowans he’s never met. 

“I know what it’s like to be in the middle of the Midwest and have Broadway come to you,” he says. “That is what inspired me to do it full-time, to see that I could have a career. There were people that looked like me; I could do what they do. I just want to be able to inspire people like that. For me, at this time in my career, it’s the most important thing.” 

MJ production

Josh A. Dawson and the rest of the MJ cast can be seen live at the Des Moines Civic Center as part of the Willis Broadway Series April 30-May 5, 2024. Tickets are available HERE

Josh A. Dawson on … 


… Making connections 

As I’ve gotten older, it’s more important to me to make genuine connections with people, to share love, to love wastefully. There’s just so much division in the world. We must be intentional in finding the connective tissue between us. The lines in the sand that we’re drawing … we came up with those in the first place; so let’s just erase those lines. Let’s spend more time listening to one another. 


… Quincy Jones 

Quincy Jones really believed there were only two genres of music: good and bad. And good music is good to everyone. 


… Seeing his future 

During my last year in high school, there was a program called YoungArts. Thousands of teens audition each year, and I was one of the finalists selected to work with a team of professionals. That week, I learned so much about the business. I had my mind set on making it my career from that moment. 


… Michael Jackson 

He was just such a prolific artist. It’s testament to his vision and his artistry that even after his death, his music still lives on. It’s an honor to be able to uphold that legacy. 


… Where’s Josh? 

I usually split my time between New York and Los Angeles, but being on tour right now, I’m not in either place. June marks two years on the road for me; I was in the tour of Hamilton right before this. Next year, I’m planning to move to London and just take a year off and be a normal human being. 


… What’s next? 

I’m working on a book that I started writing during COVID. I had to put it down because of my schedule. It’s a little bit memoir, a little philosophy, a little anthropology, a little spirituality, and it’s also fanciful. I want to not just observe stories and perform stories, but also to write them down, sharing my perspective, my journey.